Confusing Jargon

There sure are a lot of words used at Seattle Public Schools that have a special or specific meaning within the context of public K-12 education. The jargon of education. The professionals often use this jargon among themselves to speak precisely. At Seattle Public Schools the professionals often use this jargon to confuse or intimidate the public. The staff of Seattle Public Schools particularly like to MIS-use this jargon to confuse the public, or to tempt the public into mis-using the jargon to make them appear ignorant.

Of late, this trick has been practiced more by Dr. Cathy Thompson and Kathleen Vasquez than any other member of the staff.

Consider this example: Middle School Language Arts Curriculum Adoption. The District is not really adopting a curriculum; the District is adopting instructional materials. But it serves the interests of the District staff to confuse the public (and the Board, who are merely glorified members of the public) about the definitions of the words "content", "curriculum", "pedagogy", and "materials". They sow confusion by intentionally misusing the jargon. They hope to tempt you into misusing the words so they can publicly correct you as part of their effort to belittle, discount, and discredit your perspective.

Do not be taken in by this simple trick.

I have written to Ms Vasquez, with copies to Dr. Thompson, Dr. Enfield, Dr. Goodloe-Johnson (geez! It's like that scene from Spies Like Us.) and the Board about the incorrect use of the jargon and asking her to correct the web page. I pointed out the mis-use, the dangers of mis-using jargon, and asked her to correct the language on this page and similar pages.

My tone was pretty formal and helpful. Other people could contact some of these folks, highlight the mis-use of these terms, and suggest that the people who wrote this are either incompetent idiots who don't even know the difference between materials and curriculum or are plotters who intend to usurp the Board's authority to adopt curriculum.

The web pages were updated to say "instructional materials adoption" instead of "curriculum adoption". The change was made the same day that I brought the situation to Ms Vasquez's attention.


Anonymous said…
thanks for the post. i wouldn't have known about this and was a part of the initial meeting last spring. i keep inquiring but have not heard anything until now.
Maureen said…
Charlie, your last line is: ...the Board's authority to adopt curriculum.

Was this intentionally ironic?! The Board only has the authority to adopt materials, not curriculum.

See how confusing this is?
dan dempsey said…
I think the Board does have the authority to set a curriculum. Are they obligated to use what OSPI has set fourth in the state standards as a curriculum?

Certainly with end of course testing coming at the high school some type of curricular alignment with the state would be advised; but does it need to be 100% the same? Legally I doubt it.
Anonymous said…
You're a twit. "Instructional Materials" ARE curriculum because they come with implied instruction, sequence, pacing, and pedagogy. They ARE the heart of the course of study. To continually whine and complain about this splitting of words does nothing for anybody, and is pointless. Yes. We all know you hate standardization. But, lots and lots of people disagree. Lots of people WANT standardization. You don't know enough to have an opinion to foist on the district. I'm glad they don't listen to you. Blog away to your loyal admirers.

One Parent.
dan dempsey said…
Dear One Parent,

Harium gave a discourse on the exact meaning of curriculum and how it differs from instructional materials.

This is not some arbitrary distinction that Charlie just devised.

-- Dan
Charlie Mas said…
Another of those potentially confusing bits of jargon is "course of study". I'm not entirely sure how "course of study" fits into the model that the District has set.

Policy B61.00 makes it the Board's responsibility to "Prescribe a course of study."

Policy C02.00 is about courses of study, which are defined as "the set of standards necessary to matriculate a student from kindergarten through to graduation".

RCW 28A.150.230 makes it the Board's responsibility to "(f) Establish final curriculum standards consistent with law and rules of the superintendent of public instruction, relevant to the particular needs of district students or the unusual characteristics of the district, and ensuring a quality education for each student in the district;"

Setting curriculum is a Board responsibility.
Charlie Mas said…
It's possible that One Parent is just a troll trying to pique an angry response, but there are a number of people who consider instructional materials and curriculum to be synonymous.

Whether you think they are synonymous or not, whether I think they are synonymous or not, the District has clearly stated that the two are NOT synonymous.

