Education Topical Guide

The Associated Press has compiled a style guide of essential words, phrases and definitions related to the return to classes. Terms are from the AP Stylebook, usage in AP stories and Webster's New World College Dictionary, Fifth Edition.

school choice

An umbrella term for education strategies that give parents the option of enrolling children in schools other than the assigned district public school, often using public money. Advocates praise it as a way to save children from those public schools that are struggling and, increasingly, to put children in schools that prioritize a certain political ideology. Opponents note that it diverts money from public schools. Avoid using the general term when possible; specifics are better: The teachers union objects to the charter school bill; a proposed school voucher bill will be debated next week.

School choice options include:

charter schools: Publicly funded, privately run, tuition-free public schools that operate independently of the local school district and with some autonomy over scheduling and curricula. Most charter schools are operated by nonprofit organizations but some states allow for-profit organizations to manage them.

A handful of states lack charter school laws and do not allow them. Like traditional public schools, charter schools receive public money based on the number of students they enroll.

They operate under a charter or performance contract authorized, depending on state law, by local school districts, the state, a higher education institution or nonprofit organization.

magnet schools: Public schools outside of the neighborhood public school that offer specialized curricula and to which students must apply.

vouchers: Allocations of per-child public funding that can be used toward private-school tuition. Explain the term on first use.

Education Savings Accounts: Government-authorized accounts into which public funds are deposited for families who withdraw their children from public school. They can be used for private-school tuition, online learning tutoring or approved higher education expenses. Increasingly, they can be used for home-schooling expenses.

home-schooling (n.) home-schooler (n.) home-school (v.) home-schooled (adj.), home-schooling (adj.): An alternative to public or private school, typically conducted at home by a parent. Oversight of student evaluations, curricula and parental qualifications varies by state.

private schools: Operate independently of local, state or federal governments and without public money. Funding comes from student tuition, endowments, donations and grants from religious or other organizations.

Some schools are using alternatives to the traditional classroom model in their instruction. Among them:

distance learning or remote learning: An alternative to in-person classroom education. Student and instructor are physically separated and students complete much of the coursework online. Popular in adult education and for college-level courses.

online learning: Lessons are conducted via the internet, with or without an instructor present. It can either supplement or replace in-person learning at every level of education, from prekindergarten through college. Students may complete single lessons or courses online, or in the case of online schools, an entire curriculum.

blended learning or hybrid learning: Any combination of in-person and online instruction. For example, a student may attend school in person three days a week and receive remote instruction the other two. Explain the term on first use.

concurrent instruction or concurrent teaching: When teachers simultaneously instruct both students who are in the classroom and students who are attending remotely. Explain the term on first use.

synchronous instruction: Occurs when a teacher engages students online live, in real time. Avoid the term; if used in a direct quotation, explain it.

asynchronous instruction: Lacks a live component; lessons and lectures may be prerecorded for students to access online when they choose. Avoid the term; if used in a direct quotation, explain it.

virtual school: A school that does not have a physical building; students and teachers interact from separate locations.


But single-letter grades get apostrophes: an A, two B's and three C's.

academic degrees

If mention of degrees is necessary to establish someone's credentials, the preferred form is to avoid an abbreviation and use instead a phrase such as: Fatima Kader, who has a doctorate in psychology.

Use an apostrophe in bachelor's degree, a master's, etc., but there is no possessive in Bachelor of Arts or Master of Science.

Also: an associate degree (no possessive).

Use such abbreviations as B.A., M.A., LL.D. and Ph.D. only when the need to identify many individuals by degree on first reference would make the preferred form cumbersome. Use these abbreviations only after a full name — never after just a last name.

When used after a name, an academic abbreviation is set off by commas: John Snow, Ph.D., spoke.

Do not precede a name with a courtesy title for an academic degree and follow it with the abbreviation for the degree in the same reference.

Advanced Placement courses and exams

College-level high school courses and exams. AP classes and AP exams are acceptable on second reference.


Use only the initials in referring to the previously designated American College Testing.

back-to-school, back to school

He bought back-to-school supplies. She went back to school.

blackboard, chalkboard, whiteboard

book titles

Capitalize and enclose in quotes the names of books, poems, plays, films and songs. Capitalize without quotes books that are primarily references, such as dictionaries, encyclopedias and almanacs.

bus, buses

The vehicles carrying kids to and from school. Not busses, which are kisses.


College Board

Not-for-profit organization that administers the SAT and Advanced Placement, or AP, exams, which assess college-level high school courses.

Common Core educational standards

First adopted by most states beginning in 2010, a uniform set of learning standards that established benchmarks for reading and math skills across grade levels from kindergarten through high school. The standards are intended to ensure college readiness. They were developed by the National Governors Association and Council of Chief State School Officers, not the federal government. Standards do not determine curriculum; those decisions are made by local school boards and educators.


