kitchen table math, the sequel: David Coleman hearts China

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

David Coleman hearts China

I just looked this up for a post on the Parents Forum re: Chinese versus French, and now see that I apparently never posted it here:
The College Board has earned headlines recently for revising the SAT exam and supporting Common Core state education standards. But that's not all the organization does with its outsize influence on American education. This month it announced plans to teach Chinese language and culture in 20 school districts across the U.S.—in partnership with China's state-run Confucius Institutes, which are known to mix cultural exchange with Communist Party propaganda.

The College Board website doesn't mention that Confucius Institutes are Chinese government programs. Nor does it admit to any concerns that Hanban—the Chinese state agency that supervises, funds and provides staff to Confucius Institutes—may bully teachers or censor lessons within American classrooms.

Instead, College Board President David Coleman waxes poetic about the venture: "Hanban is just like the sun. It lights the path to develop Chinese teaching in the U.S.," he said at a conference in Los Angeles on May 8. "The College Board is the moon. I am so honored to reflect the light that we've gotten from Hanban." These remarks, so far reported only by Chinese state media, were confirmed by the College Board.

China's Beachhead in American Schools
by David Feith
May 26, 2014 1:23 p.m. ET
David Coleman is not The One.


SteveH said...

Coleman has no self-doubt and he knows how to F-bomb dominate a discussion. Unfortunately, he might have to use that technique to rationalize away the curriculum gap between CC and AP.

froggiemama said...

Why does it have to be Chinese vs, French? My kids take both!!!

Anonymous said...

Yes, let's let the Chinese kids' parents pay money to College Board so that all of their test scores can be lies and cheats. What does Coleman care? The US citizen is not the future of the Ivy League anyway. Why cater to that sclerotic market?

He thinks he's taking them to the cleaners, but they don't care, because they know they are taking the US to it.

I wonder how my kids can get to be Australian citizens...

Auntie Ann said...

Look! I have found the one, and only one, possible solution which will miraculously work for every child and will make rainbows fall from the sky!

I believe Jay P. Greene refers to this sort of thing as cargo cult solutions.

Glen said...

*I wonder how my kids can get to be Australian citizens...*

Allison, you might want to reconsider your strategy of running *toward* the flames.

First, the Sydney Morning Herald just broke the story that cheating on a massive scale has been going on at essentially all Australian universities, run by an organization out of Sydney Chinatown.


Note that the investigative journalists in this case were Lisa Visentin and Amy McNeilage as you check out the pithy English on the website that was selling test answers, essays, and even grades:

This year was also the first time Chinese warships decided to conduct wargames off the northern coast of Australia. The hapless Aussies didn't even know the Chinese were there until the Americans informed them.

Australia has lots of land, huge natural resources the Chinese want, and very few people (too few people, apparently, to be able to detect when Chinese warships are engaging in combat simulations north of Darwin). The Chinese frequently reiterate that they are committed to putting an end to America's ability to "interfere in China's national objectives." They have added that Australia can't expect to go on aiding the US without hurting themselves.

Just this past week, Chinese President Xi Jinping spoke to Australia's parliament, stating that China wants only peace but will not back down from defending its national interests, and that Australia would do well to cooperate strategically with China and to distance itself from "warlike states" that will inevitably fall.

If I were trying to shield my kids from China's growing influence in the US, I'm not sure Australia would be my preferred refuge.

Anonymous said...

Allison: "I wonder how my kids can get to be Australian citizens... "

Sending them to an Australian university would probably be a reasonable first step.

Glen: "This year was also the first time Chinese warships decided to conduct wargames off the northern coast of Australia. The hapless Aussies didn't even know the Chinese were there until the Americans informed them."

Yes. But the Aussies have enough smart folks to design an A/H-bomb and are sitting on a lot of uranium.

What I'm wondering is: "Are the Chinese going to be belligerent enough to convince Australia/Japan/Taiwan/South Korea to become nuclear powers? I'd put each country no more than 12 months from this if they decided it was a priority. The combination of US disengagement and Chinese aggressiveness makes this more likely. And I don't think that the Chinese *want* this, but it may be where that part of the world winds up.

-Mark roulo

Anonymous said...

"Allison, you might want to reconsider your strategy of running *toward* the flames.

First, the Sydney Morning Herald just broke the story that cheating on a massive scale has been going on at essentially all Australian universities, run by an organization out of Sydney Chinatown."

I've been following this (sorta), too, but I have a different conclusion.

