The next time Jay Mathews appears for an online chat, or on a call in show, ask him if he has school-age children and what school they go to. It's my understanding that his kids go to Sidwell Friends, the utra-selective DC prep school that has schooled the likes of Chelsea Clinton. It's almost laughable that Matthews admits that his Challenge Index is a meaningless measure (Matthews' metric of dividing the number of graduating seniors by the number of students who take an AP test is like dividing the distance to the sun by the number of people in each nation on earth; it doesn't get us any closer to the sun, yet it, too, produces a ratio that can be benchmarked and tracked over time, and just for a moment consider the effect that immigration from Mexico to the US can have on the ratio), but he defends it -- with a straight face -- as important because it's easy to grasp.
Last Friday on “To The Point” (WBUR in Boston) they interviewed the principal from the school that ranks #1 in the 2006 CI; it's a school with 197 students, teacher pupil ratio of 1 to 13, and the principal gets to hand-pick his teachers. The principal attributes their success to class size, and not his own genius or the CI. So what's the point of pushing students into AP courses and the test? Look in the introduction to any of the college guides, and they will state upfront that the value of the AP test is diminishing; colleges don't want to give kids credit for classes they took in high school, they want them to take the courses at their school. So, let's stress the kids, the teachers and the system to mollify the real estate developers and Superintendents looking for an easy metric with Jay Matthews' CI, which he himself admits measures nothing.
If I were more cynical, I’d suggest that the fact that the Post’s most profitable unit (the paper itself loses money) is Kaplan, which just happens to provide classes and prep materials for the AP tests, provides a mighty big incentive to push for the value of AP classes; note that Matthews discounts "honors" classes because they aren't evaluated through an independent test. At the least, Jay Matthews (and the Post) should fully disclose this connection when hawking their favorite hobby horse.
Cynical? What could be cynical about that? It only sounds that way to those who have not connected the dots.