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Teachers' Clout

I worry about who has (political) clout in education. I hear all the talk of improving and reforming and disrupting education, but on the national stage, I hear only certain voices -- and very few, if any, belong to teachers. I hear politicians, present and former tech CEOs, philanthropists, principals, pundits aplenty.

That seems to be the point, I guess, as our current education reform narratives lay the blame for the failings of our school system (and by extension, the dismal future of our nation and economy) at the feet of teachers. According to this logic, then, it makes sense that the efforts to remedy the school system move forward without the input or insights from those in the classroom.

Of course, anti-teacher rhetoric is nothing new. But it has crescendoed in the last year or so -- a month ago, I would have said culminating in the Davis Guggenheim movie Waiting for Superman. This past week, it culminated in the Wisconsin legislature's vote to abolish teachers' collective bargaining rights.

The repercussions of the union-busting will go far beyond just Wisconsin teachers' work worlds, to public employees in other states, and to workers -- unionized or not -- all over the country. And it's yet another blow to the teaching profession, which already suffers a ridiculously high turnover rate among new teachers at the same time as those experienced educators are threatened with ouster, with the end to tenure and with compensation for graduate education eliminated.

I worry that these efforts will not serve to improve education one bit. I worry that, in fact, by making teachers' lives worse, you will in turn make students' lives worse. The emphasis on standardized testing already does this. And conveniently now, the misery of standardized testing gets to be the score that those powerful voices in education reform use to measure teachers' influence -- their clout in the classroom

Editorial note: This is where I pause and remind myself, this is an education tech blog and not an education policy blog. Of course it's all interconnected, particularly when you have someone like Bill Gates serving as such a strong voice for education reform. However, when it comes to education policy specifically, let me point you to E.D. Kain's new education politics blog at Forbes). Here at Hack Education, I want to remain focused on the education tech.

Teachers' Klout

As a person focused on the tech industry, then, I can't help but think of Klout when I think about clout.

Klout claims to measure online influence (clout), calculating a score for this based on users' social media stature. The scores range from 1 to 100 and purportedly indicate how wide, how strong, and how engaged someone's audience is. The score is based on users' Twitter and Facebook activity, analyzing the number of followers and the number of clickthroughs, comments, and shares. "The final Klout Score," says the company "is a representation of how successful a person is at engaging their audience and how big of an impact their messages have on people."

I tend to be rather skeptical of making too much about assessments and score-keeping, just in general. Much like standardized testing I think these calculations may measure something but they're often wielded like blunt instruments and we forget they fail to account for the intricacies that most often matter. There is no distinction in the Klout Score, for example, that can account for different influence and expertise on different topics. You can't really tell by the measurement alone when someone with a low score overall actually has great expertise or over a particular group.

Twitter newcomer Charlie Sheen has a Klout score of 93 -- "Charlie Sheen is one of the most important people in social media and can start a trend with a single message," says Klout. Bill Gates scores 76. Meanwhile -- and my apologies here for what feels like an online equivalent of posting test scores publicly on the office door -- teacher Vicki Davis has a score of 57. Richard Byrne scores a 61. Larry Ferlazzo a 66. Alec Couros a 66. Will Richardson 64. Chris Lehmann a 64. These are some of the most influential educators online (in my non-algorithmic assessment, I admit); these are educators with large numbers of Twitter followers and with hugely popular blogs. These are some of education's thought-leaders. And they have little Klout.

I don't mean to conflate Klout and clout, and I don't mean to suggest that having a lot of Twitter followers who retweet you is somehow the equivalent to having a voice in shaping education policy and politics. Clearly it's a lot easier to shrug off a Klout score as irrelevant than it is to shrug off test scores that dictate your pay scale.

But before we dismiss Klout altogether, I think it's worth thinking about how filtering based on something like Klout can work. There is already a Chrome extension that puts Klout scores in your Twitter timeline, for example, a tool that can supposedly help you determine who's influential -- who's worth reading. And last summer, Virgin Airlines gave away airline tickets to based on Klout scores. Gimmicks aside, algorithms like Klout may become increasingly important as we ascertain reputation and influence online.

And so, Klout and clout. I worry that teachers' voices aren't amplified -- online and offline.

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Audrey Watters


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