1) At some point, the Australian universities *have* to crack down on this (even though they *really* want the money) because if their reputations get shot, they are done. So I expect that there will be some move in the right direction (though maybe not yet).

2) Even if the universities *don't* do anything (or don't do anything soon...), the reputation fallout will mostly be on Chinese (and Japanese and Indian ...) students. White students will likely be unaffected. This is much like AA helps get students in to college, but screws them on graduation because on one can tell if their diploma means anything. We're seeing this play out (a bit) at North Carolina right now ... I don't think the "African and Afro-American Studies" is going to hurt many non-black students from that school, but I expect that black graduates will find their diplomas looked at a bit more suspiciously.

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

I don't think the "African and Afro-American Studies"


I don't think the "African and Afro-American Studies" scandal

Barry Garelick said...

From Tom Loveless' latest article,The Dangers of Edutourism

Today we have a new outbreak of edutourism. American adventurers have fanned out across the globe to bring back to the United States the lessons of other school systems. Thomas L. Friedman of the New York Times visited Shanghai schools on a junket organized by Teach for All, an offshoot of Teach for America, and declared “I think I found The Secret”—The Secret being how Shanghai scored at the top on the 2009 PISA tests. After declaring, “there is no secret,” Friedman fell back on some stock explanations for high achievement, focusing in particular on changing how teachers are trained and re-organizing their work day to allow for less instruction, more professional development, and ample time for peer interaction. Elizabeth Green, author and editor-in-chief of Chalkbeat, toured schools in Japan, and she, too, embraced the idea that the key to better teaching could be informed by observing classrooms abroad. For Green, lesson study and resurrecting controversial pedagogical reforms from the 1980s and 1990s would surely boost mathematics learning. Finland has been swamped with edutourists, spurred primarily by that nation’s illustrious PISA scores. The Education Ministry of Finland hosted at least 100 delegations from 40 to 45 countries per year from 2005 to 2011.

SteveH said...

Does anyone ever take a junket to talk to parents, either here or overseas? We hear from educators that good parents model a love of education - they read to their kids, turn off the TV, and take them to museums. Parents are assumed to do something special because educators think that it takes at least one generation to break the cycle (or some such thing) of getting to college.

What is this special parental magic dust? Why are some parents successful and some not? Is this just a matter of IQ and not really parental help? So which is it; do parents make a big difference or do they not? If they make a difference, then what, exactly do they do? I have my hand raised, but it's more fun and seemingly academic to get a paid overseas trip. Even some of our teachers have gone to China.

Many are interested in the mean (PISA), but not the spread. However, if you focus on individual educational opportunities, you might increase the spread, but you will also increase the mean. Educators who focus on decreasing the spread (unfortunately viewed as a gap), then they will lower the mean. If you try to do something to directly improve the mean, you will fail to see the proper variables. Top-down solutions see few variables and always get it wrong.

My wife and I were talking about how many parents check for and strongly support kids when it comes to athletics, but not for academics. It's OK to start kids on baseball and soccer at ages 4 and 5 (which are all about mastering basic skills), but weird to do so for academics. Our son's Kindergarten teacher gave us a nasty look when we talked about giving him math worksheets to do (he loved them). We also got him started on soccer, baseball, and piano at five. Piano worked out, but not baseball and soccer. Being successful early in something (in skills, not understanding) gives kids a huge boost of confidence. Skills breed engagement and success, not conceptual understanding.

We also taught our son to read before Kindergarten because we wouldn't trust the schools to do the job. At the time, they were talking about the pseudo phonics of "onset and rime". Also, our town uses full inclusion, which is all about providing LESS individual educational opportunities. This hides the tracking at home and makes the job of parents more specific and important. In other words, K-8 educators now have specific pedagogical reasons to NOT ask parents what they do at home. They KNOW that they have chosen social goals over academic ones in K-6. These are critical years, but they like to think that "all kids learn when they are ready." This is not about critical thinking. It's about not being honest about fundamental trade-offs with parents.

SteveH said...

Like so many attempts at educational improvement, CC is a one-size-fits-all solution that deals only with the mean ("college readiness"), but that mean has to be set at a low cutoff - no remediation in college. No thought is given to the spread even though it is provided by most 7th and 8th grades in math and language, and for all of high school. Even worse, the PARCC implementation completely ignores STEM opportunities in K-8 and their highest level ("distinguished") in math only means that you are likely to pass a college algebra course. It ignores the spread completely. This can't work by definition and ACT and the College Board are trying to gloss over this fundamental flaw. They talk about taking summer courses or doubling up in math in high school. I had hoped that CC would deal with the conflict between full inclusion and one-size-fits-all in K-8, but it completely failed. It didn't fix K-8 and adds nothing to high school, where most college-bound students completely ignore state tests and focus on GPA and SAT/ACT.

