The Center for American Progress: Progressively Regressive?

03/04/2007 07:46 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

The opening sentences of "Who We Are" at the Center for American Progress: "The Center for American Progress is a progressive think-tank dedicated to improving the lives of Americans through ideas and action. We are creating a long-term, progressive vision for America." After reading "Leaders and Laggards," the Center's collaboration with the Chamber of Commerce, those sentences induce reverse peristalsis. The term "fifth column" comes to mind.

The first piece of set-off text one encounters in the report is, "The measures of our educational shortcomings are stark indeed; most 4th and 8th graders are not proficient in either reading or mathematics." The word "educational" implicitly lays the problem in the laps of the schools alone. The word "stark" inserts a propagandistic element--to make up the reader's mind for the reader.

The definition of "proficient" comes from NAEP. The statement about 4th and 8th graders is true. But using NAEP tests, no country in the world has a majority of students proficient in reading and only a handful have more than 50% proficient in math and only one, Singapore, more than half proficient in science (and that just barely, 52%).

The most recent international reading study found Sweden first among the 35 participating nations with the U. S. 9th and only three countries scoring significantly above the U.S. How would those top-ranked Swedish kids fare if they sat for NAEP reading assessments? Two thirds of them would fail to attain the proficient level. That's Richard Rothstein's conclusion in, Proficiency for All: An Oxymoron. Rothstein's paper, by the way, was reviewed by some of the nation's most knowledgeable psychometricians and policy analysts (Dan Koretz, Bob Linn, Jim Guthrie, Michael Rebell and others), something that cannot be said for "Leaders and Laggards" (no doubt the authors know it wouldn't pass muster).

Other indicators contradict NAEP results. NAEP claimed in 2000 that only 1.5 percent of all U. S. seniors were advanced in math. But 2.7% scored a "three" or better on Advanced Placement Calculus and almost 8% scored 600 or better on the SAT-Math. In an international science study, American 4th graders were third among 26 nations. NAEP said only 30 percent of them were proficient. The NAEP achievement levels are insane, useful only as political bludgeons.

The report calls "A Nation at Risk" "seminal." "Seminal" refers to the conveying of semen, and that rings true because that report sure screwed the country. It is a Golden Treasury of selected, spun and distorted statistics (many of which I take apart in Reading Educational Research: How to Avoid Getting Statistically Snookered). Seminal too, because it gave birth to a rising tide of erroneous statements about public education.

For its conclusions about proficiency, the report relied on existing work by Paul Peterson at Harvard and Rick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute. AEI = John Bolton, Lynne Cheney, Richard Perle, Ben Wattenberg, Irving Kristol, Charles Murray, etc. Ain't nobody ever gonna call this outfit "progressive." Peterson has been found to omit data from his studies and not tell anyone and has been the subject of articles such as "When the Going Gets Tough the Right Gets Paul Peterson."

For statements about rigor of standards, they called on Checker Finn. Checker Finn!?!? The very person who gave us the loopy NAEP achievement levels in the first place?

For information about charter schools, the report's assemblers depended on the Center for Education Reform. One can only shake one's head and laugh (or cry) in incredulity and amazement. That the researchers would trust right-wing uber-zealot Jeanne Allen's organization to provide accurate and objective information defies belief (Allen's efforts to put a positive spin "research" "findings" about charters require more contortions than an evening of Pilobolus routines).

In an email to David Marshak at Seattle University, CAP's leader, John Podesta wrote that CAP was trying "to find common ground with people we naturally disagree with." They may have been wrong to attempt this, he said, but "we are not naïve." Right now, "naïve" looks pretty much like a compliment.