"A child's learning is the function more of the characteristics of his classmates than those of the teacher." James Coleman, 1972

Friday, October 23, 2009

Bracey Obituary

If you did not know the work of Jerry Bracey, follow up with some of the pieces noted in this nice remembrance by Greg Toppo:
Gerald Bracey, a longtime education researcher, public schools advocate and tenacious Washington gadfly, died early Tuesday, his wife Iris said. He was 69 and in apparently good health, she said. He passed away in his sleep.

A native of Williamsburg, Va., Bracey had recently moved to Port Townsend, Wash., with his wife.

A longtime fellow of the Educational Policy Research Unit at Arizona State University and its recent partner, the Education and the Public Interest Center at the University of Colorado at Boulder, Bracey was for decades one of the foremost defenders of American public schools, tirelessly arguing that their performance wasn't as bad as reformers of both political parties contended. He often used long-term international comparisons to make his point.

A graduate of the College of William and Mary, he held a Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University and was testing director for both the Virginia Department of Education and the Cherry Creek, Colo., school district.

Bracey was mostly known as a pugnacious, sometimes abrasive critic of D.C. education policymakers, lawmakers and the press, decrying what he saw as their historical ignorance, intellectual laziness and chronic lack of skepticism about the latest education reform.

Charter schools, teacher merit pay, standards-based reform, high-stakes testing — whatever it was, it seemed, he was against it, often for the same reason: None of it, he said, showed replicable results.

An indefatigable contrarian, Bracey in 1991 founded the Education Disinformation Detection and Reporting Agency or EDDRA, dedicated to analyzing reports, dispelling rumors and "rebutting lies" about U.S. public education.

The same year, his annual Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education began appearing in the Phi Delta Kappan education journal. He'd been writing a monthly column for the Kappan since 1984.

In 2006, he began blogging for The Huffington Post, writing for the online site until just weeks ago. Bracey's last essay, posted Sept. 30., was a stinging, detailed criticism of pro-charter-school editorials in The Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

Since last April, he'd also been using Twitter— one of his last tweets read: "Thinking that the light at the end of the education tunnel is a standards freight train coming our way. Gonna hurt bad."

Bracey believed that many "reformers" secretly had it in for U.S. public schools, and that they often used statistics to make what he considered faulty criticisms of the schools. Among the perpetually lengthy titles of his many books are Final Exam: A Study of the Perpetual Scrutiny of American Education and Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered.

Another, Setting the Record Straight: Responses to Misconceptions About Public Education in America, tackled 20 "myths" about U.S. public schools, giving advocates ammunition to rebut critics. For instance, one chapter begins, "What do I say when people say, 'Schools won't improve until they're taken over by private companies and run like businesses'?"

But it was likely Bracey's annual Rotten Apples in Education, an over-the-top mock awards newsletter, that made him the most fans and the most enemies.

It took no prisoners and pulled no punches. In 2006, after then-Education Secretary Margaret Spellings compared the No Child Left Behind education reform law to Ivory Soap, saying it was "99.9% pure — there's not much needed in the way of change," Bracey awarded Spellings "The 99 and 44/100ths Pure Crap Award."

While he held President George W. Bush and No Child Left Behind in especially low esteem, Bracey was bipartisan in his loathing, most recently calling out President Obama and his Education Secretary, Arne Duncan, on what Bracey called "test abuse," quipping at one point, "These guys don't have a clue."

He took Obama to task earlier this year on the President's assertions that three-fourths of the fastest-growing occupations require more than a high school diploma.

Not really, Bracey said. Look it up.

Last August, when the topic on the EDDRA listserv turned to Obama's proposed education reforms, an angry Bracey wrote, "How long will it take for people to realize that the education 'reform' proposed by Obama-Duncan is no different from the Weapons of Mass Destruction from Bush (I say this as a depressed person who canvassed for Obama, campaigned for him, donated for him, and voted for him — with my entire family — in Virginia before moving to the blue-secure state of Washington.)"

"He wasn't afraid, but sometimes I know that got him into terrible trouble," Iris said. "He just wanted the truth to come out."

In addition to his wife, Bracey is survived by two grown children from Iris' first marriage, whom he helped raise, as well as four grandchildren.

Friends have established a memorial fund in his name at CU-Boulder and ask that donations be made in his name to fund a doctoral research fellowship.


  1. Thanks, Jim. Jerry was one-of-a-kind. He will certainly be missed.

  2. Bracey wasn't just a contrarian.

    He was an anti-hegemonist.

    I knew him a little. We'd met at some conference, maybe AERA. I admired him a lot! I regard him as the model of a public scholar.

  3. Jerry was a friend to truth, and sought it out whenever he could... he was quick to support research that was seeking truth, and quick to oppose ideology posing as reseach...I shall miss him. He was a friend at times when I needed a friend in my educational travails... he will be missed by so many as a beacon of truth in a world filled with ideologies....

    Noel Hammatt