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The Education Policy Glossary

Like most policy fields, education is full of jargon. There are countless acronyms, terms and phrases that may hold little meaning for the average citizen, but are used routinely in education circles. Moreover, there are just as many words and phrases that carry a different meaning in education than they do in regular conversation.

We at the Shanker Institute have started a new project to help people, inside and outside the field, to understand the language of education policy. Accordingly, we have assembled the first installment of an education policy glossary that indicates what people in education typically mean, intentionally or unintentionally, when they use certain words and phrases.

We hope that this will encourage more people to engage in the public discourse, and to improve understanding and consistency among those of us who are already participating. The glossary is below.


  • Important:   Reflecting my opinion
  • Thoughtful:   Relatively close to my opinion, given the source
  • Interesting:   Unsuccessful in making me question prior beliefs, but not infuriating
  • Predictable:   Stupid
  • Misleading:   Really stupid
  • Corporate:   Involving test scores
  • Holistic:   Unobservable
  • Reliable:   Valid
  • Valid:   How I’d like to do it


  • Reform:   My policy preferences
  • “Reform”:   My opponents’ policy preferences
  • Analysis:   Commentary
  • Statistical analysis:   Cross-tabulation
  • Expert:   Staffer
  • Stakeholders:   Humans
  • Rhetoric:   Language used by my opponents
  • Rigor:   Unfalsifiably high quality
  • Performance:   Test scores
  • Learning:   Test score growth
  • Growth:   Cohort changes
  • Test scores:   Proficiency rates
  • Curriculum:   Standards
  • Standards:   Proficiency cut scores
  • Status quo:   5-10 years ago
  • Innovation:   Things I hope will work
  • Boldness:   Doing things I hope will work, but will receive pushback
  • Incubation:   Office space
  • Government schools:   Schools
  • Unionized teachers:   Teachers
  • Best practices:   Selection on the dependent variable
  • High expectations:   Implausible targets
  • 21st Century skills:   Knowledge of Excel
  • Ed tech:   Computers
  • Creaming:   Exhibiting differences in rates derived from binary student characteristics variables
  • Poverty:   Subsidized lunch eligibility
  • Portfolio strategy:   Charter schools
  • Personalized learning:   Class
  • Deeper learning:   Content not on the state test
  • Blended learning:   YouTube
  • Brain-based learning:   ???
  • Working conditions:   Unexplained variation in teacher turnover outcomes


  • “The research shows…”:   “I read an online article about a conference paper that found…”
  •  “Changing the conversation”:   Stating common opinions with occasional parenthetical caveats
  • “We need to…”:   “Other people should…”
  •  “Putting children first”:   Doing what I want
  • "The social side of education":   Wherever Esther is
  • "The anti-social side of education":   Matt’s office
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