Responding to the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews

5 May

By Thomas Ultican 5/5/2020

It came as a surprise when Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews reached out to me. After indicating that he was writing a book, Mathew’s said that he had just come upon my pieceA Texas Sized Destroy Public Education IDEA.He flatteringly wrote, “… your analysis is impressive and I want to include some of it in my book.” He also sent an article and a book chapter asking for comments.

In the article about IDEA, I had written,

In 2016, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post rated IDEA charter high school the most challenging in the nation. Mathews rates schools by what he calls “the Challenge Index,” which takes the total number of Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge tests given at a school each year and divides by the number of seniors who graduated in May or June. Charter schools that shed students without replacing them now own all of the top spots in this index; not deeply meaningful.”

Jay’s message to me was very respectful with a genuine feeling of interest in my opinion; however, we do have very different views. I will endeavor to address those differences honestly and respectfully.

The chapter he sent me is focused on his “Challenge Index” and its rationale. The article was a piece he did for his Washington Post column in November about a high school teacher who teaches AP English Language arts. He explained how that teacher came to appreciate the value of expanding AP access.

Some Personal Background

I grew up on a ranch in rural Idaho with a cowman for a father, a sheepherder for a grandfather and a school teacher for a mom. She studied teaching at Albion Normal School in the southern Idaho Mountains. Coincidentally, it is the same school attended by the force behind “A Nation at Risk,” Ronald Reagan’s Secretary of Education, Terrel Bell.

My mother often claimed that the key difference that made public education in America superior and more democratic than any other system in the world was that in America there was no high stakes testing.

In the 1960’s, before education standards and AP curricula there was an aphorism,

“American high school students are the laziest in the world. They seldom study and spend their time playing, socializing and competing in sports. Then they graduate from high school and over the summer a miracle occurs. They arrive at college to become the world’s leading scholars.”

After an engineering career in Silicon Valley as a researcher in the disc drive industry, I decided to become a teacher. During my fifteen years in the classroom, I taught advanced mathematics, conceptual physics, two flavors of AP physics and AP environmental science. In the end, I have concluded that my mother was right about high stakes testing and that the aphorism about American students captures an important reality.

Most surprisingly, I now believe that AP style college level classes in high school are bad pedagogy.

Mathews and Ultican

AP, IB or Cambridge Courses are Bad Pedagogy

This will probably be viewed as heresy by many of my fellow educators. It certainly would be by Will Robertson, the AP English teacher Jay wrote about in November. In 2005, Roberson’s Corbett High School near Portland, Oregon required that every student take at least seven AP classes. Robertson wrote a lengthy memo to the administration about why it was such a mistake. After three years, he realized that the students he feared would be defeated by the AP rigor were meeting the challenge and wrote another lengthy memo admitting his error.

I contend that the challenge Robertson’s students are meeting is not appropriate for their mental health and development.

A fundamental flaw in modern education reform is the push toward inappropriate curricular pacing. Kindergarten has become the new first grade where students who should be learning through play are sitting at desks doing math and language arts work sheets.

In their recent book, Let the Children Play, Pasi Sahlberg and William Doyle write, “The global education race for ‘higher standards’ at lower financial costs have turned many schools to factories that try to produce standardized products efficiently on tight schedules.” Modern education reform is developmentally inappropriate. As Gloria Ladson-Billings, Distinguished Professor in Urban Education, University of Wisconsin-Madison states, “Anyone who fully understands child development knows that children’s ‘play’ is children’s ‘work.’”

This problem is infecting all levels of k-12 education. High school is not the appropriate level for college work. Young brains need to be protected from high stress during a period of rampant hormonal changes and emotional immaturity. Vicki Abeles, the director of the documentary film “Race to Nowhere”, describes in her book, Beyond Measure, the damage modern education reform is reeking on children and our culture.

When we start talking about challenging teenagers we need to make sure those challenges are appropriate for healthy development. Two quotes from Abeles’s book strongly imply that we have moved way past appropriate.

Adele opens chapter one, “Sicker, Not Smarter”, with a quote from Saint Louis University School of Medicine professor and pediatrician Stuart Slavin:

“My personal feeling is that we are conducting an enormous and unprecedented social experiment on an entire generation of American children, and the evidence of a negative impact on adolescent mental health is overwhelming. This is particularly disturbing given the fact that having mental health problems in the teen years predisposes to mental health problems in adulthood.” 

