08/18/2008 11:04 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Makes Bobby Run

What Makes Bobby Run?

Bob Wise thinks I impugned his motives. Wise is the former governor of West Virginia who now runs something call the Alliance for Excellent Education.

Whatever, he is given to spouting frightening statistics about public schools (there is a cadre of people like this and I imagine them gathering via the Internet each Monday morning to memorize the latest scare statistic, probably reading it i chorus under the direction of Bill Bennett. None of them are experts on education but I guess to be an expert on education, all you have to do is say you are).

Anyway, here's an accounting of the exchanges that led Wise to his miffedness.

Wise was speaking on C-SPAN and equated the National Assessment of Educational Progress achievement level of proficient to grade level. This is absurd on its face. If true, it would mean that only about one third of students are at grade level at any grade or in any subject. Ignore for a moment that no one, but no one has a clue of what proficient means vis a vis tests, any tests.

Mike Ludwick, a member of my website, the Education Disinformation Detection and Reporting Agency, called him on it, pointing out in a quote from one of my essays that the achievement levels have been rejected by the Government Accounting Office, the National Academy of Sciences, the National Academy of Education, the National Center for Research on Evaluation, Student Standards, and Testing, and many individual psychometricians.

Before the current crop of fear mongers and privatizers took over, even the Department of Education's NAEP reports carried warnings about these levels saying Commissioner of Statistics at the National Center for Education Statistics was permitting their use only until something better was produced. Of course, no one was ever working on producing "something better." Why mess up a great chance to slam public schools? I mean, when the secretaries of education are enemies of public schools, what can you expect (Bell and Riley excepted).

Wise's response, "I feel on good ground with my position."

Wait. You "feel on good ground" accepting something that virtually everyone who actually knows something about these achievement levels has rejected? In some quarters, such a position would be taken as prima facie evidence of insanity.

I sent an email repeating the litany of prestigious organizations who have rejected the achievement levels. I also summarized studies indicating no nation has anywhere close to a majority of students proficient in reading, only 2 (of 45) have a majority proficient in science and only 5 in math. The NAEP levels are ridiculously difficult. I did say "his position "is a fear monger's position, a loser's position" (I figured the latter would resonate with a politician).

Wise responded starting with a non sequitur and then pretending to be offended. His response in its entirety:

"And so you prefer a system where 50 states set their own level of proficiency that has kids literally all over the map?" That's ridiculously illogical. I made no mention of "50 states." I was speaking only of the NAEP levels specifically. There could be other national systems. "Thanks but I will stick with NAGB (the organization that established the levels) and others who aspire to better. And while I understand that you believe the best offense is to be offensive, I don't question your motivation, nor characterize your motives. I would expect the same."

OK readers, you tell me, if a politician rejects the findings of four prestigious organizations, including the impeccable GAO, what does that say about his motives and motivations (I rule out it's an IQ deficit)? What does it mean to "feel on good ground" accepting something the rest of the world has rejected?

You tell me.