I’ve expended a lot of electrons around here ranting about the incredibly simplistic ranking that is Jay Mathews’ “challenge” index.

Now someone who writes for a real-live big city print newspaper does a great job detailing just how absurd this annual exercise really is.

But here are five reasons why Newsweek’s list isn’t worth the glossy paper it’s printed on.

First: Newsweek’s rankings are based entirely on one unreliable number.

Hey, that’s always been my big complaint.

Second: A well-intended incentive program artificially increases the number of AP tests given at TAG [Dallas’ School for the Talented and Gifted] and SEM [Dallas’ Science and Engineering Magnet].

Today, at TAG and other Dallas high schools, a passing score in math, English or science is worth $100 to a student and $150 to his or her teacher.

Certainly an incentive to get as many kids into AP classes as possible. Maybe they can luck into a few more bonus payments.

Third: Kids at TAG take a lot of AP tests — but they don’t do amazingly well on them.

And, of course, student learning has nothing to do with the quality of a high school in the alternate universe of the “challenge” index.

Fourth: Newsweek’s methodology is supposed to eliminate schools like TAG from the rankings. But TAG slips through because its SAT scores aren’t high enough.

Another totally artificial element of this computation.

Fifth: Ranking America’s high schools may be fun, but it’s a pointless exercise meant to sell magazines.

And THAT is the bottom line for Mathews’ employer, the Washington Post Company, owners of Newsweek and Kaplan, one of the largest test preparation companies in the US.

However, while I certainly agree with this writer’s conclusion that the “challenge” index is “awfully close to nonsense”, too many schools and other media outlets take this silly exercise far too seriously.

[Thanks to Alexander for the link.]