Orwell Award Announcement SusanOhanian.Org Home

NCLB Outrages

9 Common Myths About Public Schools

Gerald Bracey used these myths as the basis of a talk before the Rotary Club of Port Townsend, Washington.

These are very good talking points for op-eds, letters to editor, and your own presentations to community groups.

by Gerald Bracey

1. The schools were to blame for letting the
Russians get into space first. Granddaddy of all slanders and a great
illustration of the absolute nuttiness with which people talk about

Sputnik, the first man-made satellite to orbit the earth launched on October
4, 1957. On September 20, 1956, Werner von Braun’s Army Ballistic Missile
Agency launched a 4-stage Jupiter C rocket from Cape Canaveral. After the
first 3 stages fired, the rocket was 832 miles in the air and travelling at
13,000 miles an hour. The 4th stage could have easily bumped something into
orbit. The 4th stage was filled with sand. There were a number of reasons
for this including the fact that the Eisenhower administration was
determined to keep its weapons rocket program and its space exploration
project separate and von Braun’s rocket was clearly a weapon. Its primary
intent was to incinerate Russian cities with nuclear warheads. Ike worried
how the Russians might react. His Assistant Defense Secretary Donald
Quarles actually said “the Russians did us a favor” because they established
the precedent that deep space was free and international.

Most US engineers in the space program in 1957 would have graduated high
school in the 1930’s, but in the media, the schools of the 1950’s took the
hit for Sputnik. Ike was quite puzzled by this.

2. Schools alone can close the achievement gap. This is codified in the
disaster known as No Child Left Behind. Most of the differences come from
family and community variables and many out-of-school factors, especially
summer loss. Some studies have found that poor children enter school behind
their middle class peers, learn as much during the year and then lose it
over the summer. They fall farther and farther behind and schools are
blamed. Middle class and affluent kids do not show summer loss.

3. Money doesn’t matter. Tell this to wealthy districts. Money clearly
affects changes in achievement although levels of achievement are more
influenced by the variables just mentioned. Most studies are short term and
look only at test scores, a very foolish mistake. Economists David Card and
Alan Krueger also found investments in school show a payoff in terms of
long-term earnings of graduates.

4. The United States is losing its competitive edge. China and India ARE
Rising. As economies collapsed all around it, China’s economy grew a
remarkable 7% last year. On just humanitarian grounds, we should not wish
China and India to remain poor forever, but the more they grow the more
money they have to buy stuff from us. As China and India prosper, we
prosper. The World Economic Forum and the Institute for Management
Development have consistently ranked the U. S. Economy as the most
competitive in the world. Education is only one part of multi-factor
systems in rankings. WEF is especially keen on innovation. Our obsession
with testing makes testing a great instrument for destroying creativity.

5. The U. S. Has a shortage of scientists, mathematicians and engineers.
This was a myth started oddly enough by the National Science Foundation in
the 1980’s in a study with assumptions so absurd the study was never
published, but the myth lingers on. In fact, Hal Salzman of the Urban
Institute and Lindsay Lowell of Georgetown University found that we have
three newly minted scientists and engineers who are permanent residents or
native citizens for every newly minted job. Within 2 years, 65% of them
were no longer in scientific or engineering fields. That proportion might
have fallen during the current debacle when people are more likely to hang
on to a job even if they hate it. An article in the September 18 Wall
Street Journal reported that before the economy collapsed, 30% of the
graduates of MIT—MIT—headed directly into finance.

6. Merit pay for teachers will improve performance. Bebchuk & Fried Pay
Without Performance. Adams, Heywood & Rothstein, Teachers, Performance Pay,
and Accountability. Bonus pay is concentrated in finance, insurance, and
real estate. In most of private sector hard to determine and often leads to
corruption and gaming the system. Campbell’s Law: “The more any
quantitative social indicator is used for social decision making, the more
subject it will be to corruption pressures and the more apt it will be to
distort the social processes it is intended to monitor.”

7. The fastest growing jobs are all high-tech and require postsecondary
education. “Postsecondary education” is a weasel word. A majority of the
fastest growing jobs do, in fact, require some kind of postsecondary
training. But, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, they account
for very few jobs. It’s the Walmarts and Macdonald’s of America that
generate the jobs. According to the BLS, the job of retail sales accounts
for more jobs than the top ten fastest growing jobs combined.

8. Test scores are related to economic competitiveness. We do well on
international comparisons of reading, pretty good on one international
comparison of math and science, and not so good on another math/science
comparison. But these comparisons are based on the countries’ average
scores and average scores don’t mean much. The Organization for Economic
Cooperation and Development, the producer of the math science comparison in
which we do worst has pointed out that in science the U. S. has 25% of all
the highest scoring students in the entire world, at least the world as
defined by the 60 countries that participate in the tests. Finland might
have the highest scores, but that only gives them 2,000 warm bodies compared
to the U. S. Figure of 67,000. It’s the high scorers who are most likely to
become leaders and innovators. Only four nations have a higher proportion
of researchers per 1000 fulltime employees, Sweden, Finland, New Zealand and
Japan. Only Finland is much above the U. S.

Consider Japan, the economic juggernaut of the 1980’s. It kids score well
on tests and people made a causal link between scores and Japan’s economy.
But Japan’s economy has been in the doldrums for almost a whole generation.
Its kids still ace tests.

9. Education itself produces jobs. President Obama and Secretary of
Education Duncan have both linked any economic recovery to school
improvement. This is nonsense. There are parts of India where thousands of
educated people compete for a single relatively low-level white-collar job.
Some of you might recall that in the 1970’s many sociologists and
commentators worried that America was becoming TOO educated, that they would
be bored by the work available.

— Gerald Bracey
presentation to Rotary Club


This site contains copyrighted material the use of which has not always been specifically authorized by the copyright owner. We are making such material available in our efforts to advance understanding of education issues vital to a democracy. We believe this constitutes a 'fair use' of any such copyrighted material as provided for in section 107 of the US Copyright Law. In accordance with Title 17 U.S.C. Section 107, the material on this site is distributed without profit to those who have expressed a prior interest in receiving the included information for research and educational purposes. For more information click here. If you wish to use copyrighted material from this site for purposes of your own that go beyond 'fair use', you must obtain permission from the copyright owner.