Kevin Drum is a respected writer and blogger. He doesn’t usually write about education.

However, he has heard the claim that the best way to improve academic performance is to make school harder: higher standards, harder tests.

The San Jose school district tried this approach. It said that every student must take college prep classes. This is what Drum found:

“Do high schools with higher standards get better performance from their students? If you require everyone to take college prep classes, will more kids go to college? The San Jose school district has long been a poster child for this notion, but guess what? It turns out it was all a crock:

“San Jose Unified has quietly acknowledged that the district overstated its accomplishments. And a Times analysis of the district’s record shows that its progress has not, in fact, far outpaced many other school systems’….In 2000, before the college-prep program took effect, 40% of San Jose graduates fulfilled requirements for applying to University of California and Cal State University. In 2011, the number was 40.3%.”

Reality is a hard and pitiless teacher. Someday our policymakers will understand that saying something should happen will not make it happen. Like, for example, passing a law in 2001 declaring that all students would be proficient by 2014. Didn’t happen.

More on this story from Matt Di Carlo, who reminds us that it I’d always wise to be cautious and skeptical.

I would add that it is always wise to doubt miracle claims. They have an annoying habit of falling apart under scrutiny.