Published Online: November 26, 1997



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On 'Necessary Jargon' and The 'Painfully Humorous'

To the Editor:

Howard Good's Commentary ("Say What?" Nov. 5, 1997.) was painfully humorous--yes, a true learning experience.

While most professions and organizations have their own unique language and verbal shortcuts, their employees stop short of using the lingo in public.

Just this week, my boss (the superintendent of the Wake County public school system in Raleigh, N.C.) had a close encounter with educational obfuscation and public perception. While conducting a presentation for a civic group, he displayed a list of various job titles of those employees considered "support."

He posed the question, "Which of these employees are not important?"

A distinguished professional gentleman in the audience responded, "I'd sure get rid of all those media specialists if they can't get the word out any better than you're doing now."

The good news is that we have now revised that particular transparency to read "Media Specialists (Librarians)."

The day that the stonecutters change the name of that venerable Fifth Avenue institution to the New York Public Media Center, we'll drop the parenthetical information.

Stella Shelton
Director of Communications
Wake County Public School System
Raleigh, N.C.

To the Editor:

Howard Good loses any possible credibility as an observer of schools when he names "public school teachers with fat salaries" as agents of resistance to change. Of all the teacher-bashing I've heard in the past decade, I've never heard even the most ardent critics of public schools bash teachers for their "fat salaries."

Mr. Good has one useful observation. There's too much unclear, unhelpful jargon in the language of educators. To communicate effectively with parents and citizens and, I'd add, students, we need to reduce the use of jargon whenever we can. It's a reasonable critique which could have been argued in a thoughtful and constructive manner.

But Mr. Good doesn't distinguish between the necessary language of the enterprise of schooling and an excess of jargon. Every group enterprise has its own language. What else would you call criterion-referenced assessments, for example? One challenge is to distinguish between necessary jargon and bureaucratic excess. Another is to make the necessary jargon understandable to parents and other citizens. Both of these goals can be accomplished with attention and discrimination.

Mr. Good concludes by arguing that the use of educational jargon has resulted in "a steady decrease in public understanding and a steady increase in public hostility." I wish this were true in all of its simplistic causality. If so, the remedy would be obvious and easy. But the whole system of how people and professionals relate in all of our institutions at the end of the 20th century is far more complex than this Commentary suggests. All of our institutions are beset by suspicion and hostility, including Mr. Good's chosen profession of journalism.

I would be disappointed if a Commentary as simplistic and silly as this one appeared in my hometown paper. To see it in Education Week is extremely disappointing. I believe you should hold yourselves to a much higher standard of complexity and explanation. The issue of communication between educators and citizens is a significant one, and it deserves much better treatment than it receives in this essay.

David Marshak
Assistant Professor
Seattle University
Seattle, Wash.

Did Libertarian Candidate Have Educational Answers?

To the Editor:

In your report on the governor's race in New Jersey ("Education Prominent in N.J. Governor's Race," Oct. 29, 1997.), you showed a photo of a debate that included the Libertarian candidate, Murray Sabrin.

But while your coverage of the views on education of Republican Gov. Christine Todd Whitman and her Democratic challenger state Sen. James E. McGreevey was very thorough, except for a brief mention that Mr. Sabrin was the only other candidate to receive matching funds from the state, you wrote nothing of his views.

Your position on viable political parties seems to be the same as your views on possible options in education: that is, limited to the tried and true, the status quo.

I was interested in what the Libertarian candidate had to say about education. Was it so controversial, or so convincing, you were afraid to print it? More likely, the omission was due to your compulsion to dismiss anything out of the ordinary. With education in desperate need of new, break-the-mold ideas, this is disappointing. I regard your newspaper as one of the forces keeping education in the rut it's now in.

Deborah Katz Hunt
Educational Consultant
Oregon, Wis.

Another Accrediting Turn Toward Performance

To the Editor:

I was pleased to read your article ("Accreditors Shift Toward Performance," Oct. 29, 1997.)

At the secondary commission of the Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools, we also have recognized the importance of assessing student performance in the evaluation and accreditation of secondary schools. This recognition stimulated the development, two years ago, of a new accreditation protocol that focuses on student achievement. We call it "accreditation for growth," and it is presently being offered to our member and candidate schools as an option to traditional accreditation protocols.

This new option represents a 180-degree shift in school evaluation, in that it assesses output and ends, rather than input and means. At present, we have more than 200 schools in various stages of this new protocol. Thirty will have completed the entire process by this fall and the remainder will be on the continuum to completion. We have found tremendous excitement about it.

Until now, schools have been accredited when they met the standards of membership of the accrediting agency. This process is concerned primarily with the makeup of the school, rather than its accomplishments. While a school still must meet the accreditation standards under accreditation for growth, we shift the focus to outcomes in terms of student achievement. A school that establishes measurable objectives that lead to student achievement and can demonstrate to an accrediting-agency representative that achievement has been met will be awarded accreditation.

Key to this new protocol is the need for a school to have a site plan developed within the context of an overall district strategic plan. In the case of private and overseas schools that are organized as independent entities, the strategic plan and the site plan are the same. Through this site plan, a school can now place itself in total control of whatever vision it seeks to create for its students. No longer will a school have to diffuse its energy (as well as its finances) toward one goal for school improvement and a separate one for accreditation.

Joseph J. DeLucia
Executive Director
Commission on Secondary Schools
Middle States Association of Colleges and Schools
Philadelphia, Pa.

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