Over at Failing Schools, we’ve spent a lot of time unpacking overused, mis-used and deceptively-used terms that tend to pollute discussions of education policy rather than improving them.
Instead of making the discussion easier to understand and participate in, these terms are intentionally used by certain speakers as a way of disarming listeners, either by pushing them to implicitly agree with the speaker, or to lead a listener to assume they know more than they really do about a given issue (thereby stopping them from seeking new information that could disrupt that assumption, and/or leading them to take action based on faulty information).
We’ll continue to do that, but here is a selection of those earlier posts, regarding some of the most commonly used buzzwords, terms and phrases in the education reform debate. And here is a recent round-up of reader-submitted terms.
- Word Attack: ‘Achievement’ - “When community groups, educators, and public officials get together to try to improve student achievement, without first agreeing on what that is, communities may end up consenting to things they’d never want for their children.”
- Word Attack: ‘Data’ – ““Data” is one of, if not the, sexiest words in the realm of current educational jargon. If you want to curry favor with foundations, elected officials, or other self-styled school reformers, slipping Data into your proposal or conversation as often as possible is the quickest way to do it. Data is sexy because it still sounds like the word it replaced, and therefore has the ring of objectivity, truth, and fairness that people are looking for when they seek quick fixes for problems in education. If you claim to have Data on your side, you gain the upper hand in many reform conversations. That’s because untrained ears often fail to realize that Data is less informative or objective than it sounds.”
- Word Attack: ‘Tenure’ – “There is a widespread perception that one of the biggest barriers to improving schools is that teachers have ironclad job protections that keep ineffective practitioners in classrooms, to the detriment of their students. But is that really so?”
- Word Attack: ‘Choice’ - “Yet in too many places, especially low-income communities and/or communities of color, “choice” isn’t actually a choice. Rather than being able to develop a strong local ecosystem of high-quality choices, these communities are being forced to accept schools they don’t want, at the expense of supporting and improving the existing schools.”
- Word Attack: ‘Objective’ – “As reformers of all stripes rethink teacher evaluation, and as states try to reduce budget shortfalls by cutting education spending, there have been many discussions about the best way(s) to ensure that we keep the best teachers in their classrooms, and eliminate the worst. Though there is much to be said about the various proposals people have put forth, and though I have strong opinions about most of them, there’s one oversight in the conversation that has been bothering me for months: It appears that many people don’t quite understand what “objective” means, or are confused about when it’s appropriate to use the term.”
- Word Attack: ‘Status Quo’ – “The education reform discussion (or debate, depending on who’s talking) is filled with buzzwords and terms, most of which (like “accountability” and “reform”) are meant to sound positive, so that we choose to agree with the speaker. (“Well, I believe in holding people accountable for their actions, so yes, I’m for an accountability movement.”) We know that many of these fall apart under closer scrutiny, but at least there’s an attempt to win skeptics over by appealing to commonly shared values. But some terms are designed to shame us into compliance with the speaker. ‘Status quo’ is the perfect example of this.”
- On ‘Collaboration’ – “Collaborating FOR a superior instead of WITH predictably involves wholesale compromise of your own views, voice, and power in a matter. This way, you can serve a function you have been graciously allowed to serve without muddying up the waters with things like genuine input, feedback, reciprocity, and respect.”
Have an opinion about a term we’ve broken down, or want to nominate a new term for dissection? Share your thoughts on the form below.