Abeles also shared a powerful anecdote from a student named Emily:

“Junior year is supposedly the most important in high school and my effort just wasn’t going to cut it, not if I wanted to go to a decent college, and without a degree from a top university I was not going to be successful…. I had failed. All those years of late nights studying for AP classes followed by 5 AM water polo or swim practices, what would they come to? Nothing, just like me. In a world where we must excel in not one but many areas, I had not done so in any. I would rather be dead than face the years to come, sure to be filled with constant reminders of my failure. In my mind, there was only one way out.”

Last year a report in the Journal of the American Medical Association documented the significantly rising suicide rates for ages 15-19 in America.

AP and other similar programs are a net negative for the holistic growth of students and undermines their positive social development in the crucial teenage years. Just like kindergarten is not developmentally appropriate as the new first grade, high school is not developmentally appropriate as the new college.

Unlike genuine college courses taught by gifted professionals operating in a sphere of respected autonomy, these high school level college courses employ the enfeebled teach to the test methodology. An AP syllabus must be approved by College Board and in practice that means using an approved syllabus provided by College Board as a template. Worse yet, the entire course is centered on preparing for the end of year AP exam which is supported by a large test preparation industry.

I have read your opinion that “teaching to the test” is not a problem but we just disagree. I think it leads to lifeless uninspired classrooms.

The “Challenge Index”

Since I view college level work in high school as a negative, I obviously disagree with a system that rates schools higher if more of their students participate in these programs. However, I will respond to some of the points you make in your “Challenge Index” book chapter.

You definitely deserve credit for trying to come up with a method for evaluating schools that eliminates the standardized testing advantages schools in wealthy communities have. When reading about what you learned studying Garfield High in East Los Angeles, I appreciated the egalitarian motivation for the approach you invented. You wrote,

“I decided one way to draw attention to the issue was to rank high schools in a unconventional way that illuminated the hidden strengths I had found at Garfield. Instead of measuring them by state, SAT or ACT test scores, I assessed them by their success in getting less than stellar students into the most challenging courses and tests.”

As I was entering the classroom, the disparity in AP course offerings between schools in wealthier neighborhoods and those in poor and minority communities was a hot topic of discussion. What we were not discussing is whether AP, IB and other courses of their ilk were appropriate. It was assumed they were. As a new teacher, I was an enthusiastic advocate for my AP classes at the 90%+ minority populated high school where I taught.

The following quotes from the “Challenge Index” chapter highlights a problem facing public education. You write that after introducing the “Challenge Index,”

“Newsweek asked me to do another national Challenge Index list in 2000 and again in 2003. In 2005 the magazine decided to make it an annual feature, calling it “America’s Best High Schools.” It assigned two researchers to help me collect information. In 2009 the list got more than 20 million page views.”

“Principals and superintendents at a few public schools, mostly in affluent parts of New England, told me they did not want to participate. They said their schools were not accurately represented by such a simple ratio, just one number. I explained to them why this was a useful tool for parents choosing schools and policy makers analyzing achievement. I said it might not appeal to everyone, but newspaper readers liked it, as they did other newsworthy ratios like Wall Street’s Dow Jones Average or baseball’s Earned Run Average.”

The arithmetic behind the “Challenge Index” is a simple ratio of the number of college level tests taken at a school divided by the number of graduating seniors. It is an easily understood metric but like standardized testing it does not meaningfully evaluate schools. Education is an extremely complex system and a simple explanation may be popular but damagingly misleading.

The over-representation of charter schools in the “Challenge Index” is an arithmetic issue. Charter schools typically do not replace students who leave. By their senior year, the graduating class is often only a third the size it was in freshman year. Public schools do not see that big decline in class size so the smaller denominator for charter schools misleadingly engenders large “Challenge Index” ratios.

The No Child Left Behind rules, the Race to the Top rules and your “Challenge Index” all try to evaluate schools with a simple metric, but education is so complex that these simple metrics are counter-productive.

For many decades, states have had agencies send teams to schools for more than a week to evaluate every aspect of the school and write detailed reports. Here in California that work is done by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). I have been involved in four WASC reviews. They were conducted by teams of administrators from around the state. WASC not only did a detailed evaluation of every aspect of the school but also worked collaboratively with the school to improve its roadmap for continuous improvement.

My bottom line is that simplified indexes run in popular news magazines may sell advertising but they are misleading and do damage. Many wonderful schools were erroneously deemed failures by No Child Left Behind testing. If education leaders had looked at the accrediting agency reports instead of just the simple standardized testing results, they would have never destroyed those schools operating mostly in poor minority neighborhoods. Likewise, your “Challenge Index” with its easy to understand ratio runs the risk of promoting unhealthy education practices.

19 Responses to “Responding to the Washington Post’s Jay Mathews”

  1. Lynn Davenport May 5, 2020 at 9:22 pm #

    Thank you, Tom. This is helpful. I would add Early College High School to your list….Gates funded, of course. It is very difficult to find any peer-reviewed or independent research on ECHS models since everyone seems to assume its a great idea. Yay. Only cheerleaders who parrot the talking points. There are no objective longitudinal studies. Should kids forgo extra-curricular activities and just do all college level courses while still in high school? It needs a more critical lens.


  2. Jay Mathews May 5, 2020 at 9:31 pm #

    Hi Tom. Thanks so much for the respectful and illuminating response to what I sent you. I hope we can keep this conversation going. You make some provocative points that I would love to see evidence for. You quote Vicki Abeles saying “we are conducting an enormous and unprecedented social experiment on an entire generation of American children, and the evidence of a negative impact on adolescent mental health is overwhelming.” I have interviewed Abeles. I have read her book, seen her films and written columns about them. If the evidence is overwhelming, where is it? She presents anecdotes but no relevant data. I have been in regular contact with American teenagers, both when they are at that age and when they have grown up, for 40 years as a reporter. I have interviewed hundreds of their teachers, all very smart educators like you. They don’t see a negative impact from challenging courses like AP. They see the opposite. My other problem with Abeles is that she suggests this problem of too much pressure is found in nearly all schools, when it is clear from the data and my reporting that most high school have very little academic pressure at all. Only 12 percent of US high schoos, according to my data, reach this level of AP participation: half of the juniors and half of the seniors take one AP course and test. Eighty percent are below that. One other question: You suggest there are appropriate courses that should be substituted for AP or IB. Please describe them and tell me where they are taught. I have looked at schools without much AP. The courses those kids take are often unchallenging, boring and not conducive to building the skill and thinking ability necessary for college or the working word. Please tell me what I have missed. I know a lot of adults who have taken a lot of AP tests, including my three children. They seem to be very emotionally and mentally healthy to me. Thanks for taking the time to respond to me in such detail. —Jay


    • LisaM May 7, 2020 at 12:55 am #

      If AP is so wonderful, how come many private high schools just outside of the DC area decided to phase out the AP program from their schools? They cite that AP hasn’t motivated their students and that they wanted to bring back joy to the learning process by developing their own curriculum. AP is drill and kill, teach to the test garbage, but it’s a really big money maker for the College Board at $90 per test.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Red Queen in LA May 7, 2020 at 1:31 pm #

      Posted for the Red Queen in LA.

      After carefully appreciating Ultican’s “respectful” response, Mathews’ is anything but.

      “If the evidence [of a negative impact on adolescent mental health] is overwhelming, where is it?”


      …. there’s a large stack of research out there on this subject. No doubt some is better than others, and findings are complicated. And this list is just a quick google-swipe at the matter, hardly the deficient literature review implied. But to claim difficulty finding evidence is just bizarre. He could, perhaps, object to the quality of research, or its findings – but he’s not done so. Just dismisses others’ evidence as anecdotal — while proceeding to offer, exclusively, the evidence of his own reporting and his own children as apparently, I dunno, iconic, and not anecdotal??

      So his own reporting is full and complete evidence that “most high school have very little academic pressure at all” – what does “most” mean? And does it matter anyway? We’re talking about stress on individuals, not stress as a what, ‘average’? within a “school”? Why is that a unit of measurement?

      More, where is the evidence that, say, AP classes are any sort of antidote to this sweeping, unevidenced claim that non-AP classes are somehow: “unchallenging, boring and not conducive to building the skill and thinking ability necessary [sic] for college or the working word [sic]”. Where is the evidence that AP classes do so, and do so uniquely? I can tell you that AP classes bear zero resemblance to any college or graduate-level class I have taken or taught. Where is the evidence they are preparatory of college-level classes; of what are they predictive? Of what outcome are they more predictive than another parameter?

      smh. The pot calls the kettle white, and proceeds to blacken the surrounds with sootier soot than that which spurred the original contrast.

