" In recent years, few researchers have consistently produced as much influential, and some would say heretical, research on topics roiling education."—Education Week




What Special-Interest Groups Want YOU to BELIEVE About our SCHOOLS– AND WHY IT ISN'T SO

By Jay P.Greene
Foreword by James Q. Wilson


By Andrew J. Rotherham, New York Post, 09-18-05

EDUCATION policy, rarely offers epic figures as alluring as Guine vere, yet Jay Greene says we are nonetheless deluded by mythology when we think about our schools.

In "Education Myths" Greene sets out to debunk his list of 18 prevalent educational misconceptions and myths. Some of his "myths" cover spending, class-size reduction initiatives and school vouchers, debates well-known to even even casual observers of education. Others, such as the often-arcane disputes about special-education policies and how to most accurately compute graduation rates, are only hotly debated within education circles.

The prolific Greene, who heads a new education research center at the University of Arkansas, is a key player on many of these issues. As a result, much of this book is a compendium of his previous work and his disagreements with various other researchers and analysts.

This doesn't mean he's all wrong. On the contrary, Greene's work on graduation rates was instrumental in forcing states to more forthrightly report high-school-completion data.

But there are interests groups and wild claims on all sides of education debates and they don't get equal scrutiny here. Greene enjoys punching left, but generally avoids criticizing the right.

For example, he debunks the myth that public schools aren't as good as they used to be. But he uses an obscure 1993 quote to portray Clinton-era Education Secretary Richard Riley as the myth's purveyor. This line was no staple for Riley, but was standard fare among more than a few conservative commentators.

Likewise, Greene devotes more time to unsettled debates than to issues where public policy clearly runs against the grain of the empirical evidence - such as the attachment of the public and policymakers to the worth of "certified" teachers in the face of abundant evidence that today's policies not only fail to ensure quality or add value, but may actually dissuade would-be teachers. School choice, a Greene favorite but an issue where the research raises as many questions as it answers, garners much more attention.

What's most striking is how little impact most of these myths have on education policymaking today. Greene wants to debunk misconceptions about the harms of accountability, school choice and spending. Yet choice is slowly but steadily expanding in education, schools are increasingly held accountable for results and few states or the federal government are on much of an educational spending binge. Greene may be too late; many of the dragons he seeks to slay don't have much fire left anyway.

Andrew J. Rotherham is co-director of Education Sector and a senior fellow at the Progressive Policy Institute, is the ##MC##author of eduwonk.com-RD.