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Here's Why You Can't Understand Your State's New Plan for Education


You know it when you see it.

That's right: We're talking about education jargon, those terms that might signify something very important, but are often utterly mysterious to people who don't spend their days wading through school policy. And there's definitely quite a bit of jargon in the plans submitted by 17 states so far for the Every Student Succeeds Act.

So with the help of a few self-aware wonks, we selected 12 pieces of jargon and tracked how often they occurred in those ESSA plans. Here are some terms we encountered on our mystical jargon adventure, and how often we encountered them. Hover over slices of the pie chart to see the numbers:

Is the pie chart above not working for you? Here's a table with the numbers for the dirty dozen:


"Stakeholder" (1,577) accounted for the largest share of the results, with "engagement" (821) coming in second and "professional development" (541) rounding out the trifecta. There's a certain irony there, because a few months ago, the Education Department actually scaled back requirements for showing their work with stakeholders (sorry) in state ESSA plans. "Stakeholder" and "engagement" are often used together in the plans, so it's not surprising that they're used a lot, although families and students are also subject to "engagement" in states' blueprints. 

Thanks to Chad Aldeman at Bellwether Education Partners, Sara Kerr at Results for America, and Brandon Wright at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute for tossing us jargon tidbits to look for. We also leaned a bit on this EduBabble jargon generator.

Again, we are not trying to say jargon refers to bad or frivolous things. On the contrary, there's plenty of jargon that deals with important concepts. But as Education Week Commentary pieces have argued more than once, the education field is riddled with jargon and buzzwords that frequently make the arena (or "firehouse") very opaque to the public. 

Note: As you might expect, some of this jargon occurs in the ESSA plan template the U.S. Department of Education gave to states. And it doesn't seem particularly fair to hold that against states. So we tried to exclude the template's use of jargon from our counts.

Bonus: From our list of jargon above, we singled out the phrase "professional development" and tracked how many times each state used it. Here are the results:

So, did we miss any particularly excruciating jargon in our analysis? Let us know in the comments section. We just might look it up ... if we don't fall asleep first. 

Video: ESSA Explained in 3 Minutes

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