The 2017 RHSU Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings

Today, we release on this site the 2017 Rick Hess Straight Up (RHSU) Edu-Scholar Public Influence Rankings. Simply being included in this list of 200 scholars is an honor, given the tens of thousands who might qualify. The ranked scholars include the top 146 finishers from last year, along with 54 “at-large” nominees chosen by the 27-member selection committee (see yesterday’s post for a list of committee members and all the salacious methodological details). The metrics, as explained yesterday, recognize those university-based scholars in the U.S. who are doing the most to influence educational policy and practice. The rubric reflects both a scholar’s larger body of work and their impact on the public discourse last year.

Here are the 2017 rankings (click chart for larger view). Please note that all university affiliations reflect a scholar’s institution as of December 2016. Only university-based researchers are eligible. (As explained yesterday, “university-based” requires a formal university affiliation, including a webpage on a university site.) After all, the point is to encourage universities to pay more attention to the stuff of scholarly participation in the public square. The bottom line: this is a serious but inevitably imperfect attempt to nudge academe to do more to encourage and recognize scholarship that impacts the real world.


Without further ado, let’s get to the results. The top scorers? All are familiar edu-names, who have authored influential works and who have played outsized public and professional roles. Topping the rankings, just as she did last year, was Stanford University’s Linda Darling-Hammond. The rest of the top five, in order, were Diane Ravitch of NYU, Gloria Ladson-Billings of the University of Wisconsin, U. Penn’s Angela Duckworth, and Harvard’s Howard Gardner. Rounding out the top ten were UC Berkeley’s Claude Steele, UCLA’s Pedro Noguera, Larry Cuban of Stanford, Shaun R. Harper of U. Penn, and Temple’s Sara Goldrick-Rab. These are veteran, accomplished scholars who have accumulated large bodies of heavily cited scholarly work and who have spent decades in the public square. In an interesting turn, though, three—Duckworth, Harper, and Goldrick-Rab—are of a much younger academic generation, but have carved out outsized public profiles on issues ranging from social and emotional learning to college costs.

Columbia (TC)’s Christopher Emdin made the biggest single leap from last year, climbing 99 spots to 32nd place. His rise was fueled by the remarkable success of his bestselling Beacon Press book, For White Folks Who Teach in the Hood. Others making especially big jumps from 2016 included Washington U.’s William Tate, NYU’s Stella Flores, Sean Reardon of Stanford, and Kirabo Jackson of Northwestern.

Stanford University and Harvard University each fared exceptionally well, with Stanford placing five scholars in the top 20 and Harvard three. UCLA, U. Penn, and the University of Virginia also placed multiple scholars in the top 20. When it came to overall representation, Harvard led the way with 25 ranked scholars. Stanford was second, with 19, and Columbia was third, with 16. Overall, 54 universities had at least one scholar make the cut.

A number of top scorers penned influential books of recent vintage. Just in the past year, U. Penn’s Angela Duckworth authored the blockbuster Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance; Morehouse’s Marc Lamont Hill published Nobody: Causalities of America’s War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond; and Sara Goldrick-Rab made it onto the late-night talk shows with her timely Paying the Price.

As with any such ranking, this exercise ought to be interpreted with appropriate caveats. Given that the ratings are a snapshot, the results obviously favor scholars who published a successful book or big study last year. But that’s how the world works. And that’s why we do this every year.

A few scholars tended to lead the field in any given category. For those of you keeping score at home, here’s a quick review of the category-killers:

More than thirty scholars maxed out on Google Scholar. When it came to book points, fourteen scholars maxed out, including Darling-Hammond, Ravitch, Gardner, Larry Cuban of Stanford, and Paul Peterson of Harvard. Duckworth and Stanford’s Jo Boaler took top honors for Amazon points, with 20.0 and 19.8 respectively. Twenty scholars maxed out on syllabus points, including Drew University’s Patrick McGuinn, Michael Feuer of George Washington University, Northwestern’s David Figlio, and UCLA’s Patricia Gandara. (The syllabus category is new this year: Scores were calculated by identifying the work of each scholar that is used most often on syllabi from across American, British and Canadian universities and then tallying how frequently the work was assigned.)

As far as attention in the education press, Darling-Hammond, Ravitch, Duckworth, Harvard’s Jim Ryan, Harper, and University of Virginia’s Daniel Willingham topped the charts. When it came to mentions in mainstream newspapers, Duckworth, Goldrick-Rab, the University of Michigan’s Susan Dynarski, Marc Lamont Hill, Steele, and Jacob Vigdor of the University of Washington were tops. In terms of web visibility, the top finishers were Stanford’s Reardon, Ladson-Billings, NYU’s Flores of NYU, Johns Hopkins’ Robert Slavin and Gene Glass of CU Boulder were tops. In the wild-and-woolly world of social media, Ravitch and Marc Lamont Hill posted the top Klout scores.

If readers want to argue the relevance, construction, reliability, or validity of the metrics, go for it. I’m not sure that I’ve got the measures right or even how much these results can or should tell us. That said, I think the same can be said about college rankings, NFL quarterback ratings, or international scorecards of human rights. For all their imperfections, I think such efforts convey real information—and help spark useful discussion.

That’s what I’ve sought to do here. Meanwhile, I’d welcome suggestions for possible improvements and am eager to hear your thoughts, critiques, questions, and suggestions. So, take a look, and have at it. And, tomorrow, don’t miss Ed Week’s special commentary package on the RHSU rankings—including a lively discussion of what it means for public scholarship when the academy leans left. Is it an issue if education scholars generally tilt to one side in an ideologically divided nation? See what ASU’s David Garcia, Colorado’s Josh Dunn, Seton Hall’s Carolyn Sattin-Bajaj, and yours truly have to say on that score.

—Frederick Hess

Frederick Hess is director of education policy studies at AEI and an executive editor at Education Next.

This post originally appeared on Rick Hess Straight Up.

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