My scholarship on biography helped me understand the roots of why academia shuns the biography: Biography began as hagiography, fabrications spun to praise manufactured heroes instead of scholarly tomes crafted to examine and reveal complicated people with monumental lives.
One of the most famous results of hagiography is the lingering story of George Washington professing as a child that he could not lie, confessing his cutting down the cherry tree. While this fabricated story remains in the cultural fabric of the U.S., sometimes still taught as if fact in our schools, the larger mythology of Washington as a Founding Father or seminal figure in America being a Christian nation survives powerfully despite both being as misleading as the "I cannot tell a lie" story.
Still, the Washington "lie" myth is doubly important, I think, because it reveals the power of lies to remain robust when they reinforce cultural belief systems, but the story also, ironically, captures perfectly that politicians are apt to lie by telling us they aren't lying. There isn't enough space here for the examples, but let's consider the most powerful pattern of lies we have experienced over the past two decades connected with education reform: Claims of miracle schools.
The Etymology of "Miracle"
It started with a Texas Miracle.
The genesis for the No Child Left Behind act (2001) can be traced to George W. Bush and Rod Paige's education reform policies in Texas during Bush's tenure as governor. That reform became the template we currently experience today that includes standards, high-stakes tests, and accountability structures such as school report cards.
The problem with the template, however, is that this paradigm received its political and public fuel from claims of success that are deemed "miraculous." And that problem is manifest in the reality that once any of the many "miracle" schools are examined behind the rhetoric, political bravado, and media fawning, we discover that no miracle occurred.
Two problems exist with the "miracle" claim about schools.
First, if miracle schools did exist, they would by definition be outliers, and thus unlikely to represent policies we could replicate or scale up to all public schools. Miracle schools could never be the solution to wide-scale public school reform.
Second, they don't exist. The miracle school wiki is but one resource that catalogues the reality that virtually all claims of "miracle" prove to be either manipulations of evidence or simply fabrications for ulterior goals. Rigorous scholarship on claims of "miracle" schools has shown that about 1.1% of schools produce the results we associate with "miracle"—fostering high-achieving scores by high-poverty students, for example.
Thus, we are left with one sobering fact about the miracle schools—Texas Miracle, Chicago Miracle, Harlem Miracle, Florida Miracle, New Orleans Miracle:
In the dictionary of political terminology, "miracle" means "lie."
Allowing NCLB to be crafted on a lie, allowing Arne Duncan to be appointed on a lie, allowing KIPP and TFA to grow based on a lie, allowing Common Core to be implemented on a lie—all of these are fatal public policy mistakes that could have been easily averted.
Lingering around us is the miracle-as-lie in the education savior-du-jour of Jeb Bush.
Education cannot stand yet another lie in miracle's clothing.