If you picked out random Americans on the street and asked them if they know what public-school teachers are and what they do, you would almost certainly receive universally affirmative responses. Everyone knows what a teacher is—it’s practically self-evident. Teachers teach students, of course.
But what if you asked the question a little differently? What if you asked these same random Americans to describe the most effective instructional techniques identified by research? Or define classroom management, assessment, direct instruction, or scaffolding? Or describe what is taught in teacher-preparation programs? Or name one form of professional development commonly offered to teachers? These questions—all of which are central to understanding the teaching profession—would likely be met with blank stares, confusion, and muddled responses.
It turns out that teaching isn’t as self-evident as it appears.
Nearly every adult American has had a personal experience with public schools, whether they are former students, parents, taxpayers, or the friends and spouses of educators. Yet while people generally know something about what public schools have been, the general public tends to be far less informed about what schools could be. And for good reason: the business of improving public schools is extraordinarily complex.
That’s why we created the Glossary of Education Reform.
Developed by the Great Schools Partnership, in collaboration with the Education Writers Association and the Nellie Mae Education Foundation, the Glossary of Education Reform is an accessible, easily navigated resource where educators, journalists, parents, and community members—anyone with an interest or investment in our public schools—will find concise yet detailed descriptions of widely used educational terms, concepts, and strategies—all written in plain English. We don’t define jargon by using more jargon, and whenever possible we illustrate tricky educational concepts by including specific, concrete examples that anyone can understand and relate to.
For example, check out our definitions of college-ready and career-ready. While a term such as “college-ready” may seem self-explanatory, the concept is not only complicated and culturally nuanced, but it also intersects and overlaps with several important educational concept and values, including high expectations and equity—both of which, it turns out, are more or less essential to understanding the college-readiness concept from an educational perspective. That’s one of the great benefits of our resource: we link readers to other entries to improve general understanding and reveal the interconnectedness of many educational terms that might otherwise appear entirely unrelated.
The Glossary of Education Reform currently features more than 470 terms and 130 in-depth entries on K–12 education reform in the United States. It is also a work in progress that we are expanding, improving, and refining all the time. Each entry includes a general definition of the term, a discussion about how the concept or strategy intersects with efforts to improve school performance or student achievement, and an overview of related debates, including the major arguments for or against particular reforms. Importantly, the glossary is designed to be a neutral observer, and we worked hard to create entries that are factual, objective, and impartial.
In a word, we believe that strong schools, great journalism, and an informed electorate are essential to any well-functioning democracy. And our hope is that the Glossary will play some small but important role in demystifying education reform in the United States.
Stephen Abbott is director of communications at Great Schools Partnership and editor of the Glossary of Education Reform.