The Qualities and Skills Needed to Excel as a Public Scholar

Coming this Thursday, I will publish the 2024 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings, which recognize the top 200 education scholars who had the greatest impact on the education discourse in the previous year. Today, I’d like to take a moment to explain the purpose of these rankings. (I will reveal the scoring rubric tomorrow.)

The rankings are based on two important beliefs: 1) Ideas are important, and 2) People dedicate more time and effort to activities that are valued. The academic world does a decent job in recognizing good scholarship in specific fields, but it falls short in acknowledging scholars who translate their ideas into real-world policy and practice. While this might not be as critical in the study of certain subjects like material science or Renaissance poetry, it is of utmost importance when it comes to education research. However, it is equally important for these scholars to engage constructively and recognize the limitations of their own expertise.

It is important to note that I am not an overly enthusiastic advocate for research or academia. I do not believe that policy or practice should be solely guided by researchers. Researchers always bring their own biases, and decisions regarding education policy and practice should be based on more than just the latest study. However, I do believe that thoughtful scholars have a lot to offer. They can ask challenging questions, challenge conventional wisdom, analyze the impact of past reforms, and explore ways in which things can be improved.

Now let’s shift our focus to baseball. In baseball, there is a concept of a “five-tool” player. These players excel in running, fielding, throwing, hitting, and hitting with power. While some players may be exceptional in only a few of these areas, there is a special appreciation for those who excel in all five.

Scholars whose work is relevant to policy and practice require a similar range of skills to excel. However, the current system of promotions, pay, and prestige in universities tends to reward a narrow range of activities and accomplishments. I have always believed that by recognizing and encouraging scholars who possess multiple skills, more academics would be motivated to engage in those areas.

In my view, an outstanding public scholar excels in five key areas: disciplinary research, scholarly analysis, writing for a general audience on policy and practice, facilitating collaborations, and speaking publicly. Scholars who possess these skills can cross boundaries, promote important collaborations, inspire fresh thinking, and effectively bridge the gap between research and policy/practice.

Unfortunately, academia often rewards scholars who specialize and pursue highly sophisticated research within their comfort zone, while neglecting the value of scholars who possess a diverse set of skills. As a result, the public square is filled with passionate advocates (including academics with limited scholarly accomplishments), and we hear relatively less from those who can provide valuable context, offer nuanced perspectives, and explain complex truths. One way to encourage academics to step into the public arena is by recognizing and valuing those scholars who do so.

Over the years, I have received positive reactions to the Edu-Scholar Rankings, which has convinced me that the current state of affairs is not set in stone. Deans and provosts have used these rankings to identify potential candidates for positions or to make decisions about promotions and salaries. Scholars themselves have used the rankings to initiate conversations with department chairs about institutional support or to demonstrate their impact when applying for jobs, grants, fellowships, or tenure. Additionally, numerous prestigious institutions have proudly highlighted the performance of their faculty in these rankings, shedding light on activities that typically go unnoticed.

The Edu-Scholar Rankings balance the influence of a scholar’s academic scholarship and their impact on public discourse. The various metrics used are not simply measures of citations or sound bites, but an attempt to capture a scholar’s public presence over the past year through a collective intelligence approach.

It’s important to note that this exercise is not meant to be a precise measurement. It is intended to spark conversations, similar to rankings in sports, entertainment, and finance. It is an attempt, supported by data, to generate discussions about the value that scholars bring and to identify those who do so most effectively.

Furthermore, it should be emphasized that a scholar’s influence does not necessarily reflect the social benefit of their work. These rankings focus on scholarly influence and do not make judgments about the quality of a scholar’s work, the societal impact of their agenda, or the constructive nature of their engagement. Instead, the rankings provide insights into which scholars have a significant influence and how they exercise that influence. The merits of their efforts are then subject to discussions about the responsible use of that influence.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that these rankings do not consider factors like teaching, mentoring, and community service. They exclusively focus on public influence and should not be seen as a comprehensive evaluation of a scholar’s overall contributions to society.

Frederick Hess is the director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and an executive editor of Education Next.

This article was originally published on Rick Hess Straight Up.

The post What It Takes to Be an Effective Public Scholar appeared first on Education Next.

Other articles

Post Image
New Administrators’ Entry Plan

After years of diligent preparation for a school leadership roleā€”participating i …

Read More
Post Image
Cell phone policies in NYC schools highlight difficulties of implementing statewide ban.

Forest Hills High School’s cell phone policy appears straightforward on th …

Read More
Post Image
Michigan school districts must allocate federal stimulus funds before deadline

Michigan is sitting on billions of dollars in COVID-19 federal funding earmarked …

Read More