Ok, I know I said I would quit my largely fruitless ranting about Post education columnist Jay Mathews’ “challenge” index but there’s too much irony in his latest defense of the list to let it pass.

In his blog Mathews responds to an email received from a local parent who is concerned about his child attending a local high school because of it’s low ranking in the index. Mathews starts by admitting “it was my fault” for the parent getting the wrong impression of the school, saying that it has “terrific teachers”.

But that contrition doesn’t last long as he quickly moves on to declare that the problem is not with the index. No way.

The school ranks low on his list because there are so many “challenging” high schools in our area. This particular one just looks bad by comparison to all the others. Not unlike a six year old Mercedes sitting next to a brand new luxury sedan*.

Mathews goes on to devote many more more words of praise for the school and in the process, completely misses the point, not to mention a heavy dose of irony in his justification.

As I and many others have pointed out, judging a high school by one, narrow, extremely simplistic criteria, one based only on how many students take a particular test, is wrong, misleading, and intellectually dishonest.

However, year after year, he and his high profile publisher (the Washington Post Company and their news syndicate) continue to promote this “challenge” index as a valid ranking of high school quality, one superior to all others. And year after year parents, students, school administrators, and the general public, fed by other media companies who reprint the list unquestioned, continue to believe it.

So, yes Jay, you are very much to blame for the confusion your correspondent has about the quality of the high school his child will be attending.

You should also take responsibility for misleading many other people when it comes to the many factors that contribute to a quality high school education, and that have nothing to do with AP.

* His analogy, not mine!