Appendix A: Glossary of Education-Related Terms

Charter school.  Charter schools are schools that are authorized by a government entity (such as a public university or a school district) and financed by the same per-pupil funds that traditional government schools receive.  Students are not assigned to charter schools by any criteria; rather, charter schools rely on families' voluntary choice for their enrollment.  Unlike traditional government schools, charter schools must operate efficiently to raise start-up and expansion capital.  Charter schools enjoy greater freedom from regulation and bureaucratic micromanagement, but they are held directly accountable for student performance.  Charter schools that fail to achieve their goals can be shut down by their authorizing agency.  Charter schools that fail to satisfy parents lose their state funding when parents enroll their children elsewhere.

Common school.  The term "common school" refers to schools open to all people in a given community.  In the United States, free elementary schools in New England were the first common schools, but the term now includes government high schools.  Many of the early common schools were partially financed with private money.

Compulsory education.  Laws requiring that children under a certain age be enrolled in school, usually a government school.   The theory behind compulsory education is that mandatory attendance benefits society as a whole by forcing all children to be educated.

District system.  A school organization design in which the local geographical unit or district is the legal authority responsible for the funding, curriculum, and maintenance of a school or schools.

Free or open market.  A free or open market is one based on voluntary exchange among individuals rather than coercion.  In education, the free or open market allows the economic laws of competition and supply and demand to operate without distortion, thereby encouraging innovation, providing schools with essential feedback on consumer satisfaction, fostering accountability and qualitative improvement, and reducing waste and inefficiency.

Full educational choice.  Educational reform that removes barriers to families' ability to choose from among a range of government and private schools.  Examples include vouchers or tax credits that offset tuition costs for parents who choose not to send their children to the traditional tax-funded schools.  See also limited educational choice.

Inter-district choice.  Inter-district choice is a form of limited educational choice that clears barriers to families' ability to choose for their children any government school in their state.  In some states like Michigan, families theoretically enjoy inter-district choice, but in practice districts are allowed to decide for themselves whether or not they wish to participate in the program.  Most school districts choose not to participate, preferring not to risk losing students and the state aid that follows them.  Many districts force parents to pay government-school tuition if they wish to cross district lines.

Intra-district choice.  Intra-district choice is a form of limited educational choice that removes barriers from families' ability to choose which school within their school district their children will attend.  Intra-district choice schools generally fall into one of three categories: magnet schools, second-chance schools, and open enrollment.  Common characteristics of these government schools-of-choice are continued district control of operation, funding, and budgetary decision making and an inability to spontaneously respond to greater enrollment demand. Like inter-district choice, intra-district choice may be limited by district participation.

Limited educational choice.  Educational reform that eliminates barriers to parents' ability to choose from among traditional, charter, or other government schools.  Choice is "limited" because parents still must pay twice if they wish to send their children to private school—once in taxes for the government schools they do not use and again in tuition for their private school-of-choice.  Most states now allow parents to have limited educational choice.

Magnet school.  District-operated government schools designed to "attract" a racially diverse student body from a variety of attendance areas.  Most magnet schools are designed around a specific theme or method of instruction and have a select student population and teaching staff.

Nonsectarian school.  Nonsectarian schools are schools without any particular religious affiliation.  Modern government schools would be considered nonsectarian, whereas parochial schools may espouse the doctrine of a particular denomination or religion, making them sectarian.

Non-teachers.  Education employees who are not teachers, such as bus drivers, cooks, janitors, secretarial staff, administrators, district officials, etc.  In a few states like Michigan, more than half of all education employees are non-teachers.

Normal school.  An American teacher-training school or college.  Nineteenth-century normal schools were often two-year institutions on about the same level as high schools.

Open enrollment school.  Open enrollment is a form of intra-district choice that allows parents to send their children to any grade-appropriate school within their resident district, subject to space availability.

Pedagogy.  The art or profession of teaching.  Also refers to the curricula of teacher-training institutions with respect to education theory and methodology.

Per-pupil expenditure.  The amount of tax dollars spent per child in the government education system.

Private/Nongovernment school.  Private, or nongovernment, schools are schools that operate independently from government (they are, however, subject to the same basic health and safety laws as are government schools).  Typically, private schools are voluntarily funded through tuition payments from families who enroll their children.  Parochial schools are also often subsidized by their respective church or denomination.  Private schools serve approximately 11 percent of all students in the United States; the majority of them are Catholic schools.

