This is the flood of edu-jargon that administrators, teachers and even some parents use to explain what happens in this building.
You nod and smile. It appears you’re expected to understand this language. But you don’t, and neither do lots of other moms and dads who are deep in the drama of choosing a school.
In the District — home to a bigger proportion of public charter schools than anywhere in the nation except New Orleans, plus traditional public schools that accept out-of-boundary kids and private schools that accept federally funded vouchers — school choice isn’t an abstract philosophy. It’s a puzzle parents must figure out, and never so intensely as at this time of year, in the weeks leading up to annual school lotteries, most of which are held in late February and March.
Every night there is a different school to visit, another set of test scores and curricula and recess-to-class-time ratios to consider. It’s lovely that there are options. But it can be overwhelming.
“They all say they’re innovative or this or that,” one despairing mom told me recently. “They all end up sounding the same.”
So here is a glossary: nine oft-uttered education terms defined in plain English to help you translate what you’re hearing.
A simple glossary won’t solve some of your most pressing problems, of course. It won’t tell you which principals are responsive to children or which cafeteria lunches are palatable. (For that, you’ll need to find a way to visit on a regular day — open houses are a little too staged to judge a school’s quality.) Nor will it dissolve the anxiety of lottery season, the fear that your kid will get shut out of every school you like. (For that, you’ll need a stiff drink.)
But speaking the language is a start.
A child’s ability to make plans and follow through on them, resisting impulses and distractions and managing emotional upheavals along the way. Research says strong self-regulators are more likely to be successful — not just in school, but in relationships and in life. So teaching self-regulation is big in education these days, especially for the youngest kids.
Controlling impulses is not easy, as any serial dieter can attest. So how do you teach it? One method that’s in vogue: play. Not free-for-all play, but planned play. Children sit down to map out what they’re going to do beforehand (“Today, I’m going to pretend to be a hairdresser”). Afterward, they reflect on whether they stuck with their plan (“I got tired of being a hairdresser and decided to be a dragon”). This kind of play is a central part of Tools of the Mind, the early-childhood curriculum in many traditional D.C. schools.