Education Department Wants Tweets from Teachers and Students

February has been a busy month for K-12 education. On February 1, U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan kicked it off by announcing that all U.S. schools should transition to digital textbooks within the next five years. On the 9th, President Obama waived 10 states from No Child Left Behind. And last week, the president proposed a 2013 budget that includes a $1.7 funding increase for education.

Although these federal policy decisions may not seem directly connected to day-to-day classroom activities, the Department of Education is using Twitter to encourage teachers, administrators, parents, and students to play a more active role.

[High school students can follow these 10 Twitter handles to help with scholarship searches.]

"We've found Twitter to be a really effective mode for two-way communication--where it's not just [the Department of Education] putting out a press release or statement, but ... something that's soliciting feedback from everyone--teachers, students, [and] parents," says Daren Briscoe, deputy press secretary for the Department of Education.

One of the DOE's Twitter initiatives is the Twitter Town Hall meeting. During the week of February 6, for example, Twitter users posted questions to Education Secretary Duncan about education issues in the Latino community, using the hashtag #HispanicEd.

The Education Department staff filtered through the tagged Tweets, searching for common themes, and then picked about 20 for Duncan and José Rico, executive director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for Hispanics, to answer via Twitter and through a streaming video. In the video, Duncan and Rico addressed issues that current teachers, administrators, parents, and students Tweeted about--such as the high school dropout rate of Latinos, college affordability, and parent engagement.

[Read how students learn better with engaged parents.]

Duncan also participated in a Twitter Town Hall meeting about digital learning initiatives earlier in February, alongside Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Chairman Julius Genachowski.

Briscoe points out that the DOE doesn't use Twitter to drive policy, but rather, to gauge what different people across the country think about education policy. The Twitter conversations are similar to a good dinner table conversation, he says, where a friend will offer suggestions that may have not been on your radar.

"One of the good things about Twitter is that it's instantaneous," Briscoe adds. "You don't have to wonder what people are thinking. They're able to reach out in real time and respond to what we're putting out there."

[Stay up to date on education issues by following @USNewsEducation.]

The next opportunity for teachers, as well as parents and students, to Tweet with educational policy leaders is today at 3 p.m., when the DOE hosts a Twitter chat about rural education. Another upcoming DOE Twitter Town Hall meeting will call for questions about education investments in President Obama's recent budget proposal. Briscoe says the idea behind using Twitter, in all DOE events, is to field input from the people who are affected by federal education policy in the classroom.

"Arne [Duncan] is fond of saying that the answers are not all going to come from Washington, D.C.," Briscoe says. "Education policy is a convoluted and complicated arena. And I think Twitter is an excellent way for us to sort of tap into the collective wisdom that's out there."

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