Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Gerald Bracey: No Child Left Behind: The Triumph of Diana Moon Glompers

Gerald Bracey

No Child Left Behind: The Triumph of Diana Moon Glompers

About two years ago, I penned an essay "With Liberty and Justice and Doctorates for All." I had just attended a press conference where Virginia Governor, Mark Warner, proposed that all children have the same curriculum, a curriculum that would equip them for college or work. Warner's statement was the latest manifestation of that mantra from the 1980's, "all children can learn." Nobody, of course, ever said what they could all learn. It was nutty then; it's nutty now but its nuttiness is codified in the No Child Left Behind act which insists that all children--every last one save for the most severely disabled--be proficient in reading and math by 2014.

In March, 2007, Robert Linn, the preeminent psychometrician in the land, told a joint House/Senate hearing that 100% proficiency was impossible. Linn's testimony occurred shortly after Richard Rothstein's "Proficiency for All: An Oxymoron" laid out a similar case. People vary. You cannot have a meaningful definition of "proficient" and have everyone be proficient. NCLB specifies that the tests to determine proficiency must be linked to "challenging standards." By definition, "challenging" means some people can't do it. If they all could, it wouldn't be challenging.

But as elsewhere in the Bush administration, a fog of unreality hangs over the Department of Education that prevents it from acknowledging Linn's irrefutable conclusion. Ray Simon, an assistant secretary of education, apparently thought the discussion was about Iraq. He responded "We must stay the course. The task is doable." Honest-to-God-truth he said that--unless the Washington Post misquoted him. I was not in the room so I don't know for sure and don't know if he went on to say "We can't cut and run."

All the every-child-this, that and the other evokes Kurt Vonnegut's 1961 short story, Harrison Bergeron:

The year was 2081 and everybody was finally equal. They weren't only equal before God and the law. They were equal in every which way. Nobody was smarter than anybody else. Nobody was better looking than anybody else. Nobody was stronger or quicker than anyone else."

Equality was enforced by gun-totin' Diana Moon Glampers, the Handicapper General, and her agents. At the story opens George and Hazel Bergeron are watching ballet on TV. The ballerinas "were burdened with sash weights and bags of birdshot, and their faces were masked, so that no one, seeing a free and graceful gesture or a pretty face, would feel like something the cat drug in." A bulletin arrives and the announcer, having been handicapped with a severe speech impediment, gives it to a ballerina to read. It is about George and Hazel's 14-year-old son, Harrison.

"Harrison Bergeron has escaped from jail. He is a genius and an athlete, is under-handicapped and should be regarded as extremely dangerous."

The Bergeron story came to me again on Friday, April 20 when a superintendent from Arizona showed me test score trends from the state and her district. Over a three year period, the chart showed the percent of students falling into one of four levels of achievement: falls far behind standard, approaches standard, meets standard, or exceeds standard.

The pattern is clear for both the district and the state; in reading, mathematics and writing; and across all 4 tested grades (3,5,8,10): Over a three-year period, children in the "falls far behind standard" category become less numerous. Children in the "exceeds standard" category become less numerous. Low-achieving students are drifting up towards the middle; high-achieving students are drifting down towards the middle. In the name of Adequate Yearly Progress and Saint Proficiency, NCLB is making us equal.

So it goes.


Biting critic of national education policy

By Jay Mathews,October 23, 2009
Washington Post

  • Gerald Bracey was well-known for attacking the statistical biases of studies that declared U.S. schools to be inferior.
Gerald Bracey was well-known for attacking the statistical biases of studies… (Mark Finkenstaedt For The…)

Gerald W. Bracey, 69, one of the most erudite, prolific and acidic critics of national education policy, died unexpectedly early Oct. 20 at his home in Port Townsend, Wash.

His wife, Iris, said his death could have resulted from a number of potential causes, including his prostate cancer, according to his doctors. Mr. Bracey, a Richmond native, had until recently been a Northern Virginia resident.

He had the analytic skill and academic standing -- including a doctorate in developmental psychology from Stanford University -- to become a leading government or university policy analyst. But he was unable to curb his sharp tongue or his outrage at the way American schools were being demeaned by politicians and editorial writers, so he chose a less financially secure career as lecturer, writer, author and sender of e-mails eviscerating people who disagreed with him.

When an international study of high school science and mathematics was about to be released, with American students scoring below average, Mr. Bracey faxed a droll and prickly bulletin to education writers and experts nationwide.


Mr. Bracey, who had lived for a while in Greece, was skeptical that Greeks could score so well on high school tests but perform near the bottom on fourth-grade and eighth-grade tests.

"Do you really think these Greek kids suddenly encountered Socratic teachers in their high schools and shot their advanced students beyond ours?" he told The Washington Post. "In a pig's eye!"

He published articles in dozens of magazines and newspapers and wrote 10 books during the last two decades of his life. He skewered the educational policies of the George W. Bush administration and donated money to and voted for presidential candidate Barack Obama. By May of this year, Mr. Bracey was hitting Obama too, noting that the president was wrong when he said "in 8th grade math we've fallen to 9th place."

Actually, this was an improvement from 28th place in 1995, Mr. Bracey pointed out.

In his book, "Education Hell: Rhetoric vs. Reality," published this year, Mr. Bracey attacked the misuses of standardized testing, a subject on which he was an acknowledged national expert. "We went from a system that valued producing good citizens for a democracy to one that worshipped at the temple of high test scores," Mr. Bracey wrote. "We should be asking, what were we thinking?"

Gerald Watkins Bracey was born Aug. 12, 1940, and grew up in Williamsburg. After graduating from the College of William & Mary and getting his doctorate, he worked for the Educational Testing Service in Princeton, N.J., and as a researcher and assistant professor at Indiana University before spending the mid-1970s traveling through Asia, Africa and Europe. He became an expert on international cuisine and wine and reviewed restaurants as part of his freelance writing career.

He began a monthly column on research for the educational journal Phi Delta Kappan in the mid-1980s while working for the Virginia Department of Education. His prominence increased in 1990 when he reacted angrily to a column by The Post's Richard Cohen decrying a national decline in SAT scores, which Mr. Bracey knew had been caused not by bad schools but more women and minorities taking the test.

At Cohen's urging, he responded in The Post's Outlook section, then began writing an annual critique of the mistakes made in education reporting. His bosses at the National Education Association, where he was a senior policy analyst, told him he was being "too entrepreneurial" and he resigned.

The last annual Bracey Report, formerly known as the Rotten Apple Awards, will be published soon, fellow critic Susan Ohanian said.

Mr. Bracey's first marriage ended in divorce. In addition to his wife, survivors include two stepchildren, Noel Petrie of Maryville, Tenn., and Kira Mekeburg of Herndon; and four grandchildren.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The Un States actually has an excellent school system, the best of any BIG nation on earth. But only if take into account the Oriental kids and the whitey kids. Add in the negro kids and the Mexican kids and the school system appears to be poor.

And it is not a question of money or resources either. The minority kids what they are called are undisciplined and misbehave constantly and just do not want to learn. They just don't care or obey the parents or teachers or anyone for that matter.

Unless you understand the problem as it actually and really is you cannot hope to solve the problem. Do not throw the baby out with the bath water.