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Author/Advocate Gerald W. Bracey Dies at 69

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SAD NEWS: Gerald W. Bracey, one of the field's best known and most vocal authors, advocates, and researchers, died quietly in his sleep yesterday at his home in Port Townsend, Wash. Rumors of his death were all over the blogosphere today. His wife, Iris Bracey, confirmed the news for EdWeek this afternoon.

Bracey, 69, penned more than eight books over his long career, dozens of articles, and hundreds of letters to the editor. His specialty was railing against what he saw as misuse of data on education among policymakers, politicians, and the media. Fellow author Alfie Kohn, in a Tweet sent out late yesterday, describes him as a "spirited crusader for accuracy, integrity; denounced false claims, misuse of stats; made the right enemies."

As an education reporter, I'm well acquainted with the Stanford-educated researcher's frequent, and biting, critiques, a few of which were directed at Education Week. He was, to put it bluntly, a thorn in our side. Once in a while, though, he had a point and I was awed by his tireless persistence and his willingness to heap criticism on government leaders from both sides of the political aisle, from Margaret Spellings to Arne Duncan.

Here's his bio at "The Huffington Post," where he was a frequent contributor. One honor it doesn't mention: Bracey won the American Educational Research Association's "Relating Research to Practice" award in 2003 for his interpretive scholarship of education research.

Ms. Bracey said her husband showed no acute signs of illness prior to his death. He was active to the end, spending his last day, somewhat fittingly, writing his annual report on education and presumably deliberating over who would get one of his "rotten apple" awards this year.

16 Comments

I was a faithful reader of Gerald Bracey. Perhaps from Ms. Viadero's perspective, he had a point "once in a while"; however, to those of us who care deeply about education spin and disinformation, Jerry regularly and consistently had a point. His points were built on over 40 years' experience with statistics and research. We have lost not only an acutely critical eye, but a tremendous voice as well.

I agree with Martha Foote. Jerry's overall, big-picture point was absolutely sound and valid. There IS a war on public education; it has gone on in various forms for many years now and deploys falsehoods and distortions as weapons; and the mass media are far too compliant in reporting the attackers' viewpoint unquestioned and unexamined. Jerry was a courageous and relentless voice challenging the powerful forces that are so hostile to public education, as the mainstream press SHOULD be doing.

I'm a veteran daily newspaper editor myself, and I'm well aware that criticism -- especially when voiced with an edge -- tends to make the press dig in its heels. It's a shame that our major commentators weren't more open-minded about listening to and respecting Jerry's views, which deserved to be heard and respected.

I knew Jerry only online and professionally, but I know that he'll be sorely missed. Our children and our public schools have lost a committed champion.

This is such sad, shocking news. Gerald Bracey's was the one true and consistent voice I would listen for to cut through the clutter of misinformation circulating about public education. Our public schools and students have lost a great warrior. He will be greatly missed.

As someone coming more recently to ed. policy debates and forums, I was only introduced to Mr. Bracey's work in the past couple years, but I have no doubt that his influence will endure. My condolences to his family, friends, and all who mourn his loss.

I am so sad to hear of Jerry's passing; years ago he was kind enough to look over a story I wrote about Simpson's Paradox for our education magazine and I've always viewed him as my data-interpretation "touchstone" of sorts. It may surprise many to know he even had a bit of the food reviewer/travel writer in him: http://www.america-tomorrow.com/bracey/EDDRA/seinecruise.htm
The "thorn"--as Debbie calls him--will be sorely missed.

Debbie, Jerry was a thorn in your side for good reason. EdWeek pretends middle ground, while promoting a bias against public education and attacking teachers. The EdWeek politic is driven by corporatism and the failed managerial productivity models that plague today's public education classrooms. Your latest attempts to posture value-added measures as savior will, if successful, only slice more deeply into what's good for children. Value-added cannot be hope, as it is toxic. Value-added is what remains of the failed financial algorithms that have eviscerated the global economy. Value-added is a wolf dressed in lambskin. Ah, but such clever shade is your trade. Poke, poke.

Numbers, your test scores, do not convey context in a meaningful way.

A great loss.

