Three Problems With CPRE’s Twitter Bot Claims

Even by the bottom-dwelling standards of Common Core propagandists, this is a bit rich. Huffington Post and a new Gates Foundation-funded outfit called The 74 both report gleefully (see here and here) on a study by the Consortium for Policy Research in Education (CPRE), purporting to show that much opposition to Common Core was built by “fake news” generated by manipulation of Twitter feeds. Financed partly by – guess who? – the Gates Foundation, this study is a remarkably shoddy piece of work in a field, education research, known for shoddy work.

First, the CPRE study. The researchers’ first odd decision was to analyze the Common Core debate through the lens of Twitter traffic at all. Although the numbers are unquantifiable, it’s safe to say the vast majority of parents and other citizens who have worked against Common Core for years don’t use Twitter and are serenely unaware of what today’s tweets are saying. So the idea that Common Core opposition depended to any significant extent on Twitter traffic is bogus from the get-go.

The second questionable decision was to begin the examination of Twitter traffic with September 2013. This was long after academic and other serious critiques of Common Core were published by experts such as Dr. James Milgram and Dr. Sandra Stotsky. Dr. Stotsky spoke to Alabama legislators against it in 2011.  By skipping the several years before September 2013, the researchers were able to avoid chronicling Twitter traffic that publicized weighty reports the researchers couldn’t dismiss as “fake news.”  Dr. Milgram correctly warned Alabamians in 2015 of the disaster awaiting them.  Alabama math scores on NAEP dropped from 25th pre common core to dead last that same year.

And speaking of fake news, the researchers seem strangely oblivious to the legitimate and serious debate that has been swirling around Common Core since 2010. Instead, as Truth in American Education co-founder James Wilson noted, they accept pro-Common Core marketing at face value and dismiss any contrary information as myth. But there is massive evidence that the Common Core standards carry low academic expectations; that their creation and implementation violated principles of federalism and self-government; that their implementation was a debacle that harmed both children and teachers; and that they’re part of a larger scheme to impose broad and intrusive data-collection and tracking – evidence which has never been successfully refuted.

The researchers’ idea of “fake news” is revealed by their labeling Investors’ Business Daily a “shady online ‘news’ organization.” This ludicrous characterization (wonder what they think of the Wall Street Journal?) discredits everything else they say.

A third problem with the study is its mischaracterization of PJNET, which helped with some anti-Common Core Twitter rallies, as a “bot.” That description connotes fake tweets, generated by technology, to create the perception of more tweeters than actually exist. But according to Teri Sasseville, a Georgia activist who worked with PJNET on several Common Core campaigns, “PJNET is not a bot. Every tweet than goes out from PJNET is an effective tweet, originally sent by a human tweeter, that is harvested from Twitter by PJNET and loaded into their Featured Tweets. The tweets are subsequently dispatched and retweeted by humans in agreement with the sentiment of the tweets. . . . In the case of our #StopCommonCore rallies, #StopHR5 rallies, #EndFedEd rallies, [and] #KeepYourPromise rallies, the tweeters are mostly Moms and Dads. Not bots.”

The researchers’ general worldview about education and who should control it is revealed in their snarky observation that more than 75% of the most active tweeters came from “outside of education.” Lead researcher Jonathan Supovitz was quoted as saying, “The surprise for me was that the big-name players in education advocacy were not dominating the space.” The insinuation is that no one without a “big name” or an education degree – and that would include most parents – knows enough to comment on education policy and really should just shut up. Why parents should ignore their own instincts and research and defer to credentialed bureaucrats who have accomplished little but destruction over the last 50 years is not made clear.

But Supovitz concluded triumphantly that “Common Core won the policy war,” because “few, if any, states had the capacity to fundamentally re-engineer defensibly different ways of organizing the sequence of topics that children should receive to develop their mathematical and) literacy skills.” So this is how he understands the objection to Common Core – that the standards wrongly “organize the sequence of topics”? Does he have no better grasp than this of the substantive critiques of the standards – the philosophy, the marginalization of literature, the idiotic math pedagogy, the egregious creation and implementation process? “Scholars” who are so shockingly ignorant of the topic they’re researching should find another line of work.

And any soldier in the Common Core wars could tell Dr. Supovitz that the reason states haven’t replaced the standards isn’t the lack of a better alternative. The easiest fix a state could make to the Common Core mess would be to replace the national standards with undeniably superior pre-Common Core standards, such as those from Massachusetts, and in fact there have been legislative attempts in several states to do just that.  But the education and political establishments in those states have resisted. Common Core didn’t win because it was so great – it won (so far) because of the political and economic power behind it.

So the CPRE study is essentially meaningless as an analysis of Common Core opposition. But of course the leftist (Huffington Post) and Gates-funded (The 74) lap it up. Common Core opponents have complained for years that on this issue, some reporters “generally act as stenographers rather than journalists, dutifully repeating what’s contained in press releases for the national standards rather than actually investigating the claims. This is certainly true of the CPRE study coverage.

Rebecca Klein of HuffPo, particularly, accepted the premises and conclusions of the study without question. If Klein tried to contact anyone targeted by the study (other than an unsuccessful attempt to reach PJNET’s Mark Prasek less than 30 minutes before she published her story), her article doesn’t show it. She incorrectly described PJNET as affiliated with a “for-profit church” (By His Grace Ministries, to which she apparently referred, is not and does not claim to be a church). And she used all the common scare words to indicate her agreement with the study’s conclusions about the nefariousness of the anti-Common Core movement (“fringe,” “myths,” “army of online bots,” “fabrications and misinformation,” “disturbing,” “easily discredited misinformation,” “hyperbolic or false claims”).

One especially offensive aspect of Klein’s article (and to be fair, this may not have been her doing) was the reproduction of one of Sasseville’s tweets in the midst of several paragraphs fretting about “misinformation.” The tweet in question showed a picture of a little girl in tears, working on something with paper and pencil. The clear implication was that this tweet was an example of such a fabrication.

Fabrication? Hardly. Explains Sasseville: “The little girl in my tweet is Maddie, a cancer survivor who was a 2nd-grader stressing over her Common Core homework at the time of this photo [taken by her mother, a professional photographer]. I got permission from her [mother] to use the picture as the header for the Stop Early Childhood Common Core Facebook group. Maddie is not a bot. This photo is not hyperbole.”

Before publishing studies, researchers would have at least made minimal effort to educate themselves on what they’re writing about. Before promoting these studies, the bloggers funded by Gates should get in the habit of asking a few questions. But all the laudatory claims about Common Core have been fake so far – why should anything change now?

Eunie Smith is the President of Eagle Forum.

Deborah Love is the Executive Director Eagle Forum of Alabama.

2 thoughts on “Three Problems With CPRE’s Twitter Bot Claims

    1. This was the original headline to Rebecca Klein’s follow up article: ” Trump promised to repeal Common Core. These parents don’t plan to let him forget it.” It was changed by an editor to this: “They Voted For Trump. Now, They Say He’s Already Broken His Education Promise”. I sent her an email after the headline changed and told her that, “I liked the first one better, which I assume you wrote. It pushed the main points in the article. This sounds too “finite”? He has had other issues to deal with. I understand that my priorities, which affect me daily, are not necessarily the country’s first priority.” She responded, “I understand what you’re saying. I will bring it up with the editor tomorrow….” They have not changed it back.

      I was hesitant to do the interview with her after her not telling Teri about the horrendous article she dropped prior to speaking to her. I called her out on it and felt the message was more important than getting into a pissing match with her and agreed to do the interview. Here is the follow up article which Teri and I both contributed to, as well as Jane Robbins:

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