The Mismeasure of Education

Last updated July 27, 2013.  The book is now available at online bookstores.  Amazon and Barnes & Noble  have it, but the best price is at the publisher, Information Age: $27.50.  Description below is from the publisher.

From the publisher, Information Age:

286 pages, w/index

With new student assessments and teacher evaluation schemes in the planning or early implementation phases, this book takes a step back to examine the ideological and historical grounding, potential benefits, scholarly evidence, and ethical basis for the new generation of test based accountability measures. After providing the political and cultural contexts for the rise of the testing accountability movement in the 1960s that culminated almost forty years later in No Child Left Behind and Race to the Top, this book then moves on to provide a policy history and social policy analysis of value-added testing in Tennessee that is framed around questions of power relations, winners, and losers.

In examining the issues and exercise of power that are sustained in the long-standing policy of standardized testing in schools, this work provides a big picture perspective on assessment practices over time in the U. S.; by examining the rise of value-added assessment in Tennessee, a fine-grained and contemporary case is provided within that larger context. The last half of the book provides a detailed survey of the research based critiques of value-added methodology, while detailing an aggressive marketing campaign to make value-added modeling (VAM) a central component of reform strategies following NCLB. The last chapter and epilogue place the continuation of test-based accountability practices within the context of an emerging pushback against privatization, high stakes testing, and other education reforms.

This book will be useful to a wide audience, including teachers, parents, school leaders, policymakers, researchers, and students of educational history, policy, and politics.

“When the Obama Administration decided to spend the billions it got for schools as part of the stimulus package to launch the Race to the Top program and the NCLB waivers, forcing many states to adopt teacher evaluation based on changes in student test scores, leading experts warned that this “value added” system did not have a reliable scientific basis and would often lead to false conclusions. This sobering and important study of the long experience with this system in Tennessee (where it was invented) shows that it did not work, was unfair, and took attention away from other more fundamental issues.” Gary Orfield Distinguished Research Professor, UCLA, Co-Director, Civil Rights Project/Proyecto Derechos Civiles, UCLA

“If The Mismeasure of Education offered only its penetrating new look at Conant and Coleman, it would be worth the price. But that’s just the beginning. Horn and Wilburn uncover the obsessive instrumentalist quantification and apocalyptic rhetoric soapboxed by both liberal and conservative political elites. Their autopsy of value-added accountability reveals the pathology of ed reform’s claim about teachers not being good enough for the global economy.” Susan Ohanian Educator, Author, Activist

“A well-researched (and frightening) look at examples of shameful pseudoscience in America, the latest manifestation of which is value-added assessment for determining teacher competency… A well-documented and thorough analysis, inescapably leading to the conclusion that student test data cannot be used to determine teacher effectiveness. A must read for policy makers enamored of the idea that value added assessments will do what is claimed for them. They do not!….An excellent and scholarly history of how we got to an educational-testing/industrial complex, now promoting invalid assessment strategies that are transforming education, but not for the better. A scary book that should be thoughtfully read by those who value America’s greatest invention, the public schools.” David Berliner Regents’ Professor Emeritus, Arizona State University

“The Mismeasure of Education is a magnificent work, an elegantly written, brilliantly argued and erudite exposition on why the “what,” “how” and “why” of effective teaching cannot be adequately demonstrated by sets of algorithms spawned in the ideological laboratories of scientific management at the behest of billionaire investors… This book will serve as a sword of Damocles, hanging over the head of the nation’s educational tribunals and their adsentatores, ingratiators and sycophants in the business community… The Mismeasure of Education will have a profound resonance with those who are fed up with the hijacking of our nation’s education system. This is a book that must be read by everyone interested in the future of our schools. It is a book that advocates real educational justice, for student, teachers, administrators and the public; it is informed by impressive scholarship and compelling argument. It is surely to become a classic work.” Peter McLaren Professor, GSEIS, University of California, Los Angeles, Distinguished Fellow in Critical Studies, Chapman University



  1. I hope we can use it as evidence for a class action suit against all the states that implemented VAM as a way to decide who gets fired and who gets merit pay. Thanks, Jim and Denise!


  2. Check out this hedge fund investor conference in NYC next week: Private Equity Investing in
    For-Profit Education Companies

    Be sure to read the entire description of the conference.

    • Jim Horn says:

      Stunning. Looks like every corporate welfare queen in New York will be gathered there under the banner, “Master Class.”

  3. Margaret Benson says:

    I look forward to reading it Jim!

  4. John Thompson says:

    Congratulations! Give your record in documenting mismearurement, I know it will be great.

    • Jim Horn says:

      Thanks, John. We were tempted to mine the blog archives for this effort but decided that this work should be an entirely new rendering of a very old story that many great researchers have taken turns at telling. From Callahan to Spring to Bracey, Ohanian and Emery and to others too numerous to list, we owe a bunch.

  5. George Buzzetti says:

    Good piece on the book. Could be real interesting in the outlook and evidence they have discovered. There is nothing like good old fashioned hard investigative work and proper reporting on that in a manner people understand and get the implications.

    • Jim Horn says:

      Thanks, George. Indeed, facts can be much more compelling than rhetorical flourish. I think we have a lot of the former and enough of the latter to make the story interesting.


  1. […] to education reform and social justice in education. With co-author, Denise Wilburn, his new book, The Mismeasure of Education, was published in July […]

  2. […] following excerpts have been slightly revised from the original text, The Mismeasure of Education, published July 2013 by Information Age […]

  3. […] and historical context for understanding the mess that is now federal education policy. The Mismeasure of Education by Jim Horn and Denise Wilburn should be on your shelf. The publisher just dropped the price to […]

  4. […] The Mismeasure of Education […]

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