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Eight private high schools in Washington area are dropping out of AP program

Eight elite private high schools in the Washington area this morning announced that they are dropping out of the Advanced Placement program.

In a joint statement, they said that they were responding to "the diminished utility of AP courses and the desirability of developing our own advanced courses that more effectively address our students’ needs and interests. Collectively, we believe a curriculum oriented toward collaborative, experiential, and interdisciplinary learning will not only better prepare our students for college and their professional futures, but also result in more engaging programs for both students and faculty. We expect this approach will appeal to students’ innate curiosity, increase their motivation, and fuel their love of learning."

The high schools making the announcement are institutions known for educating the children of the powerful of Washington. The schools are Georgetown Day, Holton-Arms, Landon, Maret, National Cathedral, Potomac, St. Albans and Sidwell Friends.

The joint statement says that the schools will phase out AP courses by 2022.

To be sure, these schools are not the first to criticize the AP program. Essays and studies have done that already. In addition, as more states have pushed for the expansion of AP programs in high schools, some have noted high failure rates in schools with limited resources, and have questioned whether high schools with serious education challenges should be focusing money and attention on AP. If educators at public high schools share the concerns of the Washington private schools, some are likely to note that they lack the resources to create the kinds of advanced courses that private schools can offer. Others at public high schools have said that the AP framework, whatever its flaws, encourages high schools to provide demanding courses for top students.

Despite various criticisms, students at competitive high schools flock to AP courses. A record 1.17 million students in the high school Class of 2017 took at least one AP course.

Does AP Really Work?

The AP program, the Washington private high schools say, was started with the goal of helping students finish college early, and yet few students do so.

Many high school students believe, the statement says, that they must take as many AP courses as possible in high school to be competitive for college admissions. So the high schools did a survey of 150 colleges and found that taking AP courses has become so popular that doing so is no longer "noteworthy." Further, "we have been assured by admissions officers that this change will have no adverse impact on our students. The real question for colleges is not whether applicants have taken AP courses, but whether they have availed themselves of their high schools’ most demanding classes."

Further, the high schools argue that they can -- by creating their own advanced courses -- provide a better education than by relying on AP.

"The perception that colleges demand AP courses leads many students, perhaps reluctantly, to pass up other classes they might find more intellectually transformative and rewarding," the statement says. "Concurrently, because AP tests loom so large, faculty teaching these courses often feel pressed to sacrifice in-depth inquiry in order to cover all the material likely to be included on the test. This runs counter to the fact that college courses demand critical thinking and rigorous analysis. AP courses, by contrast, often stress speed of assimilation and memorization. While we acknowledge the recent attempts to develop more skill-based AP tests, we are convinced that focusing on a timed standardized test does not promote inquiry or higher-level discussion among students. Moving away from AP courses will allow us to offer a wider variety of courses that are more rigorous and enriching, provide opportunities for authentic engagement with the world, and demonstrate respect for students’ intellectual curiosity and interests."

A spokesman for the College Board provided this statement on the schools' decision: “Over the past decade, the students at just these D.C.-area independent schools have earned more than 39,000 credit hours at the colleges to which they sent their AP scores. That equates to nearly $59 million in tuition savings at highly selective colleges, not to mention the head start these students received in their majors -- particularly in STEM disciplines. At a time when the placement, credit and admission benefits of AP have never been greater, it’s surprising that these schools would choose to deny their students these advantages.”

Susanna A. Jones, head of school at Holton-Arms, said via email that educators there "have been thinking about the efficacy of APs for almost 10 years."

She said that the college curricula at institutions her graduates attend have changed such that students need "courses that emphasize depth over breadth, critical thinking, research, and interdisciplinary and experiential approaches."

Jones said it was true that one or more of the high schools could have acted independently. But she said that "when we realized that we were all interested in taking this important step because we believe it is what will serve our students best, we immediately recognized the power of collective action. Together, our decision carries more weight as we add our voices to the national discussion of this issue; it also may assuage parental concerns about the impact of the change."

Holton-Arms and the other schools reached out to parents just prior to going public with the plan to drop AP. Jones said that school profiles to be sent to colleges "will include information about our advanced curricula and students’ transcripts will reflect the rigor of their coursework. We conducted our own survey of admissions offices and have been assured that this change will have no adverse impact on our students’ admissions prospects."

While many students have assumed AP is the best college preparation, Jones said that these schools are committed to providing a better educational experience. "As independent schools, we have the freedom to create our own curriculum," she said. "We aim to do much more than get students into college; we want them to thrive in college and find success thereafter."

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'The Integral Place of Philosophy in Catholic Higher Education'

The American Catholic Philosophical Association this month released a statement on the “integral place of philosophy in Catholic higher education.” It did so partly in response to threats to the future of philosophy programs nationwide and at Catholic institutions in particular. The statement says that “defenders of philosophy typically emphasize the practical relevance of the skills inculcated through philosophical study.” And while philosophy develops skills such as critical thinking, logical analysis, careful reading, problem solving, qualitative reasoning, consideration of alternative opinions and ethical reflection, it says, “philosophy provides much more. It cultivates the mind’s native capacity to understand the world and to approach life’s important questions with humility, courage and balance.”

