Initial this…

First it was NCLB.  Now in New York, we face APPR, RTTT, AYP, CCCS, SLO, RTI….should I keep going? Because there are more.  Lots more.  The feds and Albany have us treading water in instructional alphabet soup.

I hate acronyms.    Not just because I teach English and the point of reading and writing is clear communication.   I hate acronyms because I hate  pretentious malarkey and scams.

At content area conferences and at faculty meetings, presenters are all about the initials. Makes you wish you had a secret decoder ring to keep up as the people in the know dole out new clues leading to the next pit stop on the amazing race to instant instructional success.

Using acronyms sounds impressive, though.  It puts pedagogy right up there with NYSE or NASCAR, two big institutions of American muscle and know-how.  Politicians can roll out a statewide APPR with SLOs and CCCS, assuring the public it will pin point failing schools and weed out ineffective teachers.  All those initials sound pretty official, right? Besides that, it’s fast and translates for instant tweeting and texting, a quick fix to a very challenging problem.  But what does it mean?  Nevermind.  Boom. Problem solved.  Now vote for me.

Acronyms are a distraction

But obsession with initials reduces complex issues to a bureaucratic sleight of hand and that’s really what I hate about acronyms. While people on all sides of education–parents, teachers, administrators– try desperately to decipher the scrabble tiles on the table,  who is scrutinizing the substance or even the feasibility of these proposed panaceas?   It’s a new take on an old con and Americans–educators and parents alike– concerned about the country’s future, are the suckers, students the shills.

What acronyms don’t address

One thing is for sure: improving public education in America should be a national priority. History tells us that only an educated populace can sustain a functioning democracy.  The problems plaguing our schools are multi-layered, though, involving economic and social issues that none of these acronyms seem to acknowledge.  As long as there are families putting hungry kids to bed at night, we will have students who will struggle. As long as we have families living in cars or in daily fear of foreclosure, we will have kids for whom the immediate need of shelter trumps homework and state tests.  As long as we have kids who emulate role models who “win” by circumventing the rules or through violence, we will have pupils who don’t respect the hard work needed for academic success.

No matter how badly we would like to believe in what the initials stand for, acronyms aren’t the answer.  America needs someone to speak plainly, to tell the truth: teaching and learning are hard work.  Boom. It takes more than initials to raise a child.