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The Dangerous and Harmful Influence of Teacher Bloggers

(Yes. It's sarcasm.)

Happy Labor Day weekend--the holiday set aside to honor the stormy, husky, brawling folks with the big shoulders who, you know, built this country. Much like the determined, steadfast, committed teachers who also built something of infinite value: the nation's education system. Say what you like about teacher quality, but a free, high-quality, fully public education as every child's birthright is one of America's best ideas.

So it's hard to understand why Alexander Russo--a self-identified paid professional journalist--would be sending up red flags over the undue influence of education bloggers in policy creation. In a piece that relies heavily on an interview with Joshua Starr, of PDK,  who bemoans the tendency of social media to pass on both true and false information, accelerating concerns for districts who want to present their best face to parents and community. Russo says:

Blogs and social media are coming close to eclipsing mainstream media, according to Starr -- at least in terms of their ability to generate issues that reporters then cover. "They can say whatever they want. They don't have the same rules," he says.

And they seed mainstream coverage. "Some reporters read the blogs in order to keep up get fed information that leads them down certain pathways. The consequence is that the blog posts become the initial framing for a mainstream story....You're just playing defense all the time."

Well. A few things spring to mind here.

First--an "education blogger" (paid or unpaid) isn't necessarily anyone who's had experience in schools, as a responsible professional. In fact, most education bloggers of note (many of whom share Education Week's blog space) are well-paid consultants, always looking for the next grant, university position or paid project. That doesn't mean their ideas aren't valuable or accurate. Only that they're on someone's payroll (or several organizations' payrolls) and that fact will inevitably color their advocacy pieces.

Education bloggers are not synonymous with teacher bloggers. Most teachers who blog do so to share their well-honed opinions and experiences with being the object of policy, rather than partners in creation of the policies that shape their professional work. They also blog using pseudonyms, concealing information that would identify their schools.

A lack of firsthand information from the front-line school workers--teachers and school leaders--is what has gotten us into the policy mess in which we're currently swimming. It's hard to see how more feedback from practitioners could possibly be harmful--unless those practitioners have been offered money and training to advocate for a pre-selected product or position, as "teacherpreneurs." Teachers are capitalists, too--but until recently, nobody was seeking their perspectives, let alone paying for them. Blogs and informal advocacy pieces have been their only on-ramp into public discourse.

There's also Russo's assertion that education blogs are corrupting mainstream reporting, with their powerful but covert influence. Bona fide educators do have influence over what happens in the classrooms and school buildings. We want that, don't we-- a professional and responsive work force in our schools? But ask a teacher how much influence they have over policy. Go ahead--ask.

We want a free press, too--a curious and lively media that looks to publish real human interest stories, and investigate real controversies. The worst kind of coverage is the prepackaged-by-think tank talking points that lazy (paid) journalists shape into stories and op-eds. Their influence truly is hidden--when general audiences think that stories appearing in newspapers are unbiased journalism. Sometimes, the only place you can get unvarnished editorial judgment is social media. Caveat emptor is the watchword--but applies equally to mainstream coverage as well as Facebook and Twitter.

By the way, I have had precisely one person-to-person encounter with Alexander Russo. Immediately after I got this gig, blogging for Education Week Teacher, he sent me an email asking how much they were paying me. Mind you, I'd never met Alexander Russo, or even exchanged Tweets with him.

My response: Not enough, of course. But teacher bloggers aren't in this for the money.

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The opinions expressed in Teacher in a Strange Land are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

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