Sunday, November 15, 2009

Jay Matthews Tribute to Jerry Bracey

Many trashers of the ed deform crowd love to make fun of Jay Matthews. But his tribute to Jerry Bracey, one of his arch educational enemies, was truly touching. Bracey died recently just before the release of the annual Bracey Report. Matthews writes:

The last person to receive one of his infamous emails questioning the ancestry and sanity of the recipient should frame the thing and put it on a wall. I don't know anyone else in our community of education wonks who matched him in passion, honesty and wit. The 2009 edition of the Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education proves it.

The annual Bracey report has been a big event the last 18 years for those of us fascinated by schools and by Bracey's refusal to buy into the buzz words that we drop into our own writing and speeches without thinking, like chocolate chips in the cookie batter. Phrases such as "high quality schools," "global challenge" and "widening achievement gap."

Fortunately, Jerry had finished a draft before he died, so his friends, author and blogger Susan Ohanian and Penn State education professor Pat Hinchey, applied the finishing touches with help from Jerry's wife, Iris.

I was in the midst of a couple of email exchanges with Susan when she got the news of his death and saw the shock and anguish soon after she got the news. That they all got out this report so soon is a tribute to their work.

It was good to read this from Matthews, who we hope may be "getting it."

He also makes a powerful case for remembering that impoverished students are going to need more than just great teaching and longer school days to reach their academic potential. Their health and family problems also drag them down.

His victim in this part of the report---Jerry often does his best work when he is shooting at a living, breathing, well-known target--is New York Times columnist David Brooks. I am sure Brooks will never again make the mistake in his May 7, 2009, column, resting his argument for the superiority of tough-love, no-excuses inner-city schools on data for one year, one grade and one subject at the Harlem Promise Academy, and failing to give enough credit to the unusual medical and nutritional support that program provides.

Mayoral control of schools, the second issue, was a much easier target for Jerry. Nobody was ever better at sifting the data. His Ph.D. from Stanford, the birthplace of psychometrics, came in handy. He looks at the results from Chicago and New York City, the best-known examples of school systems run by mayors, and reveals that their test score jumps do not match the ones in the more reliable National Assessment of Educational Progress.

But in case Matthews doesn't reform, save these posts on Matthews by NYC Educator:

More Expert Analysis from Jay Matthews

More Expert Ideas from Jay Matthews

I Don't Understand Education, but I Know What I Like

I don't much read the Washington Post, but every now and then someone sends me or links to another Jay Matthews story and I marvel at how someone so uninformed can make a living writing about education. This week Jay is happy that unions are slowing their opposition to charters.

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