As I often say, I don't know the truth; I only know what the District tells me. The District has told me that instructional materials and curriculum are two separate things. Therefore, within the context of Seattle Public Schools official documents, if nowhere else, instructional materials and curriculum are two separate things that should not be confused.

That's going to be true whether I am a twit or not.

It would only be pointless to care about the distinction if the distinction never matters. The District staff have made the distinction matter in the past and I have every reason to believe that they will make the distinction matter in the future. Expecting the people to be precise in their language doesn't really speak to standardization, but while we are on the topic, the District - officially - is opposed to standardization. So far as I know, no one wants it. Also, so far as I know, there is no specific level of knowledge required to have an opinion and, so far as I know, I am not capable of foisting mine on the District.

The District may not listen to me - although I have ample evidence that they do - but I am listening to you, One Parent.
Charlie Mas said…
Gee, whattayaknow. The web page has been updated to read

"Middle School Language Arts Instructional Materials Adoption" instead of curriculum adoption.

I guess the district does listen to me.

Don't worry, One Parent, just because you are factually wrong doesn't mean that you are conceptually wrong.
peonypower said…
I am not sure that it is all intentional. I sat through a meeting where Cathy Thompson mis-stated the scope of science standards from the state. She kept referring to k-10 and our new standards go k-12. A pretty big gaffe to make in front of a room full of angry science teachers.

I vote evil and incompetent.
Anonymous said…
I received an email from SPS Arts Ed today with a link for a survey for K-5 Music Instructional Materials Adoption. They are looking for input on music curriculum standardization. The survey ends on Jan 4th. There is also a link to an application to be on the Committee for Music Curriculum Standardization. Applications are taken until Jan 6th.

If this post is off-topic, please feel free to move it to an appropriate post. I did not want to put it in last Friday's open topic, in case no one is checking that anymore.

SPS Parent
seattle citizen said…
Speaking of consuing jargon,
Kati Haycock, Reformer extraordinaire, thinks high school educators should be troubled “most of all” by students unable to pass the nation’s military entrance exam. It’s the teacher’s fault! Oh, but wait, the link they supply to the military report shows that there are many factors. Including adults who are in jail or on parole. (Interestingly, the report indicates that 88 PERCENT! of adults in New Hampshire are on parole or in jail….wahhhhht?! More data gone horribly wrong….)

Arne Duncan evidently agrees: Unless we Reform now, we will not have enough young people to send to war.

Here’s the LEV post on the matter:
“Is education a national security issue?
A new study reveals that more than one in five young people are unable to pass our nation’s military entrance exam. The report, “Shut Out of the Military” by the Education Trust, examined results from the U.S. Army’s Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test.
The report raises concerns for the future of our armed forces. It finds that 23 percent of nearly 350,000 high school students, who took the ASVAB between 2004 and 2009, failed the test.
In an introduction to the report, Kati Haycock, president of the Education Trust, says the “findings should trouble high school educators most of all, because this shatters the comfortable myth that academically underprepared students will find in the military a second-chance pathway to success.”
With so many high school students unprepared for college or careers, and now the military, education leaders such as Education Secretary Arne Duncan and Harlem Children’s Zone’s Geoffrey Canada have repeatedly raised concerns about education as a national security issue.
At a luncheon last month in Seattle, Canada cited a report by Mission: Readiness, a bipartisan organization of retired military leaders, which found that 75 percent of our nation’s 17- to 24-year-olds are ineligible for military service due to “failure to graduate high school, a criminal record, and physical fitness issues, including obesity.”
Parents, education advocates and policymakers [wait...Haycock said it was the high school educators...] have another reason to ensure our high schools are adequately preparing our young people.”
Anonymous said…
the District - officially - is opposed to standardization. So far as I know, no one wants it.

Wrong again. The district adopted standardized math curricula. That is, they adopted and purchased a common materials. THEN, they send out daily (or weekly) information on the lessons to be given, or skipped each week. If that's not "standardization", I can't imagine what might be. Clearly, they want standardization.

