After initial passage, the Every Student Succeeds Act has entered a phase of sense-making in which the federal government, states, local districts, and individual stakeholders must begin interpreting the law, writing regulations for the law, determining courses of action at the state and local level, and generally forming opinions of the newest iteration of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act.
This process will necessarily be social, involving dialogue in the media, community forums, government offices, school district board rooms, individual classrooms, dinner table conversations, and a number of other domains. Social media such as Twitter represents but one of the many arenas in which stakeholders will dialogue as they make sense of and implement ESSA. Such social media, however, is unique in that it can serve as a conduit through which information from many of the other arenas travels. In other words, a social space like Twitter allows reporters, government officials, teachers, parents, students, and others to share information and develop collective perspectives beyond traditional structural confines.
We suggest that the early Twitter conversations regarding ESSA may serve to set on course certain discourses that impact the way in which ESSA comes to be implemented and viewed. While much remains to be seen in the implementation of ESSA, our analysis suggests the following:
-The early discourse on Twitter appears generally positive, suggesting a relative level of support for the new law. There are, however, a non-trivial number of users that view the law negatively.
-There is a clear clustering of users around sentiment, suggesting that by and large, users are in discourse with users that share their view of the law.
–Advocacy organizations and individuals identifying as advocates were among the most active and most retweeted users on Twitter. Such groups and individuals may perceive the passage of ESSA as a window of opportunity to push their education agendas.
-In the first week after passage, the Twitter discourse on ESSA has generally avoided significant attachment to a number of politically contentious topics such as Common Core and testing, suggesting that the law may be able to avoid some political divisiveness in the first stages of implementation.
-There are a number of substantive educational policy issues that those on Twitter are more actively attaching to ESSA, including issues regarding equity and teacher preparation. These may be areas in which early implementation faces more heated discussion.
All of that said, a notable feature of ESSA is that it shifts a fair amount of autonomy back to local actors such as states and school districts. The result of this is that many domains that may not be showing up frequently in the early discourse on ESSA (such as Common Core) may become issues within given states or districts as they make their decisions with regard to such issues. It is possible then that the coming months and years will witness greater discord within states and localities and fewer debates over issues such as standards and testing at the federal level.
With regard to the flow of information through the network of Twitter users discussing ESSA, we anticipate that as time progresses, the conversations and voices in the conversation may change.
-The most prominent voices in the early stages of implementation may not have been the most influential. The White House is well connected in the network but might be expected to present a positive view of the law. Other users may be less well connected but considered more credible.
-Government users such as the White House were some of the more active users in the first week following the passage of ESSA. As time progresses though, we expect the prominence of these voices to fade somewhat and the voice of local actors and other individuals and groups to increase.
-ESSA may come to take on different meanings for different groups. As implementation proceeds, we anticipate many different discourses occurring within states and local districts that, while influenced by the broader national discourse, may take on different sentiments in response to local implementation of the law.