I second Mark Barlow's comments above and mourn deeply the loss to the nation's children and future children of one of the most clear-eyed and rigorous thinkers about research and education. Yes, he has been a consistent critic of baloney, regardless of which political party was the purveyor. While the wing nuts, birthers, tea-baggers, et al., are calling for Obama's head, the educational conservatives must be secretly dancing jigs of celebration over the appointment of a corporate tool like Arne Duncan as Sec. of Education. And those same folks are no doubt thrilled that Gerald Bracey's voice has been stilled too soon.

Ms. Viadero's original post so undervalues Jerry's contributions ("Once in a while, though, he had a point") that I really have to follow up my previous comment.

Jerry was so right in taking on the press for its eager participation in and encouragement of the magical thinking that goes on about school reform.

Here's an old quote from Mike Rose of UCLA:

"Upon closer examination, some of these miracles turn out to be suspect, the result of questionable assessments and manipulated numbers."

Yes, and it's almost never the mainstream press that does that closer examination. It's gadflies like Jerry Bracey.

Jerry died Monday night, and Monday daytime and evening, his EDDRA group members were getting e-mails involving his debunking of an L.A. Times piece promoting more magical-thinking claims, such as a claim that all it takes is good teachers to erase the achievement gap. (The article referred to previous claims that a scientific study produced this finding; Bracey and others in the reality-based community retort that that claim is entirely speculation, not the finding of a scientific study.)

In an unusual willingness to engage, the Times sent a "reply all" e-mail listing the many alleged studies they had allegedly used as background for their article. (Short answer -- as a veteran major metro newspaper editor familiar with the abilities of reporters to grasp complex research, I do not buy their response; it's not credible.)

I and probably others involved in the exchange e-mailed to let the Times reporters know that Jerry had passed away.

Anyway, it's probably pissing him off no end that he can't debate this further with Jason Song and Howard Blume. Jerry, you were bombastic, but you were right.

I hope that the journalists who are so eager to promote the magical-thinking miracle solutions will at least be inspired to pause before they rewrite another press release. They might wonder if this would have been one of those "once in a whiles" when Jerry was right. In Jerry's memory, please ask a tough question -- even just one.

"Once in a while, though, he had a point." This is correct only if "once in a while" means "about once a day."

I am a 30-year public school teacher, pursuing a PhD in Ed Policy at a research one university. I have admired Jerry Bracey's work in the (Phi Delta Kappa) Kappan and several of his books. I brought his recent "Nine Myths about Public Schools" blog posting (Huffington Post) to class--only to have the professor (who hasn't seen the inside of a public school for decades) pooh-pooh the ideas as "just more Jerry Bracey and his little feel-good stories about schools."

Gerald Bracey was neither a feel-good apologist nor an inventor of narrative-to-fit, as many researchers are. He was a genuine scholar. He may have been contrary and acerbic, but he was generally right. And when he was wrong, he was willing to detail his own mistakes. There was nobody quite like him. A good apple, indeed.

A sad and untimely loss.

Jerry always reminded of the Thomas Paine quote: "When society yields the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon." He was a free spirit, an independent thinker, possessing a consummate knowledge of the research, with an unyielding advocacy for public education, and an appetite for democracy. Debbie, you have to admit that you will miss the 'thorn." I certainly will and my utmost sympathy for both his personal family and his education family.

This is such a tremendous loss to the education community, especially to those of us who fight against the spin doctors.

Regarding the dismissive "once in a while he had a point" comment: How many times did Jerry criticize a claim made in Ed Week (for misrepresenting, improperly reporting, or failing to understand the data) and turn out to be wrong?

As Alfie Kohn points out: how often did anyone show him to be in error? Jerry is greatly mourned by many friends and colleagues. He was an irreplaceable voice for good.

Jeesh, people. A reporter writes a very nice tribute, and she then gets blasted because of one sentence that has a lot of truth to it.

Jerry took great pride in being a thorn. It was what he did. Moreover, he did have definite personal "points of view." Evidence in conflict with these beliefs had a hard time getting through his gate. The day before he died I happened to be privately corresponding with him on a couple of such matters.

Jerry was one-of-a-kind, and he will certainly be missed. Ed Week does get things wrong once in a while. (Don't we all?) But bashing a reporter who is trying to get it right does no more good than bashing kids, teachers, and schools who are trying to get it right.

We need a stronger ed press just as we need stronger ed R&D. In these times, we can't have one without the other.

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