Tribute to Educator Dr. Harold Berlak, 82
Jan 29, 2015
By Kitty Kelly Epstein
Harold Berlak devoted his professional life to combating crazy ideas about education. He held a doctorate from Harvard, lived in Oakland and worked with the National Education Policy Center and other institutions as an independent researcher.
He was born on July 23, 1932 and died on Jan. 17 at the age of 82.
Harold Berlak was an expert in the complexity of statistics, and he was able to use that knowledge as a fierce opponent of the overuse of standardized testing. Unlike many who avoid discussing issues of race, Dr. Berlak carefully explained the racist origins and impacts of testing in his many publications.
“Because of the way the tests are normed and cut scores set, however, minor differences in the number of correct answers on a multiple-choice test create grossly inflated failure rates for persons of color.” (Berlak, H in Au, W. Rethinking Multicultural Education (2009))
Harold Berlak’s work predated by 10 years recent studies which show that No Child Left Behind has not improved the “achievement gap.” In fact, a 2014 study shows that the achievement gap was being reduced BEFORE No Child Left Behind was implemented, and not since it was implemented. (www.fairtest.org/independent-test-results-show-nclb-fails)
In 2005, he wrote, “The careless use of language that confounds test scores with actual achievement, school quality, and teacher effectiveness is a major source of confusion in debates over educational policy…. The mindless and ubiquitous use of standardized tests …is as unjust as it is absurd.” We are back in the early years of the twentieth century, he writes, although we have the microcomputing capacity to actually carry out responsive and locally created assessment.
In addition to his theoretical and policy contributions, he made an enormous and courageous contribution to diversifying the teaching force by defending early teacher diversity programs in the 1990’s, despite opposition by those in power who negated their importance and treated them as “too much trouble.”
Harold Berlak is survived by his wife Ann, herself an important progressive educator; his children , Mariam Lia, Rachel Louise, and Lev Hershel, and his grandchildren, Eamonn Mateo Roth, Juliette Bonita Roth.