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Last modified: Monday, February 18, 2008

De-bunking the blame game; education blogger and researcher speaks Wednesday

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Feb. 18, 2008

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. -- An education policy expert who sometimes offers biting commentary on popular discourse about U.S. education will speak on Wednesday at Indiana University Bloomington.

Gerald Bracey

Gerald Bracey

Gerald Bracey, an associate of the High/Scope Educational Research Foundation, presents "From Sputnik to Edin08: Blaming Schools for Crises Real and Imagined" in the latest Education Policy Chat presented by The Center for Evaluation and Education Policy and the IU School of Education. The speech is at 1:30 p.m. in the Dogwood Room of the Indiana Memorial Union and is free and open to the public.

Bracey maintains the blog "The Education Disinformation Detection and Reporting Agency" and also blogs for Arianna Huffington's online newsletter The Huffington Post. He willspeak on the subject of what he says is the unwarranted blame schools take for global economic competitiveness and other societal problems.

In the past, Bracey's commentary has included criticism of the Microsoft billionaire Bill Gates-backed "Ed in '08" program, which pledged to place education at the forefront of the debate for the presidency. His article on The Huffington Post regarding the $60 million plan is titled "Does the Ed in 'Ed in '08' Stand for Excrement Dissemination?"

"If you take a look at all of the things that go into global competitiveness, the schools are only one factor of many factors," Bracey said. "They are far too small a factor to be held solely responsible as they have been by Gates and (billionaire businessman and founder of the Broad Educational Foundation) Eli Broad and a whole bunch of other people."

The former associate director for the Institute for Child Study at the IU School of Education from 1970-73, Bracey has written several books, including his latest, Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered. His Web site is available at www.america-tomorrow.com/bracey/EDDRA. Bracey's work for The Huffington Post is at www.huffingtonpost.com/gerald-bracey. Since 1990, he has written the "Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education" annually for the education professional journal, Phi Delta Kappan.

Primarily, Bracey finds that many have a warped view of the competence of the modern school and its standing in the world. "I have people in talks always say, 'When I was in school, schools were much better.'" He said that 50 years ago, the 1957 launch of the Sputnik satellite by the Soviet Union, combined with books like the 1953 bestseller Educational Wastelands by Arthur E. Bester, created a notion that Russians had better schools and those in the U.S. were getting worse.

He said a similar thing is happening today as the economies of countries like China and India continue to rise. "We forget that only 40 percent of Chinese kids these days even get past the ninth grade," Bracey said. "India has about a 35 percent illiteracy rate, still. This myth that they have such wonderful schools is just that."

Another point of hype in the crisis of public confidence in education, Bracey said, came with the 1983 blue-ribbon panel report from the U.S. Department of Education, "A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform." It sounded alarms throughout government and education with a dire evaluation of the state of U.S. education compared to the rest of the world, even stating that the gains made in the wake of the Sputnik response were gone.

"We are and have been No. 1 in global competitiveness as ranked by the World Economic Forum," Bracey said. "If the thesis of 'A Nation at Risk' had been true, that would be impossible, because the schools -- at least according to the critics -- have not improved one iota since 1983 when 'A Nation at Risk' was released. So we should be in total economic decline if this thesis were correct."

Bracey's experience includes a variety of positions in education research and policy, including the Educational Testing Services and the Virginia Department of Education. Other recent books include What You Need To Know About the War Against America's Public Schools.

CEEP promotes and supports rigorous program evaluation and policy research primarily, but not exclusively, for education, human services and non-profit organizations. Its research uses both quantitative and qualitative methodologies. More about CEEP is available on the CEEP Web site, http://ceep.indiana.edu/.

Media Outlets: the following comments are available as mp3 files on the IU School of Education Website at http://site.educ.indiana.edu/news/tabid/5663/Default.aspx. Look for the story headline under "Podcasts."

Bracey says the U.S. educational system is taking the burden of being the answer to the economic rise of India and China:
"This is the latest exposition on something that really was put into place by 'A Nation at Risk' 25 years ago, that the schools are responsible for the international competitiveness of the United States in the global marketplace, which is pretty much nonsense. If you take a look at all of the things that go into global competitiveness, the schools are only one factor of many factors. They are far too small a factor to be held solely responsible as they have been by Gates and Eli Broad and a whole bunch of other people. We are and have been No. 1 in global competitiveness as ranked by the World Economic Forum which has gained a great deal of reputation lately as a real powerhouse think tank. That's the one in Davos, Switzerland, and they rank each year, they're up to 131 countries and the U.S. is No. 1. If the thesis of 'A Nation at Risk' had been true, that would be impossible, because the schools at least according to the critics have not improved one iota since 1983 when 'A Nation at Risk' was released, so we should be in total economic decline if this thesis were correct."

Bracey says many view the U.S. educational statistics in a way that skews them:
"I think that people are reading education statistics from a pre-set bias that says the schools have failed. I don't think they're looking at them objectively. That's how I got into this in the first place in 1951 when I just started compiling all of this data and late 1990s said 'Wait a minute! All this stuff about a nation at risk is totally nonsense.' The statistics don't say what 'A Nation at Risk' says they say." In fact I now refer to 'A Nation at Risk' as the golden treasury of selected spun and distorted statistics which it certainly is."

Worldwide math and science scores are hard to compare, Bracey says, and the schools in India and China still have a ways to go:
"The link between math and science scores on multiple choice tests by 9- and 13-year-olds is very tenuous to anything in the outside world. And we forget that only 40 percent of Chinese kids these days even get past ninth grade. India has about a 35 percent illiteracy rate still. This myth that they have such wonderful schools is just that. One of my favorite educators, Debbie (Meier), recently spent a few weeks in China and came back saying "The idea that they have better schools than we do is just totally absurd."

For more information, contact Chuck Carney at 812-856-8027 or ccarney@indiana.edu.