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FROM THE PRINT EDITION: The Final Bracey Report on the condition of public education in the USA

[SUBSTANCE Editor's Note: For the past seven years, Substance has published the annual "Bracey Report" on the condition of public education in the USA and also Jerry Bracey's "Rotten Apples" awards. The "Rotten Apples" went to those who have done the most to destroy or slander public education in the USA. You can find the earliest of Jerry's Rotten Apples to appear on line at the "old" Substance Web site at

http://www.substancenews.com/archive/Jan03/afterthoughts.htm

Substance was the only print publication with a national circulation to continue publishing Jerry Bracey's complete work as the censorship that has come to characterize the current era was unfolding, from the pages of scholarly journals to the dwindling actual news reports (as opposed to recycled public relations materials) in the daily media.

At one time, both of those reports appeared in the pages of the monthly Phi Delta Kappan magazine. Beginning in 2003, the Kappan began to censor Bracey. First, the Kappan refused to continue publishing the "Rotten Apples." This apparently happened after one of those mentioned for a "Rotten Apple" threatened to sue. By last year, not only had the "Rotten Apples" been cut by the Kappan, but that Bracey Report itself and Jerry's monthly column were being relegated to the on line edition of the Kappan. Substance is proud to have taken up the slack and to continue to do so. George N. Schmidt, Editor, Substance]. In Memoriam: Gerald Bracey 1940 - 2009

[EPIC EPRU INTRODUCTION. For 18 years, “The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education,” an annual review of education research and policy issues, was published by Phi Delta Kappan. In 2009, EPIC/EPRU was pleased to become its new publisher.

Sadly, Gerald W. Bracey passed away before he finished editing what will be the final Bracey Report. We have suffered a great loss. Although he was a social scientist of considerable talent he eschewed esoteric language and instead spoke and wrote plainly. His writings left strong impressions on readers, whether expert or layperson. When he judged that an official, a newspaper, or a scholar had played lightly with the truth, his expert knowledge was directed toward withering critiques. He fearlessly exposed the errors in fact, flaws in methods and illogic that were built into all too much education research and all too many education “reforms.” Jerry had little patience for received wisdom, no matter how powerful its purveyors.

Fortunately for us all, Jerry’s last report was sufficiently enough developed that it was possible for Susan Ohanian and Pat Hinchey to finish the necessary editorial work. Jerry’s wife, Iris, helped, too, by encouraging us to publish the final Bracey Report and by providing Jerry’s notes and reference material. As a result, the Report has been completed with fidelity to Jerry’s words and intentions.

The Report is almost completely Jerry’s but, of course, any shortcomings are ours.

When Jerry passed away, we were contacted by many of the people who have been touched by Jerry and his work and were asked to create a memorial fund or project that others could donate to in his memory. We have now created one, attached to the policy centers that had been Jerry’s academic home following his 2005 departure from George Mason University. Working with the CU Foundation, we are building a memorial fund that would, if fully funded, provide a doctoral fellowship in Jerry’s name. We’re thinking of it as the Bracey Memorial Fellowship, given to a doctoral student with a research-based, hard-nosed commitment to further truth, equity, and social justice.

If we reach the $25,000 level for all donations in Jerry’s name, we can create an ongoing scholarship/fellowship. Even if we do not reach that threshold, we will still use the money for student support in Jerry’s name. Those who would like to contribute may go to http://www. colorado. edu/education /pdfs/Gerald% 20Bracey.pdf.

Our plans also include a continuation of the Bracey Report tradition by publishing an annual report in his honor. Realizing what big footsteps we will be attempting to fill, we hope our contributions will serve others as well as Jerry’s

have served us. Here then is the 2009 Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education. http:// epic policy.org /publication /Bracey- Report]/

Publishers’ Note: The Bracey Report is unique, a departure from EPIC/EPRU’s other publications. For this year’s report, we asked him to identify and discuss the research support for what he considers to be three of the most important assumptions about how to reform public education. Whether you agree or disagree with his analysis, we hope you find his views provocative and helpful as you make up your own mind about how best to go about improving America’s public schools.

Alex Molnar, Kevin Welner, http://epicpolicy.org/ publication/Bracey-Report ]

The Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education, 2009 By Gerald W. Bracey

In the previous 18 years, the basic technology of the Bracey Report was the drawer. For 12 months I put material that I thought had report potential into a drawer that, as the years went by, grew from a small desk drawer to the bottom half of a file cabinet — an unobtrusive measure of how education, for better and worse, has moved ever more to center stage in policy discussions about the nation’s social well-being. Toward June (for an annual August deadline) I would empty the drawer/file, sort the contents into categories, and write about those that seemed the most cogent. In the last few years, I have had to apologize for not covering some issues because of space constraints. The new process begun with EPIC/EPRU for 2009 reverses the drawer-dump procedure. We decided in advance on three prominent policy-relevant assumptions. This narrows the scope of the coverage, but broadens the last-12-months focus of earlier reports, extending its temporal range. These assumptions are that:

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.

