Plenty of “Edspeak” to Go Around

By Mary Ann Zehr — August 21, 2007 1 min read
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In her book about educational jargon published in July, education historian Diane Ravitch includes a number of terms I hear tossed around in the field of educating English-language learners. I confess that I toss some of those terms around myself.

In the preface of EdSpeak: A Glossary of Education Terms, Phrases, Buzzwords, and Jargon, Ms. Ravitch writes that while a specialized vocabulary may help people working in a particular field to discuss “sophisticated ideas that are beyond the understanding of the average citizen,” the result, “is to mystify the public.”

I applaud Ms. Ravitch for trying to translate educational terms into plain English.

Here’s her definition of bilingual education, for example: “School program that teaches English-language learners all subjects in their native language while they are learning English. Advocates see bilingual education as a way to help students gain knowledge while becoming literate in two languages. Critics question such programs’ value and effectiveness, contending that limited-English-proficient students’ main priority should be to learn English—and learn in English.”

Her definition is confusing, though, in that she says that all subjects are taught in students’ native tongue while students are learning English. In fact, bilingual education programs that I’ve observed include at least some English lessons—even if it’s only oral English—from the start. The definition would be better if she deleted the word “all.”

It just goes to show that demystifying is not an easy task.

EdSpeak is published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development in Alexandria, Va. By the way, that same organization has its own online lexicon for educational vocabulary, which also includes a fair number of definitions for terms related to educating English-language learners.

Ms. Ravitch is a co-writer with education scholar Deborah Meier of a blog, Bridging Differences, hosted at

A version of this news article first appeared in the Learning the Language blog.