Why does Rod Paige still have his job?

The President who thinks that education is the key to everything and that performance measurement is the key to education retains, as his Secretary of Education, someone who demonstated that performance measurement could be defeated by outright cheating.

My blood pressure being sufficiently high without artificial help, I rarely read John Derbyshire. But in connection with his celebratory essay on the tenth anniversary of the publication of The Bell Curve, Derbyshire linked to an old post on this site.

Derbyshire’s general point is that Herrnstein and Murry proved that black people are born dumb, and therefore it’s futile to try to change that “fact.” (He puts it in cloudier language than that, but that’s the gist.)

That makes the Darb skeptical of the project — endorsed by none other than George W. Bush — of shrinking the test score gap between blacks and whites. Derbyshire therefore points out, or cites me as pointing out, that the impressive gains in the test scores and graduation rates of Houston’s minority students when Rod Paige was the head of the school department there turned out to be faked.

That is true.

It does not, of course, prove what Derbyshire would like it to prove, any more than the Enron fiasco proves that you can’t make money trading energy.

It does, however, raise another point. Why does Rod Paige still have his job?

Paige is, after all, the Secretary of Education for a President who was the “Education President” before he became a “Wartime President,” and who seems to think, or pretends to think, that “education” is the answer to every domestic question: that testing third-graders, for example, will restore their lost jobs to displaced middle-aged workers. And yet the apparent success that justified Paige’s appointment turned out to be based on rigged numbers.

So the President who thinks that education is the key to everything and that performance measurement is the key to education retains, as his Secretary of Education, someone who demonstated that performance measurement could be defeated by outright cheating. Or perhaps Mr. Bush thinks that apparent success is the same thing as real success: that would explain a lot of thinks about his strategy for post-war Iraq.

And no, Mr. Derbyshire, Secretary Paige turning out to be a fraud does not prove that affirmative action in hiring is a bad thing. It just shows that Mr. Bush knows at least one markedly incompetent and dishonest African-American, and perhaps also that he has internalized “the soft bigotry of low expectations.”

Author: Mark Kleiman

Professor of Public Policy at the NYU Marron Institute for Urban Management and editor of the Journal of Drug Policy Analysis. Teaches about the methods of policy analysis about drug abuse control and crime control policy, working out the implications of two principles: that swift and certain sanctions don't have to be severe to be effective, and that well-designed threats usually don't have to be carried out. Books: Drugs and Drug Policy: What Everyone Needs to Know (with Jonathan Caulkins and Angela Hawken) When Brute Force Fails: How to Have Less Crime and Less Punishment (Princeton, 2009; named one of the "books of the year" by The Economist Against Excess: Drug Policy for Results (Basic, 1993) Marijuana: Costs of Abuse, Costs of Control (Greenwood, 1989) UCLA Homepage Curriculum Vitae Contact: Markarkleiman-at-gmail.com

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