When principals talk about their work to parents, they utter buzzwords and acronyms that leave their public in the dark. This “ed-speak” phenomenon is so prevalent, it should be considered an occupational hazard.

Martin Kozloff, a sociologist from the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, has studied the creep of ed-speak in teacher training programs. He calls it “unmatched twaddle … unbelievable bilge … absolutely staggering nonsense.”

An article in the August 16 issue of the Los Angeles Times took aim at the perpetrators of what the reporter called “a blizzard of buzzwords.” Professor Kozloff argued that ed-speak serves a deliberate purpose: “It allows teachers and administrators to insulate themselves from scrutiny and maintain a grip on power.”

An education historian cited in this article, Jeffrey Mirel of the University of Michigan, said, “It’s a way to underscore the message that, I’m a professional, so give me your kid and leave me alone. All professional language is turf language.”

Some examples

From this Los Angeles Times story, consider the following hazards of a parent-teacher discussion of reading. “Take reading, perhaps the most important subject in school. Teachers engage their students in “phonemic awareness,” “decoding” “systematic, explicit phonics” and “word attack skills.” How can parents make sense of this festival of buzzwords?

And terms change quickly, making it tough for teachers, too. “They’re always changing the acronyms that are being thrown around,” said Shana Kensley, 25, a second-year kindergarten teacher in Lompoc, north of Santa Barbara. “It gets a little confusing.” Case in point: Students still learning English once were known as LEP (limited English proficient). Now they’re called ELL (English language learner).

What to do

The Los Angeles Times reporter discovered Principal Jeff Carlovsky’s solution. ” … with more than 30 years experience, [he] keeps a jargon handbook on his desk at Cabrillo High School in Lompoc, just for those occasions when someone tosses him a zinger. Carlovsky recently spent five years working in the schools of Washington state. But he returned a stranger in a strange land, unfamiliar with the local dialect. Washington refers to attendance as FTE–full-time enrollment. California calls it ADA–average daily attendance. “I’m the first one to jump on the bandwagon and say, ‘We ought to get rid of the baloney,’ ” Carlovsky said. “I’d get rid of the 25-cent words, break them down into laymen’s terms.”

Some help translating ed-speak

It’s best not to speak this jargon at all. But it’s hard to avoid hearing it inside the K-12 world. When you encounter it, you may want some help translating it.

You might try calling Lompoc USD’s Susan McDermott. She publishes the annual dictionary which Principal Carlovsky is so fond of: “Education Acronyms Defined.” It is a key to the cryptic code spoken by California educators. Four stars.

EdSource has also done a great job of defining California’s particular ed-jargon terms, including a separate dictionary of acronyms.

Finally, feel free to use our own on-line dictionary, built by the hard-working editors at School Wise Press.