When it Comes to Ed Jargon, Parents Need to Stay Informed

For many parents, trying to keep up with advances in education via newspapers and other media sometimes feel like it’s written in a whole other language. Terms like “gamification,” “flipped classrooms,” and “MOOCs” abound, and those who don’t keep their ear to the ground permanently have a difficult time keeping up.

According to Lindsay Fiori, writing for the Wisconsin’s Journal Times, the use of insider jargon in education has jumped in the past several years, which means those who wish to remain on top of things — like parents — have a steeper mountain to climb. It’s difficult to determine exactly what is behind the growth. Some are claiming that the increasingly scientific academic research is calling for suitably descriptive language while others just think that the goal is simply to obfuscate. All agree, however, that the advanced language is no reason for teachers to allow parents to remain in the dark.

John Merrow, who has been writing about education for many years, calls the impenetrable jargon a “smokescreen” frequently used by teachers and administrators to either disguise their own lack of knowledge or defend failing practices. If that is the case, then keeping outsides informed is even more important.

Some districts, like Racine Unified School District, tackle the issue head-on. Parents who visit the district’s website can find thorough glossaries covering most of the buzzwords parents most commonly hear and teachers most commonly use. Richard Halverson, who is an educational leadership and policy analyst for University of Wisconsin-Madison, however, believes that schools should be doing even more. For example, why not invite parents to a hosted information night?

At Case, Eben’s teachers make an effort to explain jargon and acronyms to parents, he said.

“You really have to sit with parents and every conversation is different depending on the parent’s knowledge,” Eben said. He instructs staff to “let the parents tell you what they know or don’t know … I have found most will ask.

You don’t have too much false pride. You just gotta make it friendly.”

The responsibility shouldn’t rest entirely on the teachers. Parents need to engage more fully with their children’s education and make a commitment to staying informed. Halverson said that occasionally educators get entirely too caught up in their own acronyms, and the best cure for that are inquisitive parents who aren’t easy to fool.

Then they’ll know what their child’s computerized “MAP” test results mean and how the resources of a collaborative group of school districts, or a “CESA,” might help scores improve. They’ll even know what tweaking lessons to match a student’s learning style, or “differentiating instruction,” can do for their child.