Book Review

Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered

by Gerald W. Bracey, Heinemann, Portsmouth, N.H., 2006, 188 pp., $22 softcover

According to Jay Matthews, a highly regarded education writer, Gerald Bracey is "America's most acerbic educational psychologist."

Bracey is a regular columnist for the Phi Delta Kappan who has published an annual report on the condition of public education in that magazine for the past 15 years. He pulls no punches when challenging leaders who manipulate, distort or simply don't understand the data they use to advance their personal and/or political agendas.

His latest book, Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered, couldn't come at a better time. Educators are being so heavily bombarded by data that most of us are beginning to become "numbed by numbers." What is really important is the meaning behind the graphs, charts, coefficients of correlation and measures of dispersion and central tendency. Without such understanding we are vulnerable to the bureaucratic statistical drivel.

Bracey's book took me back to my undergraduate days when I read (and later used as a teaching text) How to Lie With Statistics, written in 1954 by Darrell Huff. It's a classic and is still in print. What Bracey has done is show us clearly how we can avoid getting trapped by the "statisculations" (a word invented by Huff) of manipulators who convert data for their own purposes, thereby distorting truth.

Bracey organizes the book into 32 "principles of data interpretation," all carefully illustrated. The explanations for these are clear, understandable and compelling. Put this book on your shelf and use it when confronted with what others call "data."

Reviewed by Perry Berkowitz, associate professor of education leadership, College of Saint Rose, Albany, N.Y.