The difference between using “a” and “the” in a descriptive sentence can be subtly very powerful. Take this note from The Delaware Ed Blog:
A state Department of Education official in charge of a Race to the Top effort to turn around low-performing schools was hired Tuesday by the Christina School District. The board approved the hiring at its monthly meeting.
Note the use of “a” in front of the descriptor for official and the use of “a” in front of Race to the Top effort. They may be used correctly, but I submit that in this particular case, “the” is the correct article based on the department and it’s function. Here’s the modified sentence:
The state Department of Education official in charge of the Race to the Top effort to turn around low-performing schools was hired Tuesday by the Christina School District. The board approved the hiring at its monthly meeting.
The original statement seems to connote that a state DOE official from a RTTT initiative is leaving and there are perhaps other officials and other RTTT initiatives to turnaround schools.
Now the modified statement makes it seem like the DOE department responsible for overseeing the turnaround of Delaware’s lowest performing school is losing it’s leader and that it is the marquee department performing this work.
I argue that the modified statement is more accurate, by a considerable margin. As recently as the ESEA Flexibility waiver this spring, the School Turnaround Unit (STU) is noted on pages 59 and 76 (of the .pdf) as the department inside the DOE with primary responsibility for the 10 PZ schools. It also acknowledges it was put into place from the RTTT grant Delaware won in 2010. It is a 3 person department.
One other member is leaving effective 7/13: Barbara Land, Deputy Officer, School Turn Around Unit, RTTT Project Management Office, resigned effective July 13, 2012. (from the Personnel tab of the upcoming State BOE meeting)
There is only one person left in the department folks, and it isn’t the chief officer, she’s the one mentioned in the modified sentence. I have no idea, but if Ms. Holston leaves that would be a complete staff turnover, midstream, for a marquee DOE department, doing headline, big time work as part of Governor Markell’s signature education effort.
I have long been a critic of the specious efforts to turnaround our schools using unproven reforms, largely because they create instability, exactly like what the STU is experiencing right now. I wonder how Governor Markell can possibly see this as anything other than very bad news, perhaps even foreboding. No worries though, the end of this tragedy will not happen until after his re-election, but it will happen.
That’s the power of
a the definite article.