Advanced Placement - The ‘Haves’ and the ‘Have Nots’

When I read Caitlin Macy’s article, AP Tests Are Still One of the Great American Equalizers, in the February 22, 2019 print edition of the Wall Street Journal, its content and title, especially, evoked some strong emotions. Macy writes that many elite private schools -- Exeter, Dalton, Sidwell Friends, Horace Mann, etc. -- have abandoned Advanced Placement (AP) courses in order to enable students to pursue deeper learning as opposed to memorizing and regurgitating information that is quickly forgotten after the exam. Conversely, most public schools, both in affluent and especially less advantaged communities, are doubling down on AP offerings to demonstrate their rigor. As a nation, how can we rationalize that we are equalizing the opportunities of all students when richer, deeper learning experiences are predominantly being provided to ~ 1% of students attending the most elite private high schools in the US?

By the way, the elite schools know the deeper learning experiences and application of knowledge foster 21st Century skills, like critical thinking and communication, which are highly sought after by universities and employers.

Macy recognizes this divide between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’ as she states the elite schools’ opting out of AP is “another way in which we continue to Balkanize ourselves into ever more rarefied worlds...” However, Macy laments the “blow to competition and national standards” as evidence that an education “equalizer” is being threatened. I believe the more pressing question is, “what is the usefulness of specific standardized measures and a standardized education model, if it doesn’t unleash all students’ potential?”

Does our current education model value the rich diversity of talent present in all students or do we primarily rely on one-dimensional measurement standards to assess multi-dimensional human beings?

This past week, I finished reading Dark Horse, by Todd Rose and Ogi Ogas, whose extensive research in the Science of Individuality at the Harvard Graduate School demonstrates the need for a new covenant -- one recognizing all human beings have talent and should be afforded the opportunity to identify and pursue their talents. The authors’ research and insights highlight the limitations with many AP courses and exams that elite schools and other innovative schools, like Pathways High, are trying to avoid. The current Standardization Covenant, as Rose and Ogas describe, was based on a 125-year old factory model designed to promote efficiency by minimizing or eliminating individual variances. In the Standardization Covenant there is “one best way,” typically a hierarchical ladder, to achieve excellence and success. The underlying premise of the Standardization Covenant is that only some people are talented enough to progress along the one best way. Those whose individuality doesn’t fit the mold, are often viewed negatively and/or described as needing “accommodations.” As the Science of Individuality demonstrates and we can intuitively understand, human beings are jagged across every dimension -- physical, intellectual, social, etc. -- and therefore standardized, one-dimensional measurements limit our ability to recognize and value multifaceted talents. Rose and Ogas’ Dark Horse Project and their book identify many “dark horses” who achieve great success and fulfillment by embracing their individuality and pursuing a circuitous path.

Rose and Ogas make the compelling argument that we have reached a point in our collective development where we have the right economy, the right science, and the right technology to replace our Standardization Covenant with a Dark Horse Covenant that honors individuality. However, like those who heard Copernicus’ heliocentric model of the universe and grappled with relinquishing the commonly accepted geocentric model of the day, we must make a choice. Both a Standardization and Dark Horse Covenant cannot coexist. Furthermore, as Macy points out in her article, the system doesn’t work as designed if one group of people pursue a “standard” that others have abandoned.

How can a “standard” or covenant work for some and not others? The answer is, it can’t. We must choose one. There is both an economic and moral imperative to choose the Dark Horse Covenant.

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Milwaukee, WI 53208
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