Slanted Wikipedia revisions dog Idaho schools chief

Luna is not the first public official whose entry has become a source of debate, and Wikipedia’s senior editors have since revised his page to strip slanted material.

The spokeswoman for Idaho state schools superintendent Tom Luna triggered a tug of war over his Wikipedia entry when revising the web page last week to make changes that included touting his polarizing education reforms, a newspaper reported Sept. 7.

Melissa McGrath made numerous edits, including striking a false claim about Luna’s experience. She also removed the word “online” when referencing Luna’s degree, which he did earn online from Thomas Edison State College, the Idaho Statesman reports.

McGrath, public information officer for the state Department of Education, told the newspaper that was an oversight.

Luna’s entry on the internet encyclopedia, which anyone can update, has been revised more than 60 times in the past two weeks, with critics lashing out at the changes and making edits of their own, and McGrath enlisting help from other Wikipedia users to combat the critical revisions being edited into the superintendent’s page.

Wikipedia allows people to add information or make revisions to pages anonymously, while dedicated users worldwide seek to ensure the information is accurate.

Luna is not the first public official whose entry has become a source of debate, and Wikipedia’s senior editors have since revised his page to strip slanted material.

McGrath’s Aug. 27 edits were posted under her name and trimmed negatively opinionated references to the education overhaul, which was approved in 2011 amid fierce debate. The changes limited collective bargaining, introduced merit pay, and will distribute a laptop to every high school teacher and student.

McGrath’s revision then included her own extolments of the education changes, which are subject to voter approval in November, saying, “Through these laws, every child—no matter where they live—will now have access to the best educational opportunities.”

Luna, a huge proponent of online education, is also making virtual courses a graduation requirement. He earned his bachelor’s degree in measurement science online, which McGrath said is “something we talk about all the time—that he does have a degree from an online university.”

She initially said she didn’t remember removing the word “online” from the section of his Wikipedia entry that mentions his degree, and denied that she would make such a change. When shown her entry compared to the previous version, McGrath told the newspaper that edit was an oversight.

McGrath, a former journalist, said she was always taught never to use the site as a reliable source. “But there are thousands of people that use it every day, so I do feel it’s important that we ensure as much correct information as possible is out there,” she said.

Jim Weatherby, professor emeritus of Boise State University’s political science department, said Luna is wise to watch his online image, particularly given his rising profile.

“Wikipedia is subject to amendment by the minute, by friend or foe,” Weatherby said. “You have to watch what funny business the anonymous contributors do to their political enemies.”

For more news about Idaho’s school reform initiatives, see:

Ed tech vs. larger class sizes: Worth the trade-off?

Idaho law favors tech over teachers’ salaries

Idaho education firestorm sparks attempt at appeal

Idaho works to carry out online class requirement

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