Private scholarships.  Private scholarships provide qualified students—often from lower-income families—with privately funded financial assistance to help them attend tuition-charging schools-of-choice.  Most private scholarships cover only a portion of private school tuition and therefore require parents to pay part of the cost.  Private scholarship programs began on a large scale in 1991 and are growing in popularity as a way to provide disadvantaged families with greater educational choice.

Public/Government school.  "Public" schools can rightfully be called government schools because they are supported entirely through tax dollars and are governed through the state and smaller, local governmental entities at the district level. 

School choice.  School choice is a fundamental education reform that proposes removing some or all of the government-erected barriers to families' ability to choose for their children the schools that best meet their educational needs.  Early Americans enjoyed full school choice in the form of a free market in education.  Beginning in the nineteenth century, government assumed more responsibility for, and control of, education to the point that many over-taxed families are today unable to afford alternatives to their local government-run school.  School choice can be divided into two categories: limited educational choice, which removes barriers only to parental choice of government schools, and full educational choice, which affords parents a full range of options among government and private schools.

School employee labor union.  Commonly called "teacher unions," school employee unions actually represent support staff including cooks, janitors, and bus drivers, as well as teachers.  The two largest school employee unions are the National Education Association, which has approximately 2.5 million members, and the American Federation of Teachers, an affiliate of the AFL-CIO, which has approximately 1 million members.

Schools-of-choice.  Schools-of-choice is a term that often refers to charter schools and other government schools that are part of an intra- or inter-district choice program, so-called because parents can choose the schools as opposed to having their children assigned there.  More generally, a school-of-choice is any school—government or private—voluntarily chosen by parents.

Second-chance school.  Second-chance schools, sometimes called "alternative" schools, are government schools designed for students who, for a variety of reasons, do not function well in the traditional government school.  These schools typically serve students who have dropped out or are in danger of dropping out because of under-achievement, pregnancy, low skills, or drug and alcohol dependency.  Most second-chance schools provide open, flexible alternatives with specialized structure, size, and curricular offerings.

Sectarian school.  Sectarian schools are schools affiliated with a specific religious denomination.  "Sectarian" derives from the fact that early American schools were commonly established under the control of particular church groups or sects.

Special education.  A school program designed for children who are exceptional—that is, either gifted or below-normal in ability.

Tax credit.  Tax credits, a form of full educational choice, are designed to provide parents with tax relief to offset expenses incurred in selecting an alternative government or private school for their children.  A tax credit is a dollar-for-dollar reduction in taxes owed, whereas a tax deduction is merely a reduction in taxable income.  For the purposes of school choice, tax credits may be granted for any or all out-of-pocket educational expenses incurred by an individual, from tuition to textbooks to transportation to extracurricular fees—though tuition is the most common expense allowed in practice.  Tax credits are often criticized because they do not help lower-income families who have little tax liability.

Universal education credit. Universal education credits are tax credits with broader applicability than traditional tuition tax credits. Universal education credits can be claimed by a broad range of individual or corporate taxpayers who pay tuition or other educational expenses for any child, directly or through a scholarship organization. "Universal" aspects include the broad range of taxpayers who can claim the credit, the many types of tax liabilities the credit may be applied against, and the flexibility to direct educational assistance to any child even if the parents have little tax liability. See Universal Tuition Tax Credit (below) for a specific example of a universal education credit.

Universal Tuition Tax Credit (UTTC).  In 1997, the Mackinac Center developed the universal tuition tax credit, a full educational choice proposal that incorporates the advantages of vouchers and tax credits while minimizing their disadvantages.  Under the UTTC, any taxpayer—individual or corporate, parent or grandparent, friend, neighbor, or business—that pays a Michigan elementary or secondary student's tuition is eligible for a dollar-for-dollar tax credit against taxes owed.  In this way, lower-income families with little or no tax liability also can benefit from corporate or philanthropic tuition assistance.

Vouchers.  Vouchers are forms of payment from government to an individual to enable that individual to purchase a particular good or service—in this case, education—in the open market.  Food stamps, Medicaid, and the G. I. Bill are all examples of vouchers.  Education vouchers can be issued to cover all educational expenses or just certain ones, such as tuition, transportation, etc.