Outspoken public schools advocate Bracey dies at 69
This obituary provoked a lot of comments. Some are printed below.
Please donate to the memorial fellowship that has ben established in Jerry's name, the Bracey Fellowship at the University of Colorado, where he was a Senior Fellow with EPIC/EPRU.
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.
This obituary inspired a number of comments. Here are a few.
I am saddened by the death of this man. He was one of the few people who stood up for evidence and replication rather than political posturing. He stood against the left and the right.
Obviously many of the people commenting have not read a single article or book by Gerald Bracey. He was ruthlessly devoted to reality - not politics. He attacked politicians and pseudo-reformers (whether elected, appointed, or self-appointed) on both sides who “cherry pick” the data to find anything that supports their position and then claim that they are supported by research. He was usually the only voice of reason and advocate for good data in education. His standard was high – evidence that can be replicated.
A good example of the kind of political interference in education that Bracey would have fought is going on in Indiana. The governor and his education superintendent are gutting teacher preparation in the name of political posturing. Although all of the research data supports comprehensive and high quality teacher education, they are limiting the amount of preparation that universities can provide. Anyone can be a teacher if you pass a test. Anyone can be a principal if they pass a test. They do not provide any evidence that their decision has any evidence and cannot contradict the existing research – but they get to decide because it fits their politics.
This is not to say teacher preparation is high quality. In most cases universities do not follow the research in developing teacher education programs any more than politicians. They develop programs to generate revenue for the university and seem to care very little about high quality graduates. Let everyone in and let everyone graduate seems to be their mantra.
What Bracey taught me is to see reality, collect data, and see what really works. Since most people do not choose to read research, they repeat what they hear from others.
Bracey was committed to shedding light on the constant barrage of misinformation coming from the corporate-sponsored think tanks, corporate media, and Chamber of Commerce who have undermined confidence in public education and treat education as a commodity to be bought and sold in the market place. Both political parties are bought and paid for by corporate interests and Jerry was among the those who shed light on the absurdity of appointing Arne Duncan to his current position and the continuation of promoting corporate interests in the Obama administration. RIP, Jerry-- I hope others will take your place to speak truth to power.
What I know is that Gerald Bracey was a brain to be reckoned with, to be encountered, to sit before, to listen to, and to learn from. Dedication to truth was the flag he flew.
Money was never the consideration--it was always, 'the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth' and then it was always heavily documented.
I think his passing is a call to every teacher alive in this country to take a stand for children and the truth. I think losing him demands every teacher to stand up and cry out for children. We teachers either stand for all that Dr. Bracey was presenting and explaining to us, or we stand for nothing at all.
We have lost a mighty fire, a brilliant light, a growling lion, a Gandalf in the world of Education:
“PIPPIN: I didn't think it would end this way.
GANDALF: End? No, the journey doesn't end here. Death is just another path, one that we all must take. The grey rain-curtain of this world rolls back, and all turns to silver glass, and then you see it.
PIPPIN: What? Gandalf? See what?
GANDALF: White shores, and beyond, a far green country under a swift sunrise."
And I can only hope that this 'swift sunrise' will be teachers by the hundreds of thousands standing up and saying no to 'standards-based instruction and testing'.
It is what Dr. Bracey would expect of us, and no less. gh
The blurb under Gerald Bracey's picture says his career was dedicated to "defending" public schools. I don't think so. I think his career was dedicated to careful analysis of the evidence.
When I was a young teacher, first starting out, it already seemed like teachers and public schools could do no right. It was frustrating to say the least! Then I began reading Gerald Bracey’s yearly reports in Phi Delta Kappan. His writing was clear, concise, and often interjected with humor. He made sense. He gave me hope. I’ve always looked forward to his insightful books.
On the day I learned of his passing, oddly, I happened to be reading Americans Speak Out: Are Educators and Policy Makers Listening?—The 41st Annual Phi Delta Kappa/Gallup Poll. There he was again, smiling face, explaining the disconnect between why parents liked their local public schools but think other schools are “average to awful.” Dr. Bracey said, “The reasons for this disconnect are simple: Americans never hear anything positive about the nation’s schools and haven’t since the years just before Sputnik in 1957.”
I know Dr. Bracey is running that big joyful public school in the sky! Peace, Sir.
INDEX OF GERALD BRACEY TRIBUTES