      In response to your disingenuous inquiry as to “what you have missed”, the blindness is manifold. That stress is contextual and time-dependent. Stress downstream some 10-20 years may or may not be of interest (you don’t mention the age of these all-important non-anecdotal adult children of yours); it is certainly not a complete assessment of the issue. More, it ignores cohort-claims even while time- and society-dependent pressures matter. It completely reduces outcome to your own narrow, personal set of self-identified metrics. Why are these and not others important? In truth, school is a vast, broad array of things to a similarly broad array of stakeholders with a broad array of needs. What you have missed is to imagine an infinitesimally narrow slice of parameters and outcomes adequately assesses the broad topic of adolescent mental health. What you have missed is to actually approach the literature or review the evidence without the bias of your own experience in control. What you have missed is to interview “hundreds” of the same, biased class (AP teachers presumably, with a stake – financial, professional and personal – in the furtherance of these classes, and a wholly truncated and therefore biased view of their students’ relationship with these classes, of which they are teacher-grader-assessor-controller of students’ futures (at least in perception), etc) — all without explanation of who these teachers are, where and who they teach, what they see of or know about their students, similarly biased in the evidence they could or would produce to the teachers — the sources of error in this absurdly narrow (and essentially anecdotal) assessment are too long to list out here. But to suggest this as somehow definitive research, wondering “what I have missed” is really annoying. And the absence of thoughtfulness in the face of blind reassertion of prejudice is hardly reciprocally respectful, either.


      • LisaM May 7, 2020 at 2:18 pm #

        The WaPo is the deformers mouthpiece. Valerie Strauss is the only one reporting at WaPo who gives true voice to public education, teachers etc and is willing to take a swipe at reforms. I honestly don’t know how she keeps her job since she is so good at exposing all the dirt put out by the stink tanks in DC.


    • Duane E Swacker May 15, 2020 at 1:40 am #

      The real story in education is all of the invalidities involved in the standards and testing malpractice regime as proven by Noel Wilson in his 1997 dissertation “Educational Standards and the Problem of Errors”. Found @ . Using his work as a basis for my book “Infidelity to Truth: Education Malpractice in American Public Education” in which I discuss the purpose of American public education and of government in general, issues of truth in discourse, justice and ethics in teaching practices, the abuse and misuse of the terms standards and measurement which serve to provide an unwarranted pseudo-scientific validity/sheen to the standards and testing malpractice regime and how the inherent discrimination in that regime should be adjudicated to be unconstitutional state discrimination no different than discrimination via race, gender, disability, etc. . . .

      If you would like an e-copy, feel free to email me and I’ll send one to you. .

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Paula Hall May 6, 2020 at 2:13 pm #

    Really good work Thomas. I am going to share it with other board nembers and friends. Paula

    Sent from my T-Mobile 4G LTE Device Get Outlook for Android


    Liked by 1 person

  4. Christine Langhoff May 6, 2020 at 4:44 pm #

    As so much in our public schools, AP tests have been monetized, to the detriment of what those best equipped, teachers, see as most appropriate for their students.

    “An AP syllabus must be approved by College Board and in practice that means using an approved syllabus provided by College Board as a template. Worse yet, the entire course is centered on preparing for the end of year AP exam which is supported by a large test preparation industry.”

    This is actually a quite recent development; AP teachers, until about 2007, had control of their own syllabi and were not required to submit it to anyone outside their school. Students were not required to take the AP tests upon completion, either. A colleague developed curriculum for AP Spanish Language as a way to showcase the talents of native Spanish-speakers, just as strong English students might demonstrate proficiency to colleges via AP English. Her goal was to get capable kids on the radar of selective colleges because, as we know, non-native speakers of English fare poorly on standardized tests. It was a winning strategy, and she answered to no one but the department head.

    Then came a push in 2008 from an organization called Mass Math and Science Initiative, headed up by Morton Orlov II, who had been Boston University’s Chairman of Military Science, before taking up a position at a public high school as principal when that school system went under receivership by BU. Orlov had zero educational experience. Here’s a revealing look at the “elevator pitch” for that organization:

    In my school, it had the effect of turning upside down the staffing and curricula offerings and creating enormous stress for both kids and grownups in pursuit of AP scores. The scheduling of regular classes took second place to AP classes. Kids were required to attend Saturday classes and were paid for test scores, in a school with 80% FRLP. One of my quite capable students came to me in tears because she feared that she would not be able to handle the demands of 4 AP classes and thought that meant she could never attend college.

