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Narrowcasting in education

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — Please note that I’ve revised this post to reflect the fact that several former teachers did speak in support of Skandera’s confirmation.

This piece is about Hanna Skandera’s confirmation hearing, but you have to read to the end to find out how.

Earlier this week, I tweeted this NY Times piece about so-called “narrowcasting” in the education reform sphere. Specifically, the piece deals with the lack of dialogue between people in the camp of “aggressive education reformers” versus those who oppose many tenets of the current reform movement. These people aren’t talking to each other, according to this Twitter analysis.

As a reporter, I think about this phenomenon a lot. In fact, I kind of incorporated into this column about Harry Potter I wrote back in 2009. In a world where everyone can easily personalize their news and social media to suit their tastes and pre-formed opinions, it is easier than ever to live in an echo chamber. Print reporters tend to bemoan this more than most people: we lament what we call the loss of serendipity, or the fact that a reader who normally isn’t interested in, say, education, might get drawn in by an interesting headline they happen to see on the page.

But I digress, as I do on my blog, because it’s mine, and because there is infinite space on the Internet.

There’s a second thing in that NY Times piece (and the Education Next piece it’s largely based on) that really interests me. Most of the people who follow Diane Ravitch (Petrelli’s proxy for the people pushing back against the reform movement) identify themselves as teachers or other practitioners who work in schools. Most of the people following reform darling Michelle Rhee identify themselves as policymakers. Petrelli rightly bemoans the fact that these groups aren’t talking to each other. Even on Twitter, where you only have to read 140 characters at a time of the other side’s views.

Ok, here’s the part about Hanna Skandera’s confirmation hearing. At the hearing today, many people spoke in favor of Skandera. They praised her policy ideas and urged the Senate Rules committee to confirm her. None of those people, however, introduced themselves as current teachers. Please correct me if I’m wrong here, but I just reviewed my notes and found all kinds of people who spoke in support of Skandera: cabinet secretaries, business owners, at least one superintendent, leaders from several pueblos and folks from the charter school community. But no one who introduced herself as a current teacher spoke in support of Skandera. It’s worth noting, however, that several former teachers who are now administrators did speak in support.

On the flipside, most of the people who spoke in opposition to Skandera’s confirmation were either practicing or retired teachers. I am not saying there are no teachers who support Skandera; I know there are. Nor am I saying there are no policy wonks who oppose her policies. I’m also not saying who is right. What I am saying is that I see the same pattern Petrelli observed at the national level playing out here at home. Skandera sits firmly in the aggressive reform camp, supported by all the same people who follow Michelle Rhee on Twitter. And the teachers in the audience likely all follow Diane Ravitch. It was very apparent today that these groups aren’t talking to each other.

My full story on the hearing will be in tomorrow’s paper. Happy weekend.