How Twitter is Shaping the #CommonCore Debate

The online fight over Common Core – fired off in 140-character bursts – is allowing a new kind of activist to gain political influence.

While Louis C.K.’s Common Core Twitter rant might be the most famous, he is far from alone in taking to the social media platform to join the Internet war over the new controversial math and English standards most American schools have adopted.

Parents and teachers, policy wonks and politicians, teachers unions and libertarian groups are among the 53,000 tweeters who sent 190,000 tweets using the #CommonCore hash tag during the six month period following September 1, 2013, which was around the time the debate began spilling over into the mainstream.

Many weren’t educators and most were against Common Core – not good news for supporters.

Three researchers – Jonathan Supovitz of the University of Pennsylvania’s Graduate School of Education, Alan J. Daly at the University of California at San Diego, and Miguel del Fresno of the Universidad Nacional de Educación a Distancia in Spain – used data from these tweets to document how Twitter has given rise to an influential group of social media-savvy activists who aspire to influence the future of American education.

“The Common Core Twitter debate is really not a debate about the standards,” said Supovitz. “But instead a debate about the role of for-profits or the federal government, or about data privacy issues. It’s a proxy for the other enduring disagreements in education.”

Related: How one Ohio mother is trying to take down the Common Core 

Supovitz says that ordinary citizens and grassroots groups have used Twitter to gain the type of influence – both with politicians and the mainstream media – that has traditionally been enjoyed by more established groups.

“Money talks but social media squawks,” said Supovitz. “Policymakers are acutely aware that this conversation is going on and they feel it. While they are usually not participants [in the Twitter debate], they know they have to keep track of it.”

Supovitz says that they found that while supporters of the Common Core are more likely to use “rational policy speak,” opponents are more likely to use “political language that appeals to readers’ raw emotions.”

“Social media is allowing people to connect in altogether new ways,” said Supovitz. “There is no money, there is no organization. This is voluntary work driven by people’s passion and desire to raise the profiles of these issues.”

Of the people tweeting the most using the hash tag, 40 percent did not work in education, and more often than not these heavy tweeters were opposed to the standards.

The researchers also looked at which Twitter profiles were mentioned most in #CommonCore tweets and who was retweeted the most. Again about 40 percent of these people didn’t formally work in education and most opposed the Common Core.

The data, which have been displayed in a variety of ways, can be found at hashtagcommoncore.com.

The site also includes interviews with some of the most influential #CommonCore tweeters, including Katie Lapham, an English as a Second Language elementary school teacher in New York City.

Lapham, who joined Twitter in 2013 to get out her message about how Common Core was hurting her students who were learning English, points to U.S. News & World Report using one of her tweets in a story as a victory.

Related: Can the Common Core raise graduation rate for English learners?

The researchers are in the process of analyzing tweets from March to November 2014. In their preliminary analysis, they have found that the number of people using #CommonCore has grown and that, as elections across the country heated up, more established voices were playing a larger role in the debate.

[Cross-posted at The Hechinger Report]

Emmanuel Felton

Emmanuel Felton is a staff writer. Prior to joining The Hechinger Report, he covered education, juvenile justice and child services for the New York World. He received a bachelor’s degree from Emory University and a master’s from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism.