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Editorials

Dissent: Abolish Advanced Placement

By Leah R. Baron, Tommy Barone, and McKenna E. McKrell
Dissenting Opinions: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.

Education represents perhaps the highest prerogative of democratic government.

What we teach — and how — expresses our most fundamental values and, in theory, prepares us all for equal, thoughtful participation in civic life. In this sense, decisions about the proper form of education are decisions about the proper form of democracy itself.

Today, the Editorial Board diminishes the rightful role of the public in these decisions, arguing that we must defend education by taking it away from democracy. While this is a skepticism we can understand, it’s one we cannot accept.

Setting pedagogy aside from politics to stop curricular censorship, as the Board would have us do, is a cure far worse than its ailment. Because we hold that the College Board sabotages — rather than salvages — accountability and excellence in American education, we dissent.

On its face, it is discomfiting that America has outsourced agenda-setting power for its secondary education system to a private entity.

That it has outsourced this power to the College Board — an intransparent nonprofit with hundreds of millions of dollars invested offshore and precious little evidence that its methods work — is stunning.

Entirely unaccountable to the taxpayers whose dollars flow to it in excess of 90 million dollars per annum, the College Board has strenuously resisted publishing data on the efficacy of its Advanced Placement program. Instead, it peddles in-house confirmatory studies that one expert called “junk science” and numerous others have roundly debunked.

Today, the Board stomachs this snake oil on the basis of two central claims.

First, the Board argues that the College Board’s Advanced Placement classes merely provide students with an option for rigor, which must, of course, be good. More is more.

If only it were so simple. This blithe Cheesecake-Factory pluralism ignores that the AP program, by the Board’s admission, lacks robust evidence of efficacy. If a curricular option defines the experience of millions of American students, it can’t merely be alright — it has to be definitively better than the alternatives.

This is not merely a pedantic scruple — it is a bar the College Board has failed to demonstrate APs clear. In view of this total evidentiary insufficiency, it is shocking that we have allowed this curriculum to so profoundly reshape America’s high schools. (Around 23,000 high schools offer at least one AP class, and more than a third of recent high school graduates have taken at least one.)

And, if we’re going to play the speculation game, we’re happy to speculate that AP pedagogy isn't very good. If our Board’s precedents endorse anything, it’s a deep belief in the transformative power of a liberal arts education — of pedagogy that challenges you to think flexibly and critically.

APs, which by definition teach to the test, often do the opposite. We can’t endorse a curriculum that incentivizes classes to spend upward of two months studying tips for succeeding on the exam, as the New York Times reported happened in one AP Literature course. Curricula centered on high-stakes testing distort education from a journey to a game.

The Board’s second main argument is that APs standardize curricula, limiting states’ ability to censor them as Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has done.

Again, the evidence isn’t there. Today’s majority seems to forget that, just last semester, the Board excoriated the College Board’s neutering of AP African American Studies, a decision we heavily implied was a concession to DeSantis despite the College Board’s protests to the contrary.

Judging by the experience of AP African American Studies, if the College Board does indeed produce a national standard for curricula, it is a standard that legitimizes and propagates the very censorship the Board’s majority hopes it will prevent.

Florida and its censorial compatriots offer another lesson about the College Board: States that want to censor curricula will censor curricula, APs be damned.

Florida passed legislation limiting classroom instruction on gender and sexuality even though it prevented its high schools’ psychology courses from aligning with the AP curriculum. Over a dozen states have considered similar legislation since.

Democracy needs education, and education needs democracy. We should all be deeply suspicious of the notion that private entities with little incentive to act in the public interest can deliver on fundamental obligations of government better than government can.

Sure, the AP program provides a standard. But a bad standard is worse than none at all. We should abolish it.

Leah R. Baron ’25, a Crimson Editorial Editor, is a Statistics concentrator in Lowell House. Tommy Barone ’25, a Crimson Editorial Comp Director, is a Social Studies concentrator in Currier House. McKenna E. McKrell ’26, a Crimson Editorial Editor, is a Classics Concentrator in Adams House.

Dissenting Opinions: Occasionally, The Crimson Editorial Board is divided about the opinion we express in a staff editorial. In these cases, dissenting board members have the opportunity to express their opposition to staff opinion.

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