A new study finds that the “education experts” often cited in print and online news stories may have little expertise in education policy.
In the most recent issue of the journal Education Policy Analysis Archives, authors Joel R. Malin and Christopher Lubienski at the University of Illinois published a study in which they “hypothesize that media impact is loosely coupled with educational expertise.” The study, titled “Educational Expertise, Advocacy, and Media Influence,” analyzed print and online media outlets, including some that focus exclusively on education, between January 1 and December 31, 2013. According to a February 20 post from ScienceDaily, the results found that the “people most often cited as 'education experts' in blogs and news stories may have the backing of influential organizations -- but have little background in education and education policy.” The post continued (emphasis added):
The findings are cause for concern because some prominent interest groups are promoting reform agendas and striving to influence policymakers and public opinion using individuals who have substantial media relations skills but little or no expertise in education research, say the authors of the study, Joel R. Malin and Christopher Lubienski, both at the University of Illinois.
“Our findings suggest that individuals with less expertise can often have greater success in media penetration,” said Malin, a curriculum specialist with the Pathways Resource Center and a doctoral candidate in educational administration and leadership at the university. “Although some individuals might not have formal training in research methods for analyzing the issues about which they are speaking, they possess skills and orientations that make them accessible and appealing to the media. And when these people are affiliated with organizations that have strong media arms or outreach efforts, they have the support and the incentive to engage broader and policy audiences.”
“Newer forms of media offer particularly useful opportunities for directly engaging audiences, while bypassing traditional forms of quality checks on expertise,” said Lubienski, a professor of education policy and director of the Forum on the Future of Public Education at the university. “We believe caution and consideration of individuals' expertise are warranted when reporters and bloggers are researching topics and seeking insights -- and when policymakers and laypersons are consuming media.”
Similarly, a Media Matters report in November 2014 found that only 9 percent of guests discussing education on evening cable news were educators. Media Matters conducted an analysis of weeknight cable-news education segments from January 1 through October 31, 2014, and found that educators comprised 4 percent of education guests on CNN, 5 percent on Fox News, and 14 percent on MSNBC.