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A Chance to Play Education Buzzword Bingo

For the slackers and malingerers who failed to watch every governor's State of the State address this year, the Education Commission of the States performed a nice public service recently by tallying up how often, and in which states, certain phrases about education policy were mentioned in the governors' State of the State speeches, from 2012 back to 2005 (except for 2010).

Let's look at the frequency of various popular education phrases in the speeches this year, compared with 2005.

This may only be surprising to education policy acolytes, but the total number of references to education was lower this year than in 2005: 348 mentions, compared with 372, according to ECS. Some of that may be due to the drop in references to education finance from governors who were leery of focusing on state budgets unnecessarily in 2012.

The speeches mentioned issues related to school choice, such as vouchers, 20 times this year, compared with only 13 in 2005. Teacher quality issues came up 63 times this year, compared with 47 times seven years ago. Student achievement was not mentioned in any speech in 2005, but came up eight times this year. Interestingly, other education buzzwords, such as "accountability," were mentioned more times by governors in 2005 than in 2012, according to ECS.

Early-childhood education (or "P-3" in education jargon) got more mentions in 2012 (30) than in 2005 (26), but what is striking is the evolution of the term in speeches. In 2005, the only four types of references made to early education were to child care, kindergarten, preschool, and "the early grades." By 2012, there were 14 distinct types of P-3 references, ranging from system evaluation to full-day kindergarten.

The database doesn't just give you numbers, however. It also allows you to see who mentioned which terms and why they did. For example, in California, Gov. Jerry Brown (D) wanted to develop a statewide system of qualitative teacher evaluations. Creating "Learn and Earn" programs for students to get work experience was a proposal from Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D). South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R) wanted a new accountability system that would test students at the beginning, middle, and end of each school year.

Obviously, it would be simplistic to use the numbers to draw any broad conclusions. But governors have to jam many odes, denunciations, and bold ideas into their speeches, so what they focus on and how often they mention certain proposals is part of the education debate. Maybe a "How'd They Do?" scorecard-type feature based on this speech database is called for?

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