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Gerald Bracey tributes


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    What Jerry Bracey would have said about Locke High

    Ohanian Comment: Yes, "the nation's watchdog of unexamined assumptions and misleading language in education policy and education writing." That was, indeed Gerald Bracey. I can't tell you how many messages I get from people lamenting that we don't have Jerry's crap detector to counter the lies spewing from the corporate politicos and from educationists echoing them.

    Good for Jay! (And he knows I don't say that very often.)

    Someone commenting at the WaPost, said, "He was a visionary and a fighter to the end. Nothing seems good enough, but any piece of truth is a fitting tribute to him. Well done."

    by Jay Mathews

    Every once in awhile I run across a case of distorted education reporting and mourn the 2009 death of Gerald W. Bracey. For years he was the nation's watchdog of unexamined assumptions and misleading language in education policy and education writing.

    Instead of stewing over these mishaps, I am going to post them and say what I think Jerry would have said about them. I am never going to reach his level of clarity or acidity, but there isn't much I can do about that. Most of these items will be small stuff, since that was often what Jerry focused on, knowing that little distortions left unchecked can grow into big ones.

    The target of this first Bracey memorial scolding is the otherwise admirable Green Dot Public Schools, whose Aug. 16 press release on test score gains at Locke High School in Los Angeles caught my eye. Green Dot has broken Locke, hitherto one of the lowest-performing high schools in the country, into a collection of small charter schools to give those students a chance at the educations they deserve.

    The press release said that comparing the latest Locke student results on the California Standards Tests (CSTs) to results in 2008 when the school was still run by the L.A. Unified School District, "the number of proficient or advanced students increased 74 percent for the English CST exam and 295 percent for the Math CST exams." Those are mind-blowing numbers, until you examine closely the chart that Green Dot has included on the next page of the press release.

    The chart emphasizes the fact that the number of students testing proficient or advanced in English went from 196 to 341, a 74 percent increase, and in math from 37 to 146, a 295 percent increase. But in smaller type, which required me to squint, it reveals that in both cases there was a substantial increase in the number of students taking those tests, from 1,546 to 2,282 in English and from 1,408 to 2,193 in math. So much of the increase was possibly not the result of better teaching but just more kids at the school.

    Green Dot deserves credit for creating conditions that draw more students, but it should have made clear in the press release summary that this was a factor in the big gains. More important, it should have said in the same paragraph that the level of achievement was still pathetic.

    The portion of students scoring proficient or above in English increased from only 12.7 percent in 2008 to 14.9 percent in 2010. The math gains were even less impressive, from 2.6 percent to 6.7 percent. If a reader were trying to judge how much Green Dot has done so far to raise Locke's abysmal achievement rates, those would be very important numbers, but the press release writers seemed to want to rush past that fact to something, anything, that would show a big gain.

    I asked Green Dot president and CEO Marco Petruzzi about this. He said, "The reason we have more students taking the tests is that we retained the students (i.e., they didn't drop out as they were previously doing) and not, as you state, because we 'draw more students.'" He said he thought this was a better way to measure Locke's progress because it identified how many more students were testing proficient, rather than just the percentage of proficiency. But he overlooked my point. Any pats on the back of a school where the proficiency rates are still among the lowest in America are premature.

    Green Dot has the potential to do great things at Locke. The organization's press release writers should be thanked for including all of the chart material so that a careful reader could figure out what was really going on. But they should not cheapen what gains their schools make by leaving the impression they are greater than they are. Jerry would have said this more sharply, but you get the idea.

    — Jay Mathews
    Washington Post Class Struggle


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