In addition, “philosophy clarifies and defends the central terms of rational discourse: truth and falsity, virtue and vice, freedom and responsibility,” the association says. “Without this clarity, human discourse gets muddled and succumbs to the rhetorical sway of the most accomplished speaker. With this clarity, speech becomes conversation, and our life together is enhanced.”

The university is “premised on the idea that truth is one,” the statement reads, and the “various disciplines cohere to form an intelligible whole.” Catholic universities, meanwhile, “are premised on the idea that the ultimate source of this unity is God, who is knowable not only by faith but also by reason.” So “the university in general and the Catholic university in particular call upon philosophy as a central source of integration.” Moreover, it says, “Philosophy is the custodian of the interdisciplinary conversation that is open to participants of every background and creed. It is therefore central to the conversation that constitutes a university.”

Writing about the statement for his philosophy blog, Daily Nous, Justin Weinberg, an associate professor of philosophy at the University of South Carolina, highlighted the association’s recommendations for what a philosophy requirement for all undergraduates at a Catholic institution should look like, including classes for each of the four years, a sequence of four or more courses to develop higher-level philosophical thinking and upper-level courses that may pair with majors, such as philosophy of language for English majors or philosophy of science for science majors.

“While directed at administrators and faculty at Catholic institutions of higher education, and written (reasonably, given its aims) with some language and presuppositions non-Catholic philosophers might bristle at, the document contains a number of points that may be worth drawing attention to not just when one’s department or curriculum is in jeopardy, but proactively, to forestall such attacks,” Weinberg said.

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AAUP votes to censure U of Nebraska for alleged violations of academic freedom in Courtney Lawton case

The American Association of University Professors on Saturday voted to censure the University of Nebraska at Lincoln for alleged violations of academic freedom in a politically loaded case involving an adjunct lecturer.

A Symbolic Punishment

The voice vote, taken at AAUP’s annual meeting in Washington, was decisive and probably unsurprising: Nebraska’s censure seemed likely last month, when the AAUP issued an investigative report on the now locally infamous Courtney Lawton suspension. In that report, the association concluded that the university bowed to political pressure in removing Lawton, a former adjunct instructor of English and current graduate student, from the classroom after she flipped off an undergraduate student activist.

The August incident happened as the undergraduate was campaigning on campus for Turning Point USA, the self-described grassroots conservative organization behind the Professor Watchlist website, which many professors say distorts their views and threatens academic freedom.

In widely shared student video, Lawton calls the undergraduate a “neo-fascist Becky” who “wants to destroy public schools, public universities, hates DACA kids,” and puts up her middle finger.

At first, Nebraska removed Lawton from the classroom citing security concerns. But as Republican state lawmakers began to speak out against Lawton and demand “accountability” with regard to the campus political climate, Nebraska said she would not teach again.

Based on AAUP’s report, administrators now say that Lawton was permanently suspended from teaching because she physically blocked access to the student activist’s table. But Lawton and others who witnessed the incident deny that. Nebraska reportedly says it has a second security video that captures that part of the dispute, but it did not share that video with AAUP.

Stephen Ramsay, Susan J. Rosowski Associate Professor of English at Nebraska, attended the annual meeting and spoke in favor of censure prior to the vote. Identifying himself as the representative for the university’s AAUP advocacy chapter, Ramsay said that this year “has been a very difficult one for my institution.”

Yet he said he agreed with the “disquieting” conclusion of AAUP’s report, that there is "little doubt that political pressure played a significant role in the Lawton case; in one sense, it is at the very heart of it." He encouraged those presenting to vote for censure.

Nebraska has previously criticized AAUP’s report as inaccurate. Deb Fiddelke, a university spokesperson, said in a statement after the vote that AAUP erred in asserting at the meeting that Lawton was not afforded a hearing prior to her suspension.

“It’s shocking the AAUP would base its actions on such conflicting statements and glaring inaccuracies,” Fiddelke said.

AAUP’s report says that Lawton initially agreed to a suspension from teaching, but only because she believed it was for her own safety as her case began to attract attention.

Lifting Sanction and Censure

At its meeting, AAUP also lifted symbolic sanctions or censures from two other institutions.

The University of Iowa saw the removal of a sanction imposed in 2016, over concerns about a failure of shared governance in the presidential search that ended in the hiring of Bruce Harreld. AAUP found in 2015 that the Iowa Board of Regents disbanded a faculty committee involved in the search to gain control over it.

Faculty members at Iowa previously criticized the sanction, saying the campus shouldn’t be blamed for the board’s actions -- even if Harreld was unpopular.

The university referred requests for comment about the vote to Russell Ganim, a professor of world languages on campus and the current Faculty Senate president.

