50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education
reviewed by Michael A. Gottfried - March 16, 2015
Title: 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten America’s Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education
Author(s): David C. Berliner & Gene V Glass
Publisher: Teachers College Press, New York
ISBN: 0807755249, Pages: 272, Year: 2014
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The title of this book really sums it up: 50 Myths & Lies that Threaten Americas Public Schools: The Real Crisis in Education. In this book, this is exactly what you getand this is a good thing. Authors Berliner and Glass demystify 50 diverse myths and lies surrounding education, and discuss how we can become better consumers of the data surrounding these issues.
Before addressing any of the myths, however, Berliner and Glass set up the framework for evaluating these inaccuracies. This is a strategic move on the authors part: to be able to understand the derivation and influence of a myth in education, one must know what a myth is to begin with. A myth, as the authors describe, is a belief that is not necessarily true, but one that people continue to believe though not for malicious reasons (as long as we assume that self interest is not on its own malicious). The authors rightfully contrast a myth with hoaxes and lies. A hoax occurs when the disseminator of information knows it to be doubtful, but does not consider spreading the information to be harmful to others. In contrast, a lie is something that believers know is false, but continue to push it forward for some sort of gainoften financial.
Given this conceptualization, the authors justify that myths are important to dispel even though they are not malicious. Mythslike the idea that public schools are inferior to private educationare hurting our nations public schools in the short-term, as well as the chance that they will be able to survive in the long-run. Berliner and Glass clearly explain that once we understand what a myth is, we can see how a myth may serve the interests of only a select few, even if the myth had arisen without premeditated malice. For instance, promoting some myths might reduce public education spending in a way that benefits only a handful of individuals, such as those who believe that we should cut costs of public education to serve other outlets (e.g., vouchers, charters). Or a myth might allow corporations to step in, supplant public schools, and set up profitable models instead, like for-profit online schooling. As consumers of education, the American public should better understand these myths and how the data in this book can help dispel them. Through this, we can better consume educational research and media, and hence become better decision makersespecially when exercising our voices and voting rights.
After this framing come the 50 myths. Depressingly, the myths cover a vast range of issues in education. Myths are everywhere. They are all united, however, in their ability to undermine U.S. public education. Berliner and Glass have made our lives easier by grouping these myths in five main categories: (a) myths about what it means to be the best at something; (b) myths about teachers and teaching; (c) myths about what it takes to improve schools; (d) myths about school finance; and (e) myths about college and career readiness.
Within this taxonomy, which dominates the remainder of the book, two key strengths arise. First, within each category, the set of myths nonetheless remain extremely diverse (that is, the categories themselves are not the only evidence of diversity). For example, within the first category, the myths range from issues pertaining to where the U.S. stands in international comparisons to charter schools to school rankings. By exemplifying how myths pertaining to being the best reach into a plethora of educational areas, the authors have accomplished quite a difficult task: they have provided evidence that myths regarding public schooling are not domain specific. That is, myths about being the best are not just about charter schooling, nor are they just about international comparisons. Rather, the myths are far-reaching, harming all of public educationeach one chipping away at public education in a different yet equally harmful way. This broad perspective should appeal to a wide range of stakeholders, because there is no section of the book that a stakeholder can assume does not apply to them.
Second, the authors combat these myths with facts and research evidence. This is critical, as each myth is certainly politically charged. But the authors avoid making this about politics. Rather, they present evidence about why the myth exists and then provide data to correct these misperceptions. As early as in dispelling the first myth, for instance, Berliner and Glass explain why it is the case that we may appear as slipping in international rankings of education. They present hard-fact reasons why some data might make it appear that the U.S. is falling behind, and then they present more refined evidence to show that perhaps our nation is not as far behind as the media often portrays. As the book goes on, the authors continue to provide digestible evidence that facilitates clarity around a previously-obscured issue in education.
Throughout this book, the authors urge us to address myths about our failing public education system and then to reconsiderby way of hard data and research findingsthe validity of these myths. The authors really leave it up to the reader to construct opinions about issues in education; again, this book does not position itself on the efficacy of policies or practices. Rather, this book urges the reader to develop a more refined sieve when it comes to interpreting and promoting so-called evidence. The approach taken in this book should thus serve as a keystone resource when moving forward with addressing change and reform in education. It encourages all of us to be active researchers, parents, policy makers, and practitioners who now know how to better separate fact from fiction.