Instead of defining a solution based on the needs of individuals (the spread), CC tries to directly define and improve the mean (college readiness). This is fundamentally wrong.

palisadesk said...

SteveH observed:

Being successful early in something (in skills, not understanding) gives kids a huge boost of confidence. Skills breed engagement and success, not conceptual understanding.

This was borne out in Engelmann and Bereiter's work in the Engelmann-Bereiter Preschool Project back in the '60's. A group of very disadvantaged, mainly black, preschoolers from one of the worst projects in the Chicago area were given an accelerated instructional program (the precursor of today's Direct Instruction reading, language and math programs) for two years. At the end of that time, not only had all their IQ's risen substantially but as Engelmann summed up in a published article:

Perhaps the most noticeable characteristic of the children
after two years of instruction was their confidence. The easiest
way for the teacher to capture their interest was to announce a
difficult task. "This is so hard I shouldn't even be giving it
to little kids like you. You'll never be able to do it."

The children would respond to this type of challenge by insisting "We can do it! You'll see" ... The children exhibited confidence because they had received many demonstrations that they were competent and could succeed in challenging situations. They had surprised-even crushed-the teacher with their smartness. This is not to say that the children would be confident in all situations or even all instructional situations. But they had firm and realistically based confidence about their capacity to perform in new-learning situations.

ALthough the study ended after two years, Engelmann kept in touch with many of the students over the years. They continued to be successful, even though they attended very low-performing schools, and many not only completed high school but college and went int middle-class professions and occupations, a statistically extremely improbably event.

Notably, the E-B preschool required nothing from the parents other than bringing their children to the program. The children had "take-home" sheets for practice and to show off their learning, but parents weren't expected to "supervise homework" or take kids to the library or whatever.

While most early-intervention programs "wash out" over time, this one did not, and its results have been replicated elsewhere but never on a large scale. The model doesn't fit the meme.

Robin said...

It would help if more people understood precisely what PISA assesses, what DeSeCo means, or the fact that no one can be a high achieving country unless they make Equity a focus.

On David Coleman, the best way to really understand where he is coming from with his vision for education is to listen to his mother Elizabeth's TED Talk. She is the President of Bennington College and was previously at the New School as a sociology prof. She waxes on about John Dewey in the most reverential tone.

She clearly shares Dewey's desire to use K-12 education for transformative change. That also fits with David's views. The most telling interviews of him I have seen are at a New Venture Schools conference when he sees Common Core as "behind us" by 2017 and his introduction of Lauren Resnick at a meeting. I have pointed out that Resnick is not just involved with the Common Core. She also chaired the 1987 Higher Order Thinking Skills report that is so troubling and is also involved globally with ISCAR--International Society for Cultural Action Research.

SteveH said...

Ultimately, however, K-12 educational pedagogues have limited control over colleges, except perhaps for state supported colleges and universities. Some do push back because they are starting to drop from the top tier of research universities. The state-controlled money goes to in-state lower ability students rather than higher ability out-of-state students. They get zero money.

PISA and DeSeCo are meaningless for most colleges. and admission is an individual thing between the student and the college. Colleges care about SAT and ACT, but those organizations can't do what they want. Coleman can try to dumb down AP courses behind the veil of critical thinking, but colleges are not stupid or beholden to the College Board.

A "transformative" change to college is one that eliminates SAT and relies more on holistic considerations, but that direction will get Coleman fired pretty quickly. As for AP classes, colleges make decisions about what credit and/or advanced placement will be allowed. My son's college offers reduced language requirements only if you get a 5 in an AP language class. They only give advanced placement in math if you get a 5 in BC Calc. Others have to take placement exams. The opening days of school have all new students taking a variety of placement tests. It wouldn't take much for them to disregard AP classes completely. Colleges currently make decisions on student admission long before senior year AP results come out in July.

Also, Coleman, etal., have limited control over high schools. Most college bound students ignore PISA, NCLB, and CC. They look towards college admissions for direction, not the College Board. Colleges don't care about your NCLB or CC scores. If you are that low, then they will be testing you with Accuplacer. Colleges use ACT and SAT to distinguish students at the higher end. If the SAT/ACT tests no longer do that, then they will make those tests optional.

College admission is very competitive and most colleges use their own holistic evaluations. Those evaluations might be academically insensitive, but that level is still far beyond PISA and CC.

As I've said before, Coleman can't talk away the curriculum and expectation gap between CC and SAT/AP. It's the big limitation for K-12 transformative educational pedagogues. Talk is not reality.

Anonymous said...

I think I remember hearing that some colleges give you credit for an AP class only if you enroll in the next level of that class. I think that is a fair offer: you are claiming to have learned this material at a college level. Prove it.

Also, if high schools had to publish their average AP points earned per enrolled student (not per tested student!), that would be revealing. Because, yes, colleges don't know a seniors AP scores until months after admissions decisions have been made. But it you are getting an A or B in a school where the AP score per enrolled student is say, 3.8, colleges know something about the rigor of the program. But if the AP score per enrolled student is a 1.5, you know that lots of kids are sitting in the room but not even taking the test.


Unknown said...

My kids, all of whom had enough AP 4-5s to start with sophomore status (big advantage for course sign-up), mostly used the APs to meet distribution requirements - so they went right to coursework in their majors/minors. One used AP econ - 5s - to take the next course at honors level and one went to the next level in Spanish.

I like Phil's idea. My kids' schools tsught APs at real college level, with honors prereqs for all APs, and all kids took the exams. Most had 4s and 5s , but many scnools are pushing horrifically unprepared kids into APs, thanks to Jay Mathews.

Robin said...

Steve-do you have any idea what the role of accreditation is in education? It controls K-12, higher ed, grad schools, and ed schools just to start. It controls school boards and dictates to deans.

I explain the K-12 and college power in my book but when I was getting legal ed credit about a year ago I went to a program involving higher ed. Turned out the accreditors are now telling law schools to push the idea that the law is for the common good in their coursework or accreditation is at risk.

It's the poison delivery system. David Coleman certainly knows that and fully intends to make sure the CB and ETS use it.

SteveH said...

"Turned out the accreditors are now telling law schools to push the idea that the law is for the common good in their coursework or accreditation is at risk."

Accreditors can push all they want and colleges will play the game. The College Board can push pedagogy in AP course auditing, but what matters is what's on the test. If the test is dumbed down and doesn't meet the needs of colleges, then it won't be used and the College Board will lose a lot of money. Accreditation and testing are very blunt tools for pushing an agenda, and Coleman has a lot of reality holding him back.

His big issue now is the conflict between the low (no college remediation) expectations of CC and the high expectations and testing needs of colleges. Colleges already do a whole boatload of holistic admissions, but they still want to see academics calibrated at the upper level. That level cannot be talked or audited away with fuzzy ideas of critical thinking or social justice.

This doesn't mean that I don't think there is a problem. It's what KTM has been fighting since the beginning. K-6 is awful, high school is better, and college and department choice is the best. While some departments at my son's college might be affected by this malarkey, it's easy enough to avoid (like religion at a Catholic school). In K-6 many parents do a lot to fix things at home, and in high school, there are ways to find rigorous paths - meaningful to college admissions officers - NOT accreditors.

Ultimately, reality (and his attitude) will bite Coleman in the butt.

froggiemama said...

SteveH, I teach at a college, not an elite college, but the sort of place that takes your normal, B average kids. We would be very pleased if they met CC standards coming in. The problem for us right now is that a typical kid with a B average from the highs schools from which we draw (about 50-50 public and Catholic) does not even come close to that standard. This is what CC is addressing - trying to get the bulk of kids heading to college up to standard, rather than focusing on the tiny fraction that head to elite schools. You might say that these kids shouldn't go to college, but I suspect most parents of a kid with an 85 high school average expects their kid will go to college.

Auntie Ann said...

It's important to keep this in mind: They really are talking about *ending* AP Calc and replacing it with AP Algebra to bring AP in alignment with Common Core.

College Board: Reconciling AP Exams With Common Core:


In an AASA conference session, Advanced Placement in the Common Core Era: Changes and New Developments in the AP Program, on Saturday morning, Trevor Packer, senior vice president of the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program, told superintendents that his organization would integrate Common Core standards in AP course standards and AP exams administered each May.

[...] Despite these measures, there are still difficulties in reconciling many AP courses with the Common Core. In particular, AP Calculus is in conflict with the Common Core, Packer said, and it lies outside the sequence of the Common Core because of the fear that it may unnecessarily rush students into advanced math classes for which they are not prepared.

The College Board suggests a solution to the problem. of AP Calculus “If you’re worried about AP Calculus and fidelity to the Common Core, we recommend AP Statistics and AP Computer Science,” he told conference attendees.

Moreover, the College Board may offer an AP Algebra course (although no plans are definite), which may [*******] supplant [*******] AP Calculus, particularly in schools rigidly adhering to the Common Core standards.

SteveH said...

Palisadesk said:

"While most early-intervention programs "wash out" over time, this one did not, and its results have been replicated elsewhere but never on a large scale. The model doesn't fit the meme."

El Sistema has be used in Venezuela for almost 40 years. Perhaps people ignore it because it's for music or from an unexpected country. There is no claim to raising IQ. They just show that it works, and the goal is not just raising a mean or trying to float all boats. It clearly demonstrates the huge untapped potential in all kids - that some kids can do a lot more than float. They don't claim that the bell curve doesn't exist. They just show how low expectations were before El Sistema, especially for kids from the barrios. There is nothing special in this regard for music. It has to do with setting high expectations from the start and giving kids a chance to see not just a path to feeling good about playing an instrument, but a clearly defined path for a chance to play at Carnegie Hall or the BBC Proms. This is not a path for poor kids. It's the same path for all. Venezuela found that this cost less per child than what their youth services paid per child before El Sistema.

Unfortunately, "The System" is not always translated well to other countries, especially if it's done by educational pedagogues and not musicians. People see what they want to see. One of the key aspects is (in the earliest years) to have all kids at all levels play together in one orchestra. The better students help the new students. However, it's much more than that. Kids showing promise due to ability or hard work have a chance for private lessons and select orchestras from the earliest years. Individual opportunities don't just start in high school when they have little effect. Some kids start as early as age four in what they call a "paper orchestra." They perform concerts. This system also does not require any help from parents. It's an after school program and transportation is free. Anyone can join, but you have to prove yourself to get the better opportunities.

The mean is an awful statistic for educational progress. Many look at pushing up the mean from the bottom while trying to float all boats. They ignore the pull that can be obtained from the upper end with individual opportunities. These are individual kids, not statistics that can be coopted for social justice.

I've talked about El Sistema in the past and seeing their system brings me to tears, not just for the beauty of the music, but for all of the children in the world who don't have those individual opportunities.

See here for an example. They make a point of playing in their street clothes.

These students did not "discover" how to play like that and the individual opportunities start in the earliest years.

SteveH said...

"This is what CC is addressing"

That's not what I'm talking about. I'm talking about the conflict between the one-size-fits-all CC standards and the standards upper end SAT/AP standards.

SteveH said...

"Moreover, the College Board may offer an AP Algebra course (although no plans are definite), which may [*******] supplant [*******] AP Calculus, particularly in schools rigidly adhering to the Common Core standards."

This is what I'm talking about. I hope they try it. Nothing like shouting out to the world their problem. The College Board has its Pre-AP program and no way to reconcile it with CC or real AP classes.

I've seen this article, but has anyone heard another peep about AP Algebra since then? The best I can figure is that the ACT and College Board are trying to hide the nonlinear calibration between CC levels and college ACT/SAT levels and claim that taking summer math classes or doubling up in math in high school is a reasonable solution.

Also, has anyone seen anything about CC and STEM preparation lately? Is there an official policy about that? PARCC comes right out and says that they don't do STEM prep in K-6.

froggiemama said...

We rarely get a student who has taken AP Calculus, so the debate on CC and AP Calculus is not germane to my experience. However, I have friends who teach at the elite liberal arts colleges, who complain a lot about AP calculus. This link pretty much expresses the complaints I hear

Robin said...

Many of the Ivy League heads have pushed for the role of the accreditors in higher ed and K-12 to be cut back. Instead Arne Duncan has given them the power to decide who gets access to the federal student loan program--the ultimate Sword of Damocles.

Higher ed also has the Lumina Diploma Qualifications Profile shifting what it is supposed to be shifting.

I do not call attention to things like accreditation to be annoying or because I have nothing better to do than come to another blog and chat. I have the documentation showing how much is being driven by accreditation. The only way to defang that power is to know it exists and how it works.

CB has deep pockets, but as David Coleman himself has said CB is ultimately backed by all the financial and political resources of ETS-Educational Testing Service. Everyone here is playing the cultural change game they were established by the Carnegie Corporation to bring about.

As I explained in the book because I have the original docs from the 90s, the College Board sponsored the 1998 conference at Rollins College seeking to remake higher ed at all levels around John Dewey's vision for education.

Then there is the 2005 Talloires Declaration pushing Civic Engagement as the new purpose of ed, headquartered at...Tufts.

Think of the parents borrowing or using home equity or not saving for retirement, completely unaware that they are putting $250 K into ed at a famous school. Meanwhile the admins are pushing the idea that worldview shifts instead of knowledge transmission are the new purpose. As a friend said to me, she wished someone had explained that reality before she spent $400 K on college ed for 2 kids who now have minimum wage jobs despite good ed pedigrees.

Forewarned and pulled into the sunlight is the only way to deal with these intentions for fundamental transformations.

SteveH said...

There have always been issues of social agendas at universities affecting certain degree programs. One has to be aware and make proper judgments. Some may like it. Also, Coleman isn't inventing the problem of expensive college education and no career benefit. My bartender niece has a degree in film studies.

However, my son is taking math, physics, Spanish grammar, and music theory. Lots of critical thinking (they just went through the formal proofs of Maxwell's equations) and lots of hands on practice (writing music). As for distribution requirements, there are enough choices to either select the educational malarkey or to avoid it. I seem to recall that our original student tour guides at various Ivy League schools all seemed to be majoring in gender studies, and they talked about how (in effect) to fill your math requirements without taking math. Likewise, there are other choices that are much more content oriented.

I see no Sword of Damocles. Colleges know how to play the game.

SteveH said...

"I have friends who teach at the elite liberal arts colleges, who complain a lot about AP calculus."

Such as...

"...but I would rather teach calculus to a student with solid algebra skills and no A.P. experience than to one who took calculus too soon."

Knowing my son and his friends who did well in AP calculus, I saw no algebra weakness. There may be ways to game the system, but I think elite colleges try to figure that out. They know which high schools are strong and which are not in many cases.

My son's college has their own test for just about everything. He had to take a music theory placement test even though he got a 5 in AP music theory. He had to take a math test even though he got a 5 in Calc BC. Then again, Calc BC is really not equal to many college calculus classes.

Many kids are perfectly ready for calculus in high school. If some get through that process but are still not solid in algebra, then something else is going on. You have to look at the individual or the school, not the curriculum. College admissions do not see the AP test score (seniors), but they do see at least the midyear calculus grade. Bad algebra skills should show up there.

froggiemama said...

You say that elite colleges know which schools are strong, but judging from that letter, clearly Middlebury does not know. My husband used to teach math at one of the eastern elite SLACs, and said the same thing CONSTANTLY. At his school, many of the kids who had passed the AP test retook calculus I.

lgm said...

>>>You might say that these kids shouldn't go to college, but I suspect most parents of a kid with an 85 high school average expects their kid will go to college.

That is not the case here, at an average rural school. Guidance counselors are quite specific telling kids they need an 88 average or better in core academics to even think of success at a 4 year state college. All others are steered toward CC.

SteveH said...

"At his school, many of the kids who had passed the AP test retook calculus I."

This is common and why many colleges do their own testing. College calculus is commonly more difficult than AP Calc. Also, a 3 in AP Calc AB doesn't mean much and cannot be compared to a 4 or 5 in AP Calc BC, and even that is not good enough for some college math courses.

However, this is not the same as what the writer says in the article you pointed to:

"At the end of all this, a number of bright, hard-working students have shockingly weak algebra skills."

There is no way to do well in AP calculus with "shockingly weak algebra skills" unless something is wrong with the high school, and that won't be solved by eliminating calculus.

Competitive college admissions does push students to take the strongest courses, but they don't have to take those courses. Perhaps Middlebury does not know how to judge, but they should be looking at more than just AP scores. What about the Algebra II grade in high school? What about SAT II in math? Colleges that want students who are good in math expect to see that.

The other issue is proper placement and Middlebury says:

"No placement exam is offered for mathematics."

There you go. No wonder they have problems. They also say:

"...students who have earned 4 or 5 on the Calculus AB exam or a 3 on the Calculus BC exam may not register for MATH 0121; students who have earned 4 or 5 on the
Calculus BC exam may not register for MATH 0121 or MATH 0122; and students who have earned 4 or 5 on the Statistics exam may not register for MATH 0116."

Middlebury is making too many assumptions about the math preparation of their students. Perhaps they are believing their hype too much.

Algebra II and precalc are the courses that should validate proper algebra skills. If students can get through those courses with good grades, but still have poor algebra skills, then that is a problem with the school and not the sequence or the demands of college admission.

Colleges also have to do their part in being smart about the tests and the math preparation of students.