Monday, November 09, 2009

"Bracey Report" Curtain-Call Takes on Trendy Education Reforms

Here's the link to the full brief

It centers on "three prominent policy-relevant assumptions":

1. High-quality schools can eliminate the achievement gap between
whites and minorities.
2. Mayoral control of public schools is an improvement over the more
common elected board governance systems.
3. Higher standards will improve the performance of public schools.

Worth the read.


Press Release
November 9, 2009

Late researcher's final work turned his critical eye toward 'high-quality' schools, mayoral control, and the push for higher standards

Contact: Kevin Welner, (303) 492-8370;

BOULDER, Colo. and TEMPE, Ariz. (November 9, 2009) -- The 2009 edition of the annual "Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education" offers a sober assessment of three popular education reforms, finding all of them wanting. Readers will be informed by one last critical analysis from celebrated education researcher Gerald Bracey, who completed his 18th and final "Bracey Report" shortly before his unexpected death October 20 at the age of 69.

The 2009 report is published today by the Education in the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Education Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University. Previous editions of the report were published in the educational journal Phi Delta Kappan.

Bracey first targets blithe calls to create "high-quality schools," calls that he contends ignore the enormous challenges that urban schools in particular face when educating children born into poverty. He then looks at mayoral control and concludes that little evidence supports claims that turning control of urban schools over to mayors will spur meaningful educational improvement. Finally, Bracey examines the drive to impose ‘higher' standards on schools, which he maintains is little more than a rush toward even more standardized testing that is likely to further impoverish education.

Edited after his death by Susan Ohanian and Pat Hinchey, the 2009 Report departs from Bracey's past practice, which typically entailed a comprehensive survey of policies relating to public education. Instead, it focuses on these three specifically defined policies. He analyzed the record and research regarding each policy and came away skeptical, leveling particularly pointed criticism at the administration of President Barack Obama and Education Secretary Arne Duncan for uncritically advancing questionable approaches.

In examining the push for "high-quality schools," Bracey first noted that he found no single definition or agreement on the specifics of "high quality." Moreover, he wrote, the relentless focus on creating such schools has consistently ignored the overwhelming impact of poverty on the educational opportunities for children. He wrote, "Thus, the key question becomes can schools alone overcome the difficulties associated with poverty? Advocates who answer yes usually contend that to be high-quality, schools need only high standards, high expectations, and strong principals leading a faculty of highly qualified teachers. However, terms like 'high standards' and 'high expectations' are usually left undefined, as if their meanings were self evident--which they are not. Ignoring such gaps in rationale, No Child Left Behind's reliance on testing and sanctions codifies the conception that schools alone are capable of erasing the achievement gap and need only to be required to do so." Why, he asks, would the new administration choose to continue down that path?

Bracey similarly found that programs putting mayors in control of public school systems in New York and Chicago do not live up to their claims. For instance, he wrote that "vaunted improvements in test scores do not appear for Chicago's black and Latino students." He concluded that Chicago's "Renaissance" looks to some "more like a return to the Dark Ages."

Finally, turning his attention to the demand for higher standards, Bracey observed: "After 100 years of cries for higher standards, we are still in an education crisis. The push for higher standards has not worked. Perhaps it is time to try something else."

For that "something else,' Bracey returned to a school that President Obama might know well himself. Citing an essay in Education Week by Seattle University's David Marshak, Bracey suggested that Sidwell Friends School, where Obama's daughters are enrolled, offers a model for the children of all other American parents--a fresh, richly textured and human-centered approach to the questions of quality and standards, an approach that is a striking contrast to the model being pushed on America's public schools.

"Many would find Sidwell's approach 'high quality,' but test scores are not mentioned in its statements of philosophy or expectations," Bracey wrote. "Sidwell emphasizes 'greeting the day with enthusiasm,' 'a search for truth,' and 'sensitivity to the human condition.' The President has not answered Marshak. He should."

Find "Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education" on the web at:

Kevin Welner, Professor and Director
Education and the Public Interest Center
University of Colorado at Boulder
(303) 492-8370

The Education and the Public Interest Center (EPIC) at the University of Colorado at Boulder and the Education Policy Research Unit (EPRU) at Arizona State University collaborate to produce policy briefs and think tank reviews. Our goal is to promote well-informed democratic deliberation about education policy by providing academic as well as non-academic audiences with useful information and high quality analyses. This policy brief was made possible in part by the generous support of the Great Lakes Center for Education Research and Practice.

Visit EPIC and EPRU at

EPIC and EPRU are members of the Education Policy Alliance

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