I take each issue in turn.

High-quality Schools

Why Choose This Issue?

Ever since the launch of Sputnik in 1957, schools have been seen as the failing institution in America. An endlessly repeated claim has been that for America to “succeed,” the nation needs more “high-quality” schools. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan contends, “We have to educate ourselves to a better economy” (1). The issue of school quality is thus at the forefront of attempts to improve society as a whole.

In his May 7, 2009 column, an essay that reverberated throughout policy circles, New York Times pundit David Brooks cast the issue this way: “Some experts, mostly surrounding the education establishment, argue that schools alone can’t produce big changes. The problems are in society, and you have to work on broader issues like economic inequality. Reformers, on the other hand, have argued that school-based approaches can produce big results.” One can certainly contend that Brook’s dichotomy (2) between the “establishment” and the “reformers” is false, but it is common today. The same can be said of his claim that “educational establishment” types argue that “the problems are in society” alone. I know no education professionals who make that argument, though I know many who argue, as I would, that we must address problems in society as well as in the schools. Still, the idea that education professionals deny that reform is necessary in some schools and prefer to shrug their shoulders and wait for social change remains a dominant, if inaccurate, perception.

What Do We Know?

We must begin with what we don’t know: there is no common definition of “high-quality school.” No Child Left Behind has various classifications for underperforming schools and sanctions for those that repeatedly fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) on test score increases, even if only one of the required reported subgroups fails to attain that criterion. However, NCLB is silent on “adequately-performing” or “high-performing” schools, by default suggesting only that more successful schools are characterized primarily by high attendance (for enrolled students) and by some level of test performance (on disparate state tests with arbitrary cutoff scores — more on that later).

Test scores, however, are an imperfect instrument for judging the quality of a school, or, as Iris Rotberg has observed, the quality of any national education system. Nevertheless, they are the currency of the day. In testing terms, data (detailed below) indicate that increases in high-quality schools will have to come largely from low-income neighborhoods, where students with the most challenges have long been served by the most under-resourced schools. 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.

Similar calls for more high-quality schools, however defined, issue from multiple quarters. Many critics cite the performance of American students on international comparisons of mathematics and science. The most often used comparison comes from rankings on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Most recently (2006), American students ranked 24th of 30 OECD nations in mathematics and 17th of 30 in science. (3) Errors in the test booklets prevented the reporting scores for American students in reading. It should be noted that these rankings are determined by nations’ average scores. Some researchers have suggested, however, that average score comparisons are not useful: even presuming that the tests have some meaning for future accomplishment, average students are not likely to be the leaders in fields of mathematics and science. Those roles are more likely to fall to those scoring well. A publication from OECD itself observes that if one examines the number of highest-scoring students in science, the United States has 25% of all high-scoring students in the world (at least in “the world” as defined by the 58 nations taking part in the assessment — the 30 OECD nations and 28 “partner” countries). Among nations with high average scores, Japan accounted for 13% of the highest scorers, Korea 5%, Taipei 3%, Finland 1%, and Hong Kong 1%. Singapore did not participate.

The picture emerging from this highest-scorer comparison is far different than that suggested by the frequently cited national average comparisons; it is a picture that suggests many American schools are actually doing very well indeed.

Of course, the U.S. is much larger than these other countries and should be expected to produce larger numbers of successful students. But it is only when we look beyond the mean and consider the distribution of students and schools that we see the true picture. Students attending American schools run the gamut from excellent to poor. Well-resourced schools serving wealthy neighborhoods are showing excellent results. Poorly-resourced schools serving low-income communities of color do far worse. Where is it, then, that improvement is needed?

I said above that if there are to be more high-quality schools (or at least, “high-quality” schools in terms of high or rising test scores), they will have to be developed in low-income neighborhoods. Evidence for this contention comes from the 2001 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). (4)

It is evidence that suggests the magnitude of the problem to be overcome.

Table 1. PIRLS Performance and Poverty Percent of Students

in the School in Poverty Score Percent of U. S. students attending schools in this category

What Do We Know?

We must begin with what we don’t know: there is no common definition of “high-quality school.” No Child Left Behind has various classifications for underperforming schools and sanctions for those that repeatedly fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) on test score increases, even if only one of the required reported subgroups fails to attain that criterion. However, NCLB is silent on “adequately-performing” or “high-performing” schools, by default suggesting only that more successful schools are characterized primarily by high attendance (for enrolled students) and by some level of test performance (on disparate state tests with arbitrary cutoff scores — more on that later).

Test scores, however, are an imperfect instrument for judging the quality of a school, or, as Iris Rotberg has observed, the quality of any national education system. Nevertheless, they are the currency of the day. In testing terms, data (detailed below) indicate that increases in high-quality schools will have to come largely from low-income neighborhoods, where students with the most challenges have long been served by the most under-resourced schools. 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.

