The 2014 Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings recognize university-based education scholars for their contributions to public understanding and debate. Influence is a product of several factors, including a body of scholarship, the degree to which a scholar’s work has had an impact on other researchers, willingness to wade into public discourse, and the energy and effectiveness devoted to writing for and speaking to popular audiences. The rankings include the top 150 finishers from last year, augmented by 50 “at-large” additions named by a selection committee of about two dozen accomplished scholars (all of whom were assured an automatic bid by dint of their 2013 rankings).
This exercise starts from the premise that academe today does a passable job of recognizing good disciplinary scholarship, but a mediocre job of recognizing scholars who work to move ideas from the pages of barely read journals into the national policy conversation. Indeed, academe offers big professional rewards for scholars who stay in their comfort zones and pursue narrow, hypersophisticated research, but few for scholars who write for popular outlets or risk stepping into heated public debates.
These metrics are not intended to celebrate citations or sound bites, but to harness a wisdom-of-the-crowds sense of a scholar’s public footprint in 2013. Influence is gauged by his or her current scholarship, commentary, larger body of work, and media presence. A description of how the scores were calculated and the maximum number of points allocated to each category follows.
One result is that the public square is filled by impassioned advocates, while we hear far less than I’d like from those who are best equipped to recognize complexities and explain hard truths. The goal of these rankings is to honor and encourage the kind of engagement that is too often overlooked.
As I see it, the extraordinary policy scholar excels in five areas: disciplinary scholarship, policy analysis and popular writing, convening and shepherding collaborations, providing incisive commentary, and speaking in the public square. The scholars who are skilled in most or all of these areas can cross boundaries, foster crucial collaborations, spark fresh thinking, and bring research into the world of policy in smart and useful ways.
The academy, though, treats many of these skills as an afterthought—or a distraction! And while foundations fund evaluations, convenings, policy analysis, and dissemination, few make any particular effort to develop multiskilled scholars or support this whole panoply of activity.
The reaction to the Public Influence Rankings has left me convinced that things can change. I’ve heard from deans who have used these rankings to help identify potential hires and from scholars who’ve used them to make the case for promotion or new opportunities. Institutions themselves have responded by spotlighting the results, honoring activity that too rarely gets such notice.
Given the many thousands of university-based faculty tackling education, even cracking the top 200 is an honor.
A version of this article appeared in the January 15, 2014 edition of Education Week as The 2014 Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings