I'm a huge fan of Martin Rochester.
Scoring high on Mathews's Challenge Index has created an incentive for schools across the country to push students who have no shot at passing the exams into these high-intensity classes. On a large scale, kids reading below grade level are taking classes designed for above-grade-level students. You've got students that have great difficulty reading young adult books or writing complete sentences being assessed on independently reading novels like Jane Eyre and composing analytical essays on Bronte's style.
The argument that Mathews makes in an accompanying Newsweek piece is that AP classes are healthy "shock therapy" for lower-performing college-bound kids. I see his argument that a rigorous environment can be a motivator for some striving, low-skilled students to bump up their effort.
However, the widespread pushing of AP courses on struggling students -- with rewards of high scores on the "Challenge Index" -- is not in many students' best interest. I expect Mathews would view me as a stodgy defender of the status quo while he casts himself as a bold innovator. At least he quotes one dissenting voice from Professor J. Martin Rochester:
"Having failing students take AP courses as a solution to their academic struggles is like promoting a poor-hitting minor-league ballplayer to the New York Yankees in the hope that it will jump-start his career if he faces major-league pitching."I'll go one better on the sports analogy; let's take the Boston Marathon. If you want to have a shot at finishing those 26.2 miles, let alone compete for a decent finishing place, it takes long-term training and serious dedication. If you are short on one of those two qualities, a surplus of the other may suffice to get you over the finish line. If you've got neither -- you're not in shape and you don't really want to do hardcore distance running -- then your school does you no favors by pressuring you to sign up for the race.
Newsweek's Top High Schools List is Off Base
I'm of two minds on the Challenge Index.
In fact, Mathews singlehandedly opened up Advanced Placement courses to disadvantaged kids.
He may have singlehandedly opened up Advanced Placement courses to advantaged kids caught in the sorting machine.
Now that it's become crystal clear that the original Challenge Index has served its purpose and, in my view, run its course, he's added the Equity and Excellence score.
Speaking of Jay Mathews, go read Work Hard. Be Nice. Right now.