Co-Opted Language: Decoding Ed Reform’s New Sales Pitch

The words used to promote “future ready” public education do not mean to reformers what they mean to you. This post is intended to pull back the curtain and expose the truth behind venture capital’s shiny promises of “personalized” tech-centered, data-driven learning. The list below features vocabulary that should be on everyone’s radar. Short definitions link to more detailed descriptions written from the point of view of the reformers-if they had to tell the truth about their plans to swap neighborhood schools for learning ecosystems. Complete list of long form definitions available here. One-page PDF handout for sharing available here.

1:1 Devices: A program where each child has their own data-gathering device for “anywhere learning.” More

Anytime, Anywhere Learning: A push to disconnect education from “constraints” of buildings and teachers. More

Assessment Reform / Computer Adaptive Testing: Punitive end of year tests exchanged for perpetual monitoring of online learning. More

Brain Breaks: Mental safety valve for students and teachers. More

College and Career Readiness: K12 public education as redefined by post-graduation outcomes. More

Community School: Business opportunities for non-profit providers created through intentional austerity. More

Data Dashboards: Tools to reduce learning to specific, measurable outcomes. More

Deeper Learning: Education reimagined as a big, unstructured DIY project. More

Digital Badges: Tokens of achievement rewarding skill acquisition or compliance. More

ELOs-Extended/Expanded Learning Opportunities: Outsourced learning opportunities for credit. More

E-Portfolio: Cloud-based skill storage that replaces report cards and diplomas. More

Evidence-Based: Parameters private interests use to set educational “success” criteria. More

Gamified: Use of entertainment platforms to make student data capture more palatable. More

Growth: Repeated data collection over time that can be used to evaluate returns on impact investments. More

Grit/Growth Mindset/Resilience: Self-discipline promoted as a tool to deal with dysfunctional social systems. More

Hybrid/Blended: Means to promote online learning while reducing face-to-face instruction. More

Innovation / Empowerment Zones: Designation that strips districts of contractual protections while promising autonomy. More

Innovative: Unproven “solutions” that disrupt school environments. More

Lifelong Learning: Uncertain employment outlook that demands constant re-skilling and up-skilling. More

Multiple Measures: Expansion of accountability categories for students, teachers and schools under ESSA. More

Pathways: Means to direct students into targeted workforce sectors based on their aggregated data. More

Pay for Success: Service delivery redesigned to capture proof of success for impact investments. More

Performance Assessments: Promise of authentic projects replaced by canned, standards-aligned rubrics. More

“Personalized” Learning: Digital profiling whereby algorithms control student access to educational content. More

Regionalization / Consolidation: Defunding and dwindling enrollment lead to diminished local control. More

Social Impact Bonds (SIBs): Finance scheme that uses public services to generate venture capital profit. More

Competency/Mastery/Proficiency-Based Education: Education reinvented as a perpetual skills checklist. More

Student-Centered/Agency: Self-serve education model where teachers play a marginal role. More

Whole Child / Social Emotional Learning: Non-cognitive traits are added to student academic profiles. More

6 thoughts on “Co-Opted Language: Decoding Ed Reform’s New Sales Pitch

  1. Poetic Justice – A poetry teacher defending public school students and their families.
    Poetic Justice says:

    Reblogged this on Poetic Justice and commented:
    The biggest battle we have in preserving our public schools is to recapture our profession lexicon. When you hear and read these terms, closely examine the source. This list defines the terms the way they are defined by the corporate reformers profiting from the destruction of true education. But the real meanings behind most of these terms are still good and valid.

    Together let us determine to take back these terms and show the world that educators love, cherish, and truly care about the well being of the nation’s children.

    Thank you.

  2. Robert D Skeels, JD, Esq * rdsathene – Barrio Echo Parque, Alta California – Robert D. Skeels is a social liberation writer, attorney, public education advocate, immigrant rights activist, and law professor. He lives, works, writes, and organizes in Los Angeles with his wife and cats. Robert holds a BA in Classical Civilization from the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA), a JD from Peoples College of Law (PCL), and passed the California Bar Exam on his first attempt. A US Navy Veteran, he is a proud member of Veterans for Peace. A student of Liberation Theology and Paulo Freire's work, Robert volunteers for community and 12 step groups. Robert's articles and essays appear in publications including Jacobin, Truthout, CounterPunch, Dissident Voice, Schools Matter, Daily Censored, Regeneración, K12NN, LA Progressive, and The Los Angeles Daily News. In 2013 Robert ran for the LAUSD School Board against a billionaire funded corporate reform candidate, finishing second in a field of five, with over 5,200 votes.
    Robert D. Skeels * rdsathene says:

    Excellent work here. Saw this tweeted by Professor James Horn.

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