One Parent
Anonymous said…
you know, one parent, the district treads a fine line between the the terms because they know their human kapital will freak the f out if we go scripted here in Seattle...
-one parent to another
seattle citizen said…
that's true, one parent to another. To avoid freakin' the human capital out, they're sloowly turning up the heat, the scripts, so the Kapital won't know it's soup until they're done.

Just like the rest of the nation: Some have it hotter than others, but scripts are the curricula du jour. How can it be any other way? If you have codified "standards," no matter how banal, and the stakes are high for students (and therefore the teachers) to fill in the bubble sheets correctly, then it follows that curriculum will become scripted to teach to the right bubbles. Ergo ipso facto: scripts.
seattle citizen said…
The funny (ha ha) thing is, that ALL schools, no matter all their succeses, will be called "failing" if they have a category that doesn't rise on the bubble sheets.

So even if one wanted to meet "standard," and taught all their students the bubble-standards, SOME kid in the building will have a bad day and the school "fails" under NCLB (some schools, the Title One schools will be the only ones to be "restructured" and have their names dragged through the mud as "failing." Other schools, "high end" schools that are still level 4 or 4 under NCLB, will not merit an iota of attention from the feds or the media, because it ain't good business for the Reformers to point out their are "failing" schools with 80% students going on to college or careers...)

What a deal.
Anonymous said…
Some curricula are scripted. Some aren't. So what? The district hasn't standardized on any truly scripted curricula. Sending out email which says "This week, do this, not that" isn't scripting... but it does imply a firm belief in standard, and standardized, district-wide practice by SPS. Those are simply the facts on the ground.

The curricula promoted by Dan Dempsey, the so-called, "direct instruction" that his beloved "project follow through" used, are scripted to the hilt and the height of absurdity. Project Follow Through demanded the use of "Reading Mastery", and that has been used on and off by highly impoverished schools without much benefit. I doubt any schools are still using these highly scripted and impoverished curricula.

If SPS splits hairs over "curricula", materials, etc... it's only to pacify a few know-it-alls ... the ones who think "autonomy for all" is a good thing, or have their own agenda against standard curricula and instruction.

One Parent, back to another.
Charlie Mas said…
I'm curious, One Parent, what's your goal here? What are you hoping to accomplish with your comments?

Are you hoping to convince people to a perspective? If so, do you think your rhetoric is effective?

Are you just expressing your disgust with the tone or content of the blog? If so, then why not just skip it? Do you also watch TV shows you don't like so you can sneer at them?

Are you hoping to save others from misinformation or from being misguided by statements on the blog? Is that it? You're a crusader for truth? Whom are you hoping to save? Do you think you're being effective?

I'm also curious about why you choose call people insulting names, why you would make authoritative sounding statements which are not, in fact, authoritative, why you whine and complain, why you create feeble, transparent strawman arguments, and why you would make assertions that have no basis in fact. Why go to all this effort? Just to be a troll?

Are you just hoping to pull down the tone and content of the discussion on the blog as part of an effort to discredit it?

This pathology intrigues me. Please tell us more about what compels you and what you hope to achieve with these tactics.
Anonymous said…
What's the insult? Facts? Facts aren't "authoritative". It seems you are the insulting person. Continually throwing up strawmen, as if it was some sort of revealing "ah-ha". What's your purpose in that? And then, "And now look what they've done misused to nearly synonymous terms trying to confuse the poor public with jargon" implying some sort of agenda. The fact is, they simply have standardized, and continue to standardize around in core subjects. So what? Are you seeking more attaboys for yourself?

O. Parent.
Anonymous said…
some standardization is fine- of the what not the how for ss, for example. readers/writers is helpful - how is more standard, but not the what so much (seeing the comments about the hyper-focus on narrative despite the plethora of other units and modes of writing availble). but there is a need for flexibilty in order for responsive teaching and remediation to occur. in the math schedule, there is no room for remediation. an entire class might fail a unit but a teacher must charge on because of the mandate to be at a certain point by a certain time.
that just ain't right.
-o.p.2.a.who teaches
What's the insult? You called Charlie a "twit".

