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December 1, 2000
Vol. 58
No. 4


Bail Me Out!

Bail Me Out! Handling Difficult Data and Tough Questions About Public Schools by Gerald W. Bracey. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press, 2000.
As Mark Twain warned and Gerald W. Bracey proves, there are "lies, damn lies, and statistics." Bracey warns that reports, columns, and books about education often misrepresent, misconstrue, and even fabricate findings and information to bolster particular viewpoints or agendas.
Bracey ferrets out infamous statistics and teaches his readers some strategies for doing the same. His three-part book first arms the reader with some basics about data interpretation. The second part explores the history of negative attitudes toward U.S. public schools. Bracey blames these attitudes on excessive testing, inadequate tests, and misuse of test data. He criticizes many of the arguments against testing and the standards movement of which tests are often a part.
The book concludes with a section on data that relate to tough questions about education and achievement. Bracey addresses familiar questions: Why are we throwing money at schools? Why don't bright people go into teaching? Why do private schools do so much better than public schools? The chapters built around these and other questions both unravel the assumptions that lead to these views and present ways to examine possible answers. Bracey highlights helpful contexts for understanding and examining education data. For example, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) was never designed to measure what happens in individual classrooms although the data is sometimes used for that purpose.
For readers who are new to education, this book is a helpful primer. For those who are already immersed in education numbers, Bail Me Out! will affirm the need to be a highly critical reader of statistics.
Published by Corwin Press, Inc., 2455 Teller Rd., Thousand Oaks, CA 91320. Price: $65.95 hardcover, $29.95 paperback.
—Reviewed by Ilene Berman, Council for Basic Education, Washington, D.C.

Afraid of the Dark

Afraid of the Dark: What Whites and Blacks Need to Know About Each Other by Jim Myers. Lawrence Hill Books, 2000.
W. E. B. Dubois stated, "The problem of the 20th century is the problem of the color line." In this book, Jim Myers offers an engaging analysis of race in the United States and seeks to destroy the myths, stereotypes, and false assumptions to which many Americans cling. The book lays bare behaviors by both blacks and whites that result from inadequate knowledge of and interaction with one another. In addition, the author provides an in-depth analysis of the thinking behind those behaviors and discusses the differing views of blacks and whites on sports, sex, politics, power, the media, friendship, language, and intelligence.
Myers states that America remains two worlds: black and white. Inhabitants of the two worlds rarely meet or spend time learning about one another. Afraid of the Dark attempts to bridge black and white America by helping us see ourselves.
Published by Lawrence Hill Books, 814 North Franklin St., Chicago, IL 60610. Price: $22.95.
—Reviewed by Warren Hope, Florida A&M University, Tallahassee, Florida.

The Academic Achievement Challenge

The Academic Achievement Challenge: What Really Works in the Classroom? by Jeanne S. Chall. New York: Guilford Press, 2000.
Historian Lawrence Cremin notes that "reform movements are notoriously ahistorical in outlook." Jeanne S. Chall's book, published posthumously, answers the need for a historical view of educational reforms. Chall focuses on one critical idea: Attempts to radically reform instruction, such as whole language or the reforms articulated in the 1989 National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM) math standards, almost always hurt students. In fact, the widespread use of these reform models invariably harms the most vulnerable students—those who, regardless of social class, enter school with limited knowledge, language, and skills.
Chall observes that romantic views of reform models are always "imbued with love and hope." Although policymakers adopt reform models on the basis of convincing and idealistic rationales, empirical data rarely support the models.
Chall argues that reform movements, over a long time period, can have a positive impact on education. Educators must adopt the most sensible components of the reform, such as increased teaching of the writing process, the strategic use of manipulatives, and the use of nonbase-10 systems in math.
Perhaps Chall's greatest contribution to the critique of reform movements is her ability to apply the wisdom she has gained from teaching and investigating reading instruction in U.S. schools. This experience infuses her writing with both practicality and appreciation for the spirit of reform.
Published by Guilford Press, 72 Spring St., New York, NY 10012. Price: $25.
—Reviewed by Russell Gersten, University of Oregon, Eugene, Oregon.

What's at Stake in the K–12 Standards Wars

What's at Stake in the K–12 Standards Wars: A Primer for Educational Policy Makers. Sandra Stotksy, Editor. New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2000
In the 1990s, almost every subject in the school curriculum became a political battleground.
A progressive camp used standards to promote student-centered classrooms, constructivist teaching practices, interdisciplinary curriculum, multiculturalism, real-world content over abstract topics, and an end to tracking and ability grouping. Advocates succeeded in writing their standards-based prescriptions into law in several states.
This important volume features essays by the progressives' opponents, a traditionalist camp that believes standards should not dictate instruction or other classroom practices. Instead, standards should hold students and educators accountable for meeting clearly stated learning goals. For the traditionalists, the school curriculum embodies the time-tested intellectual disciplines, reflecting both their structures and their methods of inquiry. Students learn best when instructed by a competent teacher with a solid grounding in subject matter.
This book is intended for parents, educators, and policymakers. It argues that progressive standards have adversely affected the teaching of language arts, mathematics, science, and history. People who are suspicious of today's cutting-edge, student-centered reforms will love this book. Those who support the progressive cause will strongly disagree with the book's critique.
Published by Peter Lang Publishing, 275 Seventh Ave., 28th Floor, New York, NY 10001. Price: $32.95.
—Reviewed by Tom Loveless, Brookings Institute, Washington, D.C.

This article was published anonymously, or the author name was removed in the process of digital storage.

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