Bracey is a native of Williamsburg, Virginia and attended the College of William and Mary there before going on to obtain a Ph.D. in psychology from Stanford University. After serving as a Research Psychologist in the Early Childhood Education Research Group at Educational Testing Service, Bracey became the Associate Director of the Institute for Child Study at Indiana University in Bloomington.
In 1965 and 1966, Bracey lived for a year in Hong Kong and traveled widely in Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Europe, then returned to finish his doctorate. After this experience of living abroad and traveling, he held a strong desire to travel without itinerary until the money ran out. In 1973, he resigned his post at Indiana University and traveled the world for four years. Returning to Virginia, he became the Director of Research, Evaluation and Testing for the Virginia Department of Education and, nine years later, moved on to a similar position with the Cherry Creek, Colorado, School District near Denver.
Since 1984, Bracey has authored monthly “Research” columns for Phi Delta Kappan, reporting educational and psychological research studies that are of interest and use to practitioners. This column garnered him the Interpretive Scholarship Award from the American Educational Research Association in 2003. In September, 2005, Bracey began a new “myth busting” column for Principal Leadership, a publication of the National Association of Secondary School Principals.
In 1991, a policy-oriented article, “Why Can’t They Be Like We Were?” drew the attention of the New York Times, Washington Post, Education Week, and USA Today, along with the wrath of the first Bush Administration. When Bracey submitted a follow-up in 1992, the editors renamed it “The Second Bracey Report on the Condition of Public Education” and asked that it be an annual event. The Sixteenth Bracey Report appeared in the October, 2006 Phi Delta Kappan.
In 1994-95 Bracey was the first Distinguished Fellow for the Agency for Instructional Technology. His researches that year produced a 1995 book, Final Exam: A Study of the Perpetual Scrutiny of American Education. The book provides a century-long history of educational reform as well as histories of educational assessment, educational standards, and educational outcomes.
Bracey summarized most of his findings in a 1997 book, Setting the Record Straight: Responses to Misconceptions About Public Education in America. Published by the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development, the book debunks 20 common myths about American schools. Designed for practitioners, each chapter begins “What do I say when people say________?”, filling in the blank with a myth. Each chapter then provides the data needed to refute the myth. In 2004, Bracey revised and updated the book, now published by Heinemann. Heinemann also published his 2003 collection of essays, On the Death of Childhood and the Destruction of Public Schools: The Folly of Today’s Education Policies.
A booklet, “Understanding Education Statistics: It's Easier (And More Important) Than You Think” was published in early 1997 by Educational Research Service and a revised edition appeared in 2003. Phi Delta Kappa published a companion book Put to the Test: An Educator’s and Consumer’s Guide to Standardized Testing 1998 with a revised edition in 2002. Another book, Bail Me Out! Handling Difficult Data and Tough Questions About Public Schools was published in April 2000. He has expanded materials in these three publications and addition more material in a book to make people smarter consumers of statistics. His latest book is Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered. The book was published February, 2006 by Heinemann.