For Immediate Release

Jackie Kerstetter, Consortium for Policy Research in Education

Jeff Frantz, Penn Graduate School of Education

Inga Kiderra
University of California San Diego



Innovative Twitter study reveals how social media
is changing the politics of education

Philadelphia, PA – In the past year, arguments about the Common Core State Standards spilled from education policy circles into the public dialogue. By democratizing the flow of information and offering a rallying point for normally divergent groups, Twitter played a key role in the crossover. New research reveals the heated debate is actually a proxy war for broader disagreements about education policy and the very direction of the country.

The fight over the standards — according to researchers Jonathan Supovitz (University of Pennsylvania Graduate School of Education), Alan J. Daly (University of California, San Diego), and Miguel del Fresno (Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia in Madrid, Spain) — is redefining how education policy is shaped, understood, and implemented. For their study, #CommonCore: How Social Media is Changing the Politics of Education, the researchers deeply examined how the Common Core debate played out on Twitter, a medium that intersects social media and mass media. They tracked and analyzed more than 200,000 tweets containing #commoncore, authored by nearly 53,000 distinct actors during a six-month timespan from February to July 2014. During that time, the anti-Common Core movement shifted into the mainstream. The standards became a campaign issue for politicians from both parties, as fights for re-writes and repeals gained traction.

#CommonCore lets viewers see how users form informal networks on Twitter, and how those networks create and amplify narratives. By dissecting these networks, the researchers tell the story of how ordinary citizens — some of whom never reveal their name — can gain greater influence than so-called authority figures who would have dominated this conversation even a decade ago. Some of the key people in this fight, they learn, don’t necessarily make the most provocative statements, but retweet information, both factual and not, to a large and diverse collection of followers. By graphing these networks, the researchers let you see how it plays out in fascinating detail. In podcasts, some of the most influential members explain what Twitter has done for them.

As they unraveled these networks, the researchers uncovered patterns including:

  • The most common arguments against the standards were not based on the standards themselves, but broader political issues, such as a perceived federal role in education; a post-Snowden belief that the standards are a gateway for accessing data on children; concern over a perceived proliferation testing that has become oppressive; and fear of business interests exploiting public education for private gain.
  • Supporters and opponents argue differently. Common Core supporters fill their tweets with policy points. Common Core opponents use political language that often groups the standards with a broader spectrum of positions they disagree with.
  • Common Core is often explained in metaphors. Often, the metaphors don’t accurately describe what the writer intended. As these metaphors are repeated and retweeted, the can become the dominant narrative, not the original intended message about the standards. This is one way misinformation spreads.

Note about copyright: Images from this website can be used for reporting on this project with the proper credit line to the Consortium for Policy Research in Education.