Busting myths about education


Jennifer Priest Mitchell

ASU Regents' Professor David Berliner is the first scholar to be recognized by the American Educational Research Association with the Outstanding Public Communication of Education Research Award. The honor is given for communication of research findings to the general public, and recognizes Berliner for exemplary communication to the broad public.

“While trying to earn my stripes as a scholar, I have also been trying to communicate to teachers and administrators over the years," Berliner said. "That has always been a passion of mine, so it feels pretty special to receive this new award."

Berliner writes extensively on education, teaching and the education system, and says his latest two books likely contributed to his being considered for the award. In "Collateral Damage: How High-Stakes Testing Corrupts America’s Schools," Berliner and his co-authors categorize many ways in which testing negatively impacts public education.

The second of these two books — co-written with Gene Glass, Regents Professor Emeritus at Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College — is "50 Myths and Lies That Threaten America’s Public Schools: the Real Crisis in Education." Berliner says that in writing this book, they used evidence from extensive research to argue against myths about public education.

The “grand myth” about public education, Berliner says, is that schools in America are failing and the nation's economy steadily declining due to poor student test scores. He says students in the U.S. may not have the same test scores as students in China, Korea and some other countries, because children here do more than study for tests. Children in America who are 15 years old are also learning to play musical instruments, going to movies and dances and enjoying other developmental activities. Berliner says this leads to the high degrees of creativity and entrepreneurship Americans are known for, noting that the U.S. is No. 1 in the world for entrepreneurship and No. 6 in the world for innovation.

“I’ve spent a good deal of my professional life trying to reach school board members and teachers," Berliner said. "I’ve published many articles in academic journals, but what I find very rewarding is communicating with people who actually do the job. Being honored for that part of my work is really very nice. I take a great deal of pride in teachers recognizing my work. If I publish something in an academic journal, maybe 200 people will read it. That’s fine. But if I publish in a teachers’ magazine, up to 50,000 readers may look at my work and consider putting my ideas into practice. I find that extraordinarily fulfilling."

Berliner, who came to ASU in 1986, attributes much of his interest in observing classrooms and wanting to positively impact changes in education to his wife. Ursula Casanova was a teacher, then a school principal, and has always shared Berliner's interest in best practices in education. They co-wrote "Putting Research to Work in Your School."

Berliner taught at the universities of Arizona and Massachusetts, at Stanford University, and at universities in Australia, The Netherlands, Spain and Switzerland. He is a member of the National Academy of Education, a fellow of the Center for Advanced Study in the Behavioral Sciences, and a past president of the AERA and the Division of Educational Psychology of the American Psychological Association. Berliner has published more than 200 articles, technical reports and book chapters.