“We are delighted by the news of the sanction removal,” he said in a statement, describing a now-strong “partnership" between the senate, board and local AAUP chapter. “We believe to have established a model of collaboration that will benefit shared governance at [the university] not just now but in the future.”

With AAUP leaders saying they had addressed concerns that resulted in the censure of Stillman College’s administration, the association voted to take that institution off the censure list, too.

Stillman landed on the list in 2009 over concerns about the termination of Ekow O. Hayford, a longtime tenured professor of business. At the time, AAUP found that Hayford was fired without due process after he publicly criticized the president of the college, a historically black institution in Alabama. The college maintained that Hayford had violated a Faculty Handbook prohibition against spreading “malicious gossip.”

AAUP said Saturday that Stillman’s new administration had accepted its annual suggestions about bringing its faculty standards more into line with the norms of academic freedom.

Stillman did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the vote.

Academic Freedom
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Delaware and Virginia Presses Form Partnership

The University of Delaware Press and the University of Virginia Press have announced a collaboration. The Delaware press will maintain editorial offices and its editorial board, at the university. But the Virginia press will provide manuscript editorial, design and production services. Virginia will also promote the Delaware press books alongside its own.

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Canadian Supreme Court upholds denial of accreditation to proposed Christian law school

The Supreme Court of Canada ruled 7 to 2 Friday that a law society acted reasonably in denying accreditation to a proposed Christian law school because of its policy prohibiting students and faculty from “engaging in sexual intimacy that violates the sacredness of marriage between a man and a woman.”

A five-justice majority found that the decision by the Law Society of Upper Canada to deny accreditation to Trinity Western University’s proposed law school “represents a proportionate balance between the limitation on freedom of religion guaranteed” by the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms “and the statutory objectives that the LSUC sought to pursue.”

"The LSUC’s enabling statute requires the Benchers [members of the governing board of the law society] to consider the overarching objective of protecting the public interest in determining whether a particular law school should be accredited. The LSUC was entitled to conclude that equal access to the legal profession, diversity within the bar, and preventing harm to LGBTQ law students were all within the scope of its duty to uphold the public interest. The LSUC has an overarching interest in protecting the values of equality and human rights in carrying out its functions," the majority wrote.

Two other justices upheld the LSUC’s decision to deny Trinity Western’s proposed law school accreditation, though they disagreed with some of the five-member majority’s reasoning.

The legal landscape in Canada differs from that of the U.S. However, the Trinity Western case addresses the same kinds of tensions between values of nondiscrimination and religious freedom that can be found at many Christian colleges in the U.S. that have similar codes of conduct prohibiting same-sex activity.

The LSUC, which recently changed its name to the Law Society of Ontario, celebrated the Supreme Court ruling as a vindication of its role in promoting equal access to legal education.

“We are particularly pleased that the court recognized that our statutory mandate to uphold the public interest includes promoting a diverse bar and ensuring that there are no inequitable barriers to those seeking access to the legal profession,” the law society’s treasurer, Paul Schabas, said in a written statement.

The Canadian Association of University Teachers also issued a statement welcoming the ruling. The association said in its statement that it had intervened in the appeals process to argue that the requirement that Trinity Western faculty subscribe to a statement of faith as a condition of employment violates academic freedom and inhibits the protection and promotion of diversity that should be expected in Canadian legal education.

“The majority of the Supreme Court accepted that there is a link between legal education and equality, diversity, and the competence of the legal profession,” said CAUT’s executive director, David Robinson. “This case underlines that it is vital that faculty and students not be constrained by any dogma or proscribed doctrine in any form, as this is the basis for promoting and protecting academic freedom.”

Trinity Western said in a statement it was disappointed in the ruling, which the university said “diminishes the value of pluralistic diversity in Canada.”

“In a very long complex ruling, with four sets of reasons, eight of nine judges agree that TWU’s religious freedom is violated but the majority still uphold the law societies' decision not to approve the law school,” the university said.

“The court ruling constrains TWU’s quest to establish a law school and offer 60 new law school seats to Canadian students.”

Trinity Western, which is located in British Columbia, first began attempting to establish a law school in 2012 but confronted opposition from the law societies in British Columbia and Ontario. The proposed law school was to offer a specialty program in charity law.

Two justices dissented in Friday's ruling, arguing that "the only proper purpose of an LSUC accreditation decision is to ensure that individual applicants are fit for licensing. Because there are no concerns relating to competence or conduct of prospective TWU graduates, the only defensible exercise of the LSUC's statutory discretion in this case would have been for it to approve TWU's proposed law school."

"Moreover, the decision not to accredit TWU's proposed law school is a profound interference with the TWU community's freedom of religion," the two dissenting justices wrote. "It interferes with that community's expression of religious belief through the practice of creating and adhering to a biblically grounded covenant. Even were the public interest to be understood broadly, accreditation of TWU's proposed law school would not be inconsistent with the LSUC's statutory mandate. In a liberal and pluralist society, the public interest is served, and not undermined, by the accommodation of difference."

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Trinity Western University president Bob Kuhn at Canada's Supreme Court
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