    MMSI was the local franchise of the National Math and Science Initiative, which despite its name, was a private organization founded by Tom Luce of Texas. He was an Assistant Secretary for Education in George W. Bush’administration. Like many Texans, he was enamoured of standardized tests (cf. NCLB). Sponsors have been Exxon, BillandMelinda, Texas Instruments, Dell.

    It’s worth exploring the origin story of AP for All. It becomes clear why Advanced Placement has been driven off the rails.

    Money. For AP texts, practice books, classes for teachers, exams, consultants, test prep companies.


    • tultican May 6, 2020 at 5:58 pm #

      Hi Christine, Thanks for the thoughtful reply.

      I wrote about the Tom Luce and the National Math and Science Initiative a couple years ago.

      Much of the push for paying for AP grades and promoting the widespread implementation of AP was centered around bogus research out of the National Academy concerning the fraudulent STEM gap. A central figure to all of this was Texas Republican king maker, Peter O’Donnell. When Lamar Alexander introduced O’Donnell to the senate committee responding to the National Academy report he said,

      “Peter O’Donnell is here, who is a member of the National Academy’s Committee that produced ‘The Gathering Storm,’ and his work in Dallas is one reason for the inclusion in ‘The Gathering Storm’ report of the advanced placement recommendations.” That was 2009.


      • Christine Langhoff May 7, 2020 at 2:01 pm #

        Tom – I had missed that post. Thanks for the link.

        I was the Boston Teachers Union rep who filed the initial grievance against MMSI on the basis that it was a pay for performance scheme from the teachers’ perspective. We won a small victory at arbitration when any awards for scores was repurposed from payments to individual teachers to the whole school community, with union input into how it was to be spent.

        It was in researching NMSI for arbitration that I came across an article profiling Tom Luce. He explained how after losing the race for governor of Texas, he had a “halftime” moment in which he realized god was calling him to his true purpose of improving education via standardized tests. I mean, I guess the lord moves in mysterious ways.

        Luce and Margaret Spellings are currently involved in something called Texas 2036 and Luce is a member of Governor Abbott’s committee to re-open Texas.


  5. Oakland_mom May 7, 2020 at 5:34 pm #

    While I agree that AP access to our underserved students has been inadequate, there is also the issue of how both California public school systems are now using AP test results to game the grade point average for college applicants. Applicants to both the Cal State and UC systems are at an all-time high; in order to efficiently sift through those thousands of applications, UC/Cal State awards an AP grade with an extra point.

    The result is even more hyper-competition to take as many AP classes as possible. Not only is this added pressure an unhealthy and unnecessary form of competition, it takes away any opportunity for students to take other enrichment classes such as music, art, graphic design, and construction. Awarding the extra point in the GPA is wrong in my view-applications can still be judged on their rigor, and the students would not be inclined to take an AP class just for the GPA boost, which they are doing now. They should take the class because they have aptitude and they want to be challenged. AP testing should be optional, but that doesn’t fall in line with the testing $$$ machine.

    In Oakland, there are stark reminders of the racial/income inequality of access to APs; much of this is caused by privatization/co-location, where high school populations such as at McClymonds and Castlemont, have been decimated over the years, resulting in lower “demand” for AP classes. Demand can’t happen if the district won’t hire a teacher for the class, and the lower perceived rigor becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, thus nudging the schools into the “low-quality” label and making them even more of a target.

    It’s interesting that Mr. Matthews chose to use test scores rather than student participation to include in his Challenge Index metric. Access is one thing, but testing is another. And as we all know, anytime you tie testing to a ranking such as the Challenge Index, that ranking will be gamed in favor of cherry-picking and attrition, something that charters such as BASIS and IDEA do all too well (and which, not surprisingly, showed up at the top of the list). Unfortunately, in our hyper-competitive Race to Nowhere, we have emphasized testing of any sort as the be-all-end-all measure of school quality, and Mr. Matthews’ Challenge Index is just one more example of a flawed “quality” metric.


    • LisaM May 8, 2020 at 3:47 pm #

      Here in my county to solve the overcrowding issue, the school system has pushed dual enrollment or taking some classes at the local community college. Dual enrollment (starts in grade 9) means the county buses the kids to the CC for 1/2 of each school day and they graduate HS with a diploma and an AA degree. Most kids don’t like the dual enrollment, but they really like to take a few classes at the community college because it pads their GPA scores with the extra points. The kids are saying the college course is easier than the HS AP class and they like that they don’t have to take the AP test. They are so hyper competitive that they are even taking their HS PE requirement at the community college so that it will get the extra GPA boost. The AP teachers are getting ticked off because their classes are emptying out. AP should just go the wayside and the states/counties should just put the time and extra $ into curriculum that is rich and robust for all students. AP is just a money maker for the College Board and nothing more.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Dan Drmacich May 11, 2020 at 2:43 pm #

    Jay Mathews should check-out the NYS Performance Standards Consortium schools, if he’d like to see examples of authentic teaching and learning vs. the assembly-line driven AP courses. Also, check out the Eight-Year Study, conducted in the early 1940s on Progressive Dewey-oriented schools vs. traditional schools.


