Will These Education Buzzwords Persevere Under Trump?


School choice may be the popular kid in the education-jargon lunchroom right now, but it’s certainly not the only term that’s gotten a lot of buzz. Education Secretary-nominee Betsy DeVos will almost certainly bring with her a new set of vocabulary terms, but that doesn’t mean the U.S. Education Department will sharply depart from the education concepts the Obama administration either popularized or helped propagate. Education-related vocabulary tends to be needlessly clunky, but these 10 terms from the past eight years may—or may not—have some staying power.

Achievement Gap

Definition: When there is a statistically significant difference in two groups of students’ test scores, that difference is known as the achievement gap. Simply put, there is hard evidence of disparities in performance based on factors like race, gender, and socioeconomic status. One of the most mainstream of the buzzwords on this list, the existence of the achievement gap is oftentimes used as a catch-all to explain the failures of the education system to act as an engine of upward mobility.

Background: This term has been around for a while, but it gained extra prominence under the Obama administration. The National Center for Education Statistics has studied the achievement gaps between white and Hispanic students as well as white and black students, and one goal of President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative was to help close these disparities. Some researchshows charter schools—for which DeVos has strongly advocated—are effective in shrinking the achievement gap, though other research asserts the opposite. Ultimately, it would seem difficult for the new administration to shy away from referencing the phenomenon completely. The civil-rights issues exemplified by the achievement gap are, to a large extent, at the heart of the Department of Education’s existential purpose.

Here’s what former President Barack Obama said about achievement gaps in 2007:

Blacks are less likely in their schools to have adequate funding. We have less-qualified teachers in those schools. We have fewer textbooks in those schools. We got in some schools rats outnumbering computers. That’s called the achievement gap. You’ve got a health care gap and you’ve got an achievement gap.

Links to some of The Atlantic’s past coverage:

How the Stress of Racism Affects Learning | Melinda Anderson

The Challenge of Educational Inequality | Ronald Brownstein

In Wealthier School Districts, Students Are Farther Apart | Emily DeRuy

The Ignored Science That Could Help Close the Achievement Gap | Hayley Glatter

In Pursuit of Integration | Alia Wong

How School Suspensions Push Black Students Behind | Alia Wong

Data-Driven Instruction

Definition: This model is a deliberate and systematic measurement approach to student improvement. Many explanations of data-driven instruction include a cyclical element: Students take some form of assessment, the results from that assessment are collected and considered, and action is taken in response to those results. Then the process begins again.

Background: Data-driven instruction seems antithetical to many of the other terms on this list. It feels sterile and narrow-minded in context with a “whole child” approach emphasizing soft skills and emotional growth. Libraries could be filled with the novels written about the short- and long-term problems with teaching to a test; standardized testing is an imperfect measurement, but data-driven instruction can go beyond Scantron tests and operate as a results-oriented model.

Links to some of The Atlantic’s past coverage:

What Happened to the Common Core Debate? | Priscilla Alvarez

The Data-Driven Parent | Mya Frazier

What Happens When Students Control Their Own Education? | Emily Richmond

The Disproportionate Stress Plaguing American Teachers | Timothy Walker


Definition: No, this isn’t a trick question. Failure is the opposite of success. A child fails when they have not adequately done something required, desired, or otherwise expected.

Background: Regardless of your partisan leanings, failure was not, in fact, invented by the Obama administration. What was popularized in recent years is the glamorization of failure—part of a pushback against the participation-trophy frenzy and part an acknowledgement that a perfect score on the test of life is not only impossible but also undesirable. Failure allows much of the education world’s favorite jargon to thrive: Students with grit will know how to overcome failure. Such perseverance is a noncognitive skill. Children with a growth mindset will see that they can, in fact, become more skilled at what they have failed at.

Flipped Classrooms

Definition: Teacher explains concept. Students complete homework. Lather. Rinse. Repeat for tomorrow.

Or not—at least, not if an educator is using the flipped-classroom model. Rather than spending time explaining concepts in class, this approach seeks to break the lecture-homework cycle by flipping it. Students are expected to watch video lectures on their own time and then engage in discussions, projects, and activities during class.

Background: Flipped classrooms are designed to improve student engagement in a course. The thinking goes that if they are actively discussing material with their peers and teachers in class, then they will learn and retain the information better. Students are more responsible for their own learning with this model, and instructors could be given “a better opportunity to detect errors in thinking,” according to the nonprofit Educause.

The flipped classroom could find some support in the new administration, as Education Secretary nominee Betsy DeVos has expressed support for online education.

Links to some of The Atlantic’s past coverage:

Should Colleges Really Eliminate the Lecture? | Christine Gross-Loh

The Post-Lecture Classroom: How Will Students Fare? | Robinson Meyer


Definition: Grit is about perseverance. It’s about resilience, stick-to-itiveness, and passion for the goals to which one applies a relentless can-do attitude.

Background: Grit is inherently connected to growth mindset (any student can develop grit, the wisdom goes) and non-cognitive skills. The psychologist Angela Duckworth, who wrote the book Grit, shows the appearance of the quality is a strong predictor of long-term academic success. Surely the story of Donald Trump and his supporters’ unexpected ascension to power can be peppered with examples of scrappy grit; there is a pull-yourself-up-by-the-bootstraps quality to many a story about Trump’s voter base. Whether the Education Department will continue to use the buzzword isn’t clear, but it seems unlikely that the new administration will divest from the narrative.

Duncan praised the role of grit in education in 2014 remarks:

As parents, we know that grit, resilience, patience, and many other skills can have just as great an effect on our students’ long-term prospects as their math and reading—their academic—skills.

[Source:-The Atlantic]