Please, I'm with Charlie; what are you really trying to accomplish. That you disagree with Charlie is fine but he has proven his point because there ARE two Board policies on this issue.

If you are for standardization and don't care if your child's teachers read from a script to "teach" them, fine. Other people do care. Agree to disagree but don't name call.
Unknown said…
this issue is not just a Seattle issue. we run into the same issue in our school district. i would find it helpful if there was a place within the district to find definitions of terms being used in the implementation of board policy....allows for accountability and enables staff and public to follow what has been approved by the school board and is being implemented by administrative staff. in my experiences, I found the confusion is not only among board members, admin staff and the public, but among administrative staff members as well and among central admin staff's communication with school administrative and teaching staff.
Charlie Mas said…
One Parent (we presume, since it is impossible to know for certain with anonymous commenters) asked:

"What's the insult?"

I was thinking of "twit" when I wrote about insulting names. Am I wrong about that? Did you mean "twit" in a complimentary sense? Do you think that I aspire to be regarded as a twit?

"Facts? Facts aren't 'authoritative'."

I'm going to disagree on this one. Facts are authoritative.

It's possible that you meant this as a rhetorical question - although you didn't use a question mark. In that case, we agree, but you didn't state any facts. You stated, instead, that ""Instructional Materials" ARE curriculum". I assure you that they are two separate things. Take, for example, the use of Romeo and Juliet as instructional materials. Are we to believe that every class - whether in elementary school, middle school, high school, or college that uses that text as instructional material has the same curriculum? That's simply not credible.

"It seems you are the insulting person."

Really? I am SO sorry if you have taken offense. I never intended to tread on your delicate nature. I am trying to take you seriously and respond to you in a thoughtful way. Please forgive me. I will try to be more gentle in future.

"Continually throwing up strawmen, as if it was some sort of revealing 'ah-ha'."

I'm not sure what you mean by this. Have I put words in someone else's mouth? Have I made a ridiculous statement and ascribed it to the opposing view? I don't recall doing that as you did when you wrote:

"the ones who think 'autonomy for all' is a good thing, or have their own agenda against standard curricula and instruction."

I will say that One Parent got it right when writing: "And then, "And now look what they've done misused to nearly synonymous terms trying to confuse the poor public with jargon" implying some sort of agenda." I was trying to imply an agenda. It's good to know that I am writing effectively. The District staff have, on a number of occassions split hairs on the jargon as a tactic to dismiss, discount or discredit input from the community. Their own confusing use of the jargon is pretty clearly a strategy to sow confusion so they can reap rhetorical points when the confusion is echoed back to them from the community.

"The fact is, they simply have standardized, and continue to standardize around in core subjects. So what?"

So this: while they standardize, they continue to deny that they are standardizing. I am pointing out their deception. The deception bothers me.

"Are you seeking more attaboys for yourself?" Please, no more. I am humbled by your praise.

I think I've been very clear about what I am seeking. Honest, open, transparent, engaged and accountable administration of the District. Beyond that, right now, I am seeking your answer to my question: What is your goal here?

I've answered your questions. Will you return the courtesy?
Jan said…
Charlie said:

I think I've been very clear about what I am seeking. Honest, open, transparent, engaged and accountable administration of the District. Beyond that, right now, I am seeking your answer to my question: What is your goal here?

I've answered your questions. Will you return the courtesy?

Anonymous/One Parent's reply?
Charlie Mas said…

Please don't hold your breath. I'm not holding mine.

All blogs are subject to trolls. There are two main schools of thought when it comes to dealing with them.

One school suggests ignoring them. Like flashers or obscene phone callers they get off on your reaction. Perhaps they just seek attention of any kind at any cost. If ignored they might seek that attention elsewhere.

The other school of thought suggests that we counter their rude and childish play for attention with a courteous and adult - but un-emotional - discussion of the issue they raise. They have no real interest in discussion (and no resources to support one) so, bored, they will fade away.

On this blog I prefer to address them because it offers the opportunity to discuss the issues a bit and so they can't claim victory because there was no response to their concern. Error should not go un-answered.

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