  7. Teachingeconomist May 11, 2020 at 10:42 pm #


    No doubt college level work would be a mistake for some, if not most high school age students, but I think that not allowing some high school age students to do level work would be a mistake as well. I have taught many strong students at my university that talked of the waste of their high school senior year because they had taken all the courses offered (Most of the high schools in my state are very small and offer no AP courses). One of my sons graduated from high school having taken 25 hours of lower division, upper division, and graduate credit from our local university. Do you think he would have been intellectually engaged in a high school experience as you conceive of it?


    • tultican May 11, 2020 at 11:58 pm #

      I had a some scary smart kids in my classes and intellectually they could handle college material. However the salesmen at College Board and their big money politically connected cheerleaders in Texas have turned AP into an every students needs to take multiple AP courses agenda. High school has a lot of learning outside of academics that need to be appreciated and embraced. I routinely had students with 5, 6 and even 7 AP classes in one year. Most of them were just normal kids growing up like normal kids and that kind of a challenge was just cruel. It destroyed their high school extracurricular life. So, I think AP should go away. If a kid really wants some college units while in high school, an arrangement with the local community college is a much healthier approach and cheaper for parents.


      • Teachingeconomist May 12, 2020 at 2:07 am #

        Your post went beyond AP classes. You said ” I view college level work in high school as a negative”. I don’t think this ironclad tracking by age benefits all students.

        I must also say it was not cheaper for me to pay tuition at the university rather than the fee for an AP exam.

        One good thing about the AP program is that there is no need to take an AP class in order to take the AP exam. My middle child took 4 AP classes (one on line) but 9 AP exams in high school, along with the classes at the university.


  8. Paula Hall May 15, 2020 at 5:08 pm #


    Sent from my T-Mobile 4G LTE Device Get Outlook for Android ________________________________


    • Ben Steele September 7, 2022 at 8:51 pm #

      Howdy Tom,

      Your comment on charter schools is interesting, as a charter school graduate, but I think there’s more to it than just the fact that the schools don’t have many students coming in. At my high school, there was also substantial pressure on younger students to leave if they weren’t performing well, purportedly in order to ensure their college application success (Indiana’s flagship public universities don’t accept students that get a D, for example, which were handed out pretty widely; my high school is #2 on the 2022 Challenge Index). My fear is that the Challenge Index is actively incentivizing this style of charter school, which I’ve seen referred to as the tournament model.

      As time has gone on there, we’ve seen AP exams taken in earlier classes, which are broader, in what feels to be a method of padding the index. I think I was a heavy test-taker at the school (and there are admittedly a few additional options to take economics outside of standard hours now), but the index is putting the school above the number of exams I took even though only one of my upper division courses didn’t have an AP/IB exam associated with it.

      I’ve been spending a while trying to put this fully to paper, but the index itself seems to be creating a perverse incentive for these charter schools to test earlier and eliminate more students explicitly to arrive at a higher station on the index.

      To their credit, Signature School, Inc. has not engaged in the behaviors I’ve heard from colleagues who attended Arizona’s BASIS schools. There, the population pyramids are substantially more severe than they were at Signature. We entered as 105 freshman and exited as 70, an attrition rate of only one-third. Additionally, it appears they managed to graduate a full 90 students in 2019-20, the last year for which I’ve located their annual report.

      A central concern for me is that these schools claim that they can be the future of education, but the only way that they are able to maintain their rankings is through pushing more and more students out to claim these high rankings. If this is the future of public education, we will have nowhere for high-performing students who may also struggle in a single course to go, to solely focus on the self-selecting “elite” students who apply to and attend schools like mine.



  1. Tom Ultican Explains To Jay Matthews Why AP Courses Are a Bad Idea | Diane Ravitch's blog - May 11, 2020

    […] explains in this article why he turned into a critic of AP classes. He engaged in a dialogue with Jay Mathews, the veteran […]


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