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Public education politically correct phrase of the week - 'at-promise'


Jay Mathews of the Washington Post brought to light the latest spin on feel-good phrasing in public education in the state of Virginia.  According to Mathews, Alexandria City Public Schools decided they will no longer call students who are at risk of school failure as 'at-risk', but instead will refer to them as 'at-promise'.

Students are labeled at-risk if they meet any or all of the following: low socio-economic status, second-language learners, history of discipline problems, past retention, low-test scores, or special needs.  Students who meet the definition are provided more tutoring, counseling, or other special support. 

Some feel the label of 'at-risk' negatively changes the way teachers and administrators see these students which then affects how they are handled.  Spinning the label differently usually only serves as distraction from the main task - helping the students most in need.  After all, district documents will need to be changed to reflect the new, positive term 'at-promise'.  Districts will need to pay for inservices to teach administrators, teachers, and support staff the new term.   This all means spending money on a phrase instead of spending money on ways help students be more successful.

Jay Mathews illustrates the point that those who make an issue out of changing a word or phrase so it is more politically correct tend to also benefit the most financially from it:

"At promise" has been floating around for at least a decade. The earliest media reference I could find was in a September 1997 Associated Press article about a mentoring program for junior high students in Norfolk, Neb. The term did not find fertile soil until 2004, when motivational speaker and educational consultant Larry Bell used it often in a speech to a San Diego conference sponsored by SIATech, a nonprofit group that runs 14 Job Corps training centers in four states.

Two SIATech officials, Eileen Holmes and Linda Dawson, were so inspired that they started holding at-promise conferences. Then they established the Reaching At-Promise Students Association to spread the notion that every child has potential to improve.

 For more info:  see the original article "A 'feel-good' label for 'at-risk' kids?"


  • RAPSA 5 years ago

    Thank you for continuing this conversation. "At-Promise" represents an attitude shift and a new approach that empowers teachers and involves students in their own learning. It costs nothing for a district, teacher, etc., to simply change his/her attitude and/or apply the "at-promise" techniques in the classroom. Quality education starts with a strong support system and dedicated students and teachers.

  • Bridgette 5 years ago

    RAPSA, I guess you didn't read what I wrote. It does cost a lot of money for districts, states, and the federal government to play along with new fads such as this one.
    For example, to go to your three day At-Promise Conference in San Diego next year, it'll cost members $595/non-members $695 to attend...teachers can't afford to pay, so all the taxpayers will be paying.

  • RAPSA 5 years ago

    The conference is one means to connect educators who are interested in learning several useful classroom strategies to achieve better student outcomes; it's a three-day series of workshops and best practices from education experts and therefore costs money to produce. However, the "at-promise" approach -- again, it's an approach, not simply a new term or fad to replace "at-risk" -- can be integrated at absolutely no cost to the district, teacher, school or taxpayers. A teacher can find the resources and best practices associated with the approach (many are posted on our site, for example) from several experts in the education field for free. There are no curriculum or policy changes required.