Federal AP Boondoggle

The USED is once again happy to announce that they have delivered a grant of $28 million to the College Board corporate coffers.

They have done this by once again paying to help cover the costs of taking the AP test for many low-income students.

This certainly sounds like a noble and worthwhile thing, and the nice quotes from Washed Up NY Education Commissioner and  Now Deputy Secretary Without a Title So He Wouldn't Have to Face Congressional Approval John King certainly sound mighty fine: "Advanced Placement classes and the corresponding exams come with very high expectations for our students, as well as important early exposure to the demands and rigor of college-level courses, all while still in high school."

Well, I was not impressed the last time this program rolled around, and I'm still not impressed. Here's why not:

Tests are not education. Getting students the opportunity to take the test is less impressive than giving students the educational support to prepare for the test. $28 million to get teachers AP class teacher training, or money to get poor schools the materials they need to do the class properly (how many AP and Honors students in this country have to buy their own books and materials). This is like saying, "We are going to pay the fee for you to try out for Olympic time trials, but you'll still have to train without a coach out in your barn." Most of the value in AP courses comes from the course -- not the test. Support the education, not the test.

Bulk buying bargains? I am still waiting to hear the part where the federal government cut a deal with the College Board. "The taxpayers are giving $28 million to somebody," Fake Undersecretary John King should be saying. "Cut us a deal. Show me how much of your gigantic profit margin on these tests you will sacrifice in order to get this giant bale of bucks, or we'll support some other initiative." If the point of this initiative is to get the "opportunity" for the greatest number of poor students, and not to feather David Coleman's corporate nest, then I want to hear about the USED haggled and arm-twisted to get the absolute maximum number of students covered. Because if we're buying these tests at full retail price, then this is the worst deal since a $400 defense hammer.

Backwards programming and opportunity costs. This is not a program you come up with when you ask, "How could we provide a little more boost to poor students in underserved schools." This is the grant program you come up with when you ask, "What's a nice way we could funnel some money to that nice corporation we like so much." It may even be the program you come up with when a representative of that company sits in your office and says, "Hey, I know a way you could help us out and it would be swell For the Children, too."

The College Board has been outstanding at using the government to build their customer base (and, consequently, their revenue stream). In Pennsylvania, your school rating gets a boost if you offer (and buy) more of the AP product, and that's certainly great news for them.

But if I said, "Okay, you've got twenty-eight million to spend helping poor students -- go!" I just can't believe that the first item on your list would be, "We'll get them a full-price chance to take an AP test." But the only utility of the AP test, beyond making adults proud of themselves for subjecting students to corporately-produced rigor, is to get students credit for courses at their college -- which only helps if they can afford to be at that college in the first place (and if the college accepts AP test results for credit).

If we're concerned about student college success, we could "grant" far more than $28 million just by getting the federal government out of the Grotesque Profits On Student Loans business.

If we wanted to spend $28 million to help poor students in this country, "buy them an AP test" doesn't even crack the top 20. This is a great deal for the College Board (which I will remind you, as always, is a business), but it is a lousy policy for students and taxpayers.