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What education reformers say and what they mean, a dictionary

From, That Way Madness Lies, by Karen Fraid

Assessment (noun): A test made by a corporation and protected from peer review and public scrutiny by intellectual property laws and strict confidentiality agreements.

Data-Driven Assessment (noun): A test made by a corporation and protected from peer review by intellectual property laws and strict confidentiality agreements whose purpose is to provide numbers too complicated and nuanced for the general public to understand, but vague enough that they can be molded into a variety of purposes as the need for “data” to support reforms arises.

Failing School (noun): A school for poor children of color whose intended funding subsidizes corporations.

For the Children (phrase): This actually doesn’t mean anything.  The Reformy equivalent to chanting “USA! USA!”

Market-Based Reform (noun): A euphemism for “Corporate Subsidy Disbursement,” “Economic Power Grab” and “Fear-Based Economic Policy.”

No Excuses (phrase): A slogan which means that a person (especially a child) is lacking in grit if they cannot solve all of the problems of society.  NOTE: This slogan can only be used when speaking to a person of a lower socio-economic status than oneself.  If a person from a higher socio-economic status voices frustration at the aspects of society that stymie their efforts, the appropriate response is a government subsidy, tax credit, protectionist tariff or bailout.

Rigor (noun).  Difficulty for its own sake, regardless of any applicable research, science or desired outcome.

School Choice (noun): This is when politicians choose to close a public school and let charter schools open instead. School choice also refers to subsidizing upper-income families and religious institutions with tax dollars, often redirected from “failing schools.”  School choice also refers to the choice made by charter and private schools to discriminate against students with disabilities, students in extreme poverty and high-risk students by choosing policies guaranteed to skim only the students that they choose.  School choice is also used as a tool to stem the tide of white flight, without having to convince white folks to spend time with those unlike themselves.

Status Quo (noun): (NOTE: Please do not be confused by the Latin definition of these words; in Reformy Quasi-Latin they have a different meaning.) The Status Quois the situation in the present moment as observed by a Reformer who has arrived in medias res like a deus ex machina with a curriculum vitae full of plutocratic bona fidesErgo, to Reformers, all that matters in determining the Status Quo is a tabula rasasnapshot of a given moment in time without regard to yesterday or tomorrow, context or content.  According to Reformers, the cure in toto for the Status Quo (which is always, to them, the worst-case scenario) is a de facto ad hoc doubling down on the same policies and in vivo experiments that are already in place.  Remember, those policies were put in place to fight the OLD Status Quo.  The new Status Quo is moreStatus Quoier, so we need MORE of the same policies to create a NEW Status Quo to fight, ad infinitum…ad nauseam.  Got it?

Value-Added Score (noun): The application of a scientific, statistical model designed for predicting outcomes to assessment scores.  A model allows constants to become variables and vice versa.  When applied in real time, in real life, with attached consequences for the resulting data, this becomes a synonym for “self-fulfilling prophesy.”

Accountability (noun): The act of holding children responsible for choosing to be born into the wrong families or in the wrong geographic locations.  Alternately, the act of penalizing teachers who do not advise at-risk students to quit school quickly and avoid wasting everyone’s time and money.

Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) (noun): A number pulled out of a hat by a politician or political appointee which schools must earn on standardized tests.  Alternately, the number on a dartboard hit by a politician or political appointee which schools must earn on standardized tests.

Achievement Gap (noun): Synonym for wealth gap.  Achievement correlates to poverty. SHHHH! Don’t say poverty!

High-Stakes Test (noun): An assessment in which the margin of error is often greater than the desired gains; nevertheless, such assessments have the power to close schools, fire teachers, cause children to repeat a grade, defund districts or schools, cause states and municipalities to lose funding, fire administrators, shame communities, stifle economic growth, increase dropout rates, disenfranchise parents and children, increase race-based segregation, increase crime rates, raise taxes, burden local governments, increase poverty, pit neighbors against each other, determine which students can attend well-funded schools or institutes of higher learning…[Editors note:  Actually, this term is pretty much right-on. -K.F.]

Incentivize (verb): To make people offers they literally can’t refuse.

Longer School Day (noun): (Synonyms include Full School Day, Expanded Learning Time, Extended Day.)  An arbitrarily chosen length of time that adults with no knowledge of child development think that children need to spend in school.

Norm-Referenced Test (noun): An assessment which grades on a bell curve by definition, yet holds children, schools, teachers and communities responsible when half of the children are below average.  Supporting high-stakes norm-referenced testing is a good way to send a message that, when it comes to mathematics, you are NOT smarter than a fifth grader.

Outcome-Based Learning (noun): (Synonyms include Proficiency-Based Learning, Standards-Based Reform, Performance-Based Education, and any combination of any of the previous words that include at least one hyphen and no awareness of irony.)  An education philosophy in which the outcome or performance on assessments is the goal in and of itself.  Any learning that does not assist the student immediately in test performance is a waste of time and resources, since reformers know that they never use anything that they learned in school in their jobs today.

Poverty (noun): The worst curse word ever known to Reformers.  Never, never, ever, ever say the word “poverty” out loud.  If nobody ever mentions it again, it will magically cease to exist.

Trapped (adjective): Synonym for segregated.  Example: “Our children are trapped in failing schools.” (Translation: “Our children are segregated in underfunded schools.”)

21st Century Skills (plural noun): These are what students gain when an educator is replaced with an iPad.  How else will kids ever get enough screen time if we don’t provide it in schools?


  1. student-centered (adjective): Method of designing lessons and teaching students that promotes maximum learning for students but maximum burnout and demoralization for teachers. Commonly-used term to justify administrators riding herd on teachers to exhaust themselves putting on a dog and pony show to satisfy micromanaging administrators with clipboards with out real concern for student understanding or satisfaction with teacher performance. (SEE ALSO child-centered).

  2. Research-based (adjective): Describes bureaucratic and/or political efforts to manipulate statistics to justify their beliefs and rationalize their actions. Tends to ignore other statistics that point toward social factors as a cause for poor performance but will root out easier targets for blame (e.g. faulting a teacher's failure to teach a standard on student failure).