Capitalize proper noun elements or numbered courses: American history, English, Algebra 1, world history

critical race theory

An academic framework dating to the 1970s that centers on the idea that racism is systemic in the nation's institutions and that those institutions maintain the dominance of white people. The theory is a way of analyzing American history through the lens of racism. It has become a catch-all political buzzword for any teaching in schools about race and American history, and a rallying cry for some conservatives who take issue with how schools have addressed diversity and inclusion. The theory itself is not a fixture of K-12 education.

Those opposed to critical race theory say it divides society by defining people as oppressors and oppressed based on their race. They call it an attempt to rewrite American history and make white people believe they are inherently racist.

Explain the term when used. Don't use CRT on later references.

curriculum (n.) curricula (plural)

dean's list

Lowercase in all uses: He is on the dean's list. She is a dean's list student.

dropout (n.), drop out (v.)

English language arts

Use the acronym ELA only in direct quotations.

enroll, enrolled, enrolling

Every Student Succeeds Act

The federal education law signed by President Barack Obama in 2015. The previous version of the law, the No Child Left Behind Act, was enacted in 2002. Both the No Child Left Behind Act and Every Student Succeeds Act reauthorized the Elementary and Secondary Act of 1965. Use the abbreviations ESSA, NCLB and ESEA only in direct quotations; if used, explain the term.


Titles of special events, such as school fundraisers, are capitalized and enclosed in quotes.


A trademark abbreviation for General Educational Development tests, a battery of five exams designed by the American Council on Education to measure high school equivalency. GED should be used as an adjective, not as a noun. Those passing the tests earn a GED diploma or certificate, not a GED.


Acceptable in all references for grade-point average.

grade, grader

No hyphen: first grader, seventh grader, 10th grader; also, first grade student, 11th grade classes; she is in the fifth grade.

graduate (v.)

Graduate is correctly used in the active voice: She graduated from high school. It is correct, but unnecessary, to use the passive voice: He was graduated from high school. Do not, however, drop the word from: John Adams graduated from Harvard. Not: John Adams graduated Harvard.

half day, half-day

Friday is a half day of school. The half-day tests were challenging.

high school

No hyphen in high school student, high school teacher, etc.


Absence from school without a legitimate excuse is playing hooky.

Individuals with Disabilities Education Act

The federal law that guarantees a free appropriate public education to eligible children with disabilities. Use the acronym IDEA only in direct quotations.


The years of schooling from kindergarten through 12th grade graduation.

kindergarten, kindergartners, prekindergarten, pre-K

lectern, podium, rostrum

A speaker stands behind a lectern, on a podium or rostrum.


Acceptable in all references for National Collegiate Athletic Association.


principal, principle

Principal is a noun and adjective meaning someone or something first in rank, authority, importance or degree: She is the school principal. He was the principal player in the trade. Money is the principal problem. In a business context, principal refers to the amount of money that is borrowed in a loan, as distinct from interest that is paid.

Principle is a noun that means a fundamental truth, law, doctrine or motivating force: They fought for the principle of self-determination.


Acceptable in all references for Parent Teacher Association.

public schools

Use a figure and capitalize when numbered: Public School 3. If a school has a commemorative name, capitalize it: Benjamin Franklin School.

room numbers

Use figures and capitalize room when used with a figure: Room 2, Room 211.


Use only the initials in referring to the previously designated Scholastic Aptitude Test or the Scholastic Assessment Test. The students scored above average on the SAT.


Elementary school, middle school, but preschool is one word.

school-age (adj.)

They have three school-age children.

school day, school year

Two words for any day or year that school is in session, either virtually or in person.

school resource officer

A sworn member of local law enforcement who is stationed on campus. They often are armed and in uniform. They are different from armed or unarmed security guards, who are not law enforcement officers. Avoid the abbreviation SRO unless in a direct quotation; if used, explain it.


One word.

science of reading

A growing consensus, based on research in brain science, that children should be taught to read using phonics – the building blocks of words. Students who learn to read this way are taught to divide words into syllables, and they learn rules for what sounds letters make, alone and together. The technique is especially important for struggling readers, and parents of kids with dyslexia have driven the movement to require this instruction in schools. Explain the term on first use.

standardized testing

Federal education law requires statewide administration of math and English language arts assessments in grades 3-8, and once in high school. States also must test students at least three times in science: once in grades 3-5, again in grades 6-9 and finally in grades 10-12.


Acceptable on first reference for science, technology, engineering, arts and math, but spell out the full phrase shortly thereafter.


Acceptable on first reference for science, technology, engineering and math, but spell out the full phrase shortly thereafter.

syllabus, syllabuses


One word for schoolteacher; others are three words without hyphens: grade school teacher, high school teacher.

teachers union

teen, teenager

three R's

They are: reading, 'riting, 'rithmetic


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