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Education Lingo

When educators speak, Tristan Dorian Greene listens. But that doesn't mean he understands.

As a school finance expert and liaison between the Arkansas state attorney general's office and the legislature on efforts to carry out court-mandated education changes, Mr. Greene attends many meetings on schools.

But listening to school officials and consultants go on and on about "paradigms" and "enrichment opportunities" makes him cringe.

After one recent meeting, he shared his frustrations to an Associated Press reporter, who turned his venting into a news article on educators' perplexing language.

That was fine with Mr. Greene, who hopes the attention will cause educators to mind their acronyms.

"As long as educators have this terminology that they will not let go of," he said in an interview, "then the rest of us, including me, will sit back and go, 'What the heck do you mean?'"

He has coined his own term for such jargon: "educanto."

Some of his least favorite educanto terms include ELL (English-language learner), LEP (limited English-proficient), ESL (English as a second language), and ADM (average daily membership).

Then there are "instructional facilitators." What a great idea, he gushes—as long as people realize the term refers to teachers who help other teachers.

When he urges school types to speak to the masses, not to each other, he doesn't get far: "They look at me as though I have no idea what I'm talking about."

He does, however, get a sympathetic ear from Lawrence O. Picus, a professor of education at the University of Southern California. Mr. Picus is a consultant to the legislative task force that is studying an overhaul of Arkansas' public schools. He has learned to watch his own use of educanto.

Part of his job is to help Arkansas find a way to give all of its students an "adequate" education. In the school finance world, that means a system that allows all students to meet state-defined learning goals.

But uninitiated lawmakers sometimes bristle at the term, declaring that they want a "world-class education," and not one that is simply adequate.

"No one would argue with that," Mr. Picus said. "But if you could get all the children in Arkansas to meet state proficiency targets, you'd have a world-class education."

—Robert C. Johnston

Vol. 22, Issue 39, Page 16

Published in Print: June 4, 2003, as State Journal

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