wasting bandwidth since 1999

Shortchanged By AP

Jay Mathews has detected a disturbance in the force.

Someone has dared to criticize his beloved Advanced Placement program.

This particular lightsaber strike took the form of a recent book called “Shortchanged: How Advanced Placement Cheats Students”. That title is bad enough but in his column from last week,1 Mathews also grudgingly admits that the author, Annie Abrams, has “received well-deserved praise” for her work.

To start his defense of AP, Mathews reminds all of us – again – that he has been “writing about Advanced Placement since 1982” and has been “observing and talking to teachers and students around the country” about these classes.

Abrams, on the other hand, actually teaches AP courses to actual high school students and has produced a well-researched book on the subject, published by Johns Hopkins University Press. So maybe, at least equally, qualified to weigh in on the subject.

Anyway, I have only read the Kindle sample section of Abrams’ book (it’s on my short list for the summer) but in her introduction she makes some great points that Mathews consistently seems to miss. Or ignores.

The College Board is closing in on ownership of a national curriculum that holds not only high schools, but also universities to the company’s academic standards and its philosophy of education.

The tail is wagging the dog. This consolidation of power over information and its dissemination is troublesome. Together, these laws [which require acceptance of AP credits] and the College Board’s exams comprise a structure in which the possibility exists for an abuse of power over a massive number of students.

The first part of Abrams book covers the origins of the AP program and she observes that the “disconnect between the original vision and its current shape is startling”. And it seems the College Board would like those origins, with roots in the history of “Cold War education reform”, to remain murky at best.

However, the bottom line is this: regardless of where the program began, today Advanced Placement is little more than a privately-controlled standardized testing program. One that is now being forced on thousands of schools and millions of students by state and local governments.

In no small part, that is due to the work of Mathews through his “challenge” index.

An annual ranking that for decades has been given major media support by the Washington Post, along with Newsweek (when it was still printed) and hundreds of local media outlets.

A simplistic “best-of” list that glorifies schools in which kids take lots and lots of AP tests, while ignoring whether they actually benefit from this particular approach to “enhancing” the curriculum.

The photo is only tangentially related to the topic. Maybe. It shows the iconic library at Trinity College, Dublin, through the view of another visitor’s smartphone.

1. At the beginning of the year, Mathews switched from writing a weekly education education/opinion column in the Washington Post, something he did for decades, to doing occasional guest pieces like this one.


  1. Mark Smith

    You are, as always, right on the mark. Keep up the good work!

    • tim

      Thanks, Mark. Both for continuing to read this stuff and for the comment.

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