Similar calls for more high-quality schools, however defined, issue from multiple quarters. Many critics cite the performance of American students on international comparisons of mathematics and science. The most often used comparison comes from rankings on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Most recently (2006), American students ranked 24th of 30 OECD nations in mathematics and 17th of 30 in science. (3)

Errors in the test booklets prevented the reporting scores for American students in reading. It should be noted that these rankings are determined by nations’ average scores. Some researchers have suggested, however, that average score comparisons are not useful: even presuming that the tests have some meaning for future accomplishment, average students are not likely to be the leaders in fields of mathematics and science. Those roles are more likely to fall to those scoring well. A publication from OECD itself observes that if one examines the number of highest-scoring students in science, the United States has 25% of all high-scoring students in the world (at least in “the world” as defined by the 58 nations taking part in the assessment — the 30 OECD nations and 28 “partner” countries). Among nations with high average scores, Japan accounted for 13% of the highest scorers, Korea 5%, Taipei 3%, Finland 1%, and Hong Kong 1%. Singapore did not participate.

The picture emerging from this highest-scorer comparison is far different than that suggested by the frequently cited national average comparisons; it is a picture that suggests many American schools are actually doing very well indeed.

Of course, the U.S. is much larger than these other countries and should be expected to produce larger numbers of successful students. But it is only when we look beyond the mean and consider the distribution of students and schools that we see the true picture. Students attending American schools run the gamut from excellent to poor. Well-resourced schools serving wealthy neighborhoods are showing excellent results. Poorly-resourced schools serving low-income communities of color do far worse. Where is it, then, that improvement is needed?

I said above that if there are to be more high-quality schools (or at least, “high-quality” schools in terms of high or rising test scores), they will have to be developed in low-income neighborhoods. Evidence for this contention comes from the 2001 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). (4)

It is evidence that suggests the magnitude of the problem to be overcome.

Table 1. PIRLS Performance and Poverty Percent of Students in the School in Poverty Score Percent of U. S. students attending schools in this category

What Do We Know?

We must begin with what we don’t know: there is no common definition of “high-quality school.” No Child Left Behind has various classifications for underperforming schools and sanctions for those that repeatedly fail to make Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) on test score increases, even if only one of the required reported subgroups fails to attain that criterion. However, NCLB is silent on “adequately-performing” or “high-performing” schools, by default suggesting only that more successful schools are characterized primarily by high attendance (for enrolled students) and by some level of test performance (on disparate state tests with arbitrary cutoff scores — more on that later).

Test scores, however, are an imperfect instrument for judging the quality of a school, or, as Iris Rotberg has observed, the quality of any national education system. Nevertheless, they are the currency of the day. In testing terms, data (detailed below) indicate that increases in high-quality schools will have to come largely from low-income neighborhoods, where students with the most challenges have long been served by the most under-resourced schools. 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.

Similar calls for more high-quality schools, however defined, issue from multiple quarters. Many critics cite the performance of American students on international comparisons of mathematics and science. The most often used comparison comes from rankings on the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA), from the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD). Most recently (2006), American students ranked 24th of 30 OECD nations in mathematics and 17th of 30 in science. (3) Errors in the test booklets prevented the reporting scores for American students in reading. It should be noted that these rankings are determined by nations’ average scores. Some researchers have suggested, however, that average score comparisons are not useful: even presuming that the tests have some meaning for future accomplishment, average students are not likely to be the leaders in fields of mathematics and science. Those roles are more likely to fall to those scoring well. A publication from OECD itself observes that if one examines the number of highest-scoring students in science, the United States has 25% of all high-scoring students in the world (at least in “the world” as defined by the 58 nations taking part in the assessment — the 30 OECD nations and 28 “partner” countries). Among nations with high average scores, Japan accounted for 13% of the highest scorers, Korea 5%, Taipei 3%, Finland 1%, and Hong Kong 1%. Singapore did not participate.

The picture emerging from this highest-scorer comparison is far different than that suggested by the frequently cited national average comparisons; it is a picture that suggests many American schools are actually doing very well indeed.

Of course, the U.S. is much larger than these other countries and should be expected to produce larger numbers of successful students. But it is only when we look beyond the mean and consider the distribution of students and schools that we see the true picture. Students attending American schools run the gamut from excellent to poor. Well-resourced schools serving wealthy neighborhoods are showing excellent results. Poorly-resourced schools serving low-income communities of color do far worse. Where is it, then, that improvement is needed?

I said above that if there are to be more high-quality schools (or at least, “high-quality” schools in terms of high or rising test scores), they will have to be developed in low-income neighborhoods. Evidence for this contention comes from the 2001 Progress in International Reading Literacy Study (PIRLS). (4)

It is evidence that suggests the magnitude of the problem to be overcome.

Table 1. PIRLS Performance and Poverty Percent of Students in the School in Poverty Score Percent of U. S. students attending schools in this category



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