Reader: Jeffco parents and students have an obvious interest in school board AP review

In response to my recent post about KLZ talk-radio host Kris Cook calling Jeffco students “pawns” of the teachers’ union, I received the email below from an Arvada parent of two teenagers in JeffCo schools, one who took APUSH class and passed the exam with a 4, and the other teen who is on track to take it in coming years. The writer asked to remain anonymous due to fear of possible repercussions.

Dear BigMedia:

To support her contention that students are “pawns” Kris Cook asks and answers herself: “who has something to gain by mobilizing the students to protest a censorship that hasn’t even been proposed? The only answer that makes any sense is the union” since “students have nothing to gain from this” and “the parents have nothing to gain.” Based on these perceptions — and nothing else — she concludes the students are acting as pawns of the teachers union.

From her self-Q&A, it appears likely that Cook did not take AP classes, has any children who took these classes and the associated AP exams, or has children who might be eligible for these classes. Now, to be clear, there is nothing wrong with that, as AP classes are not for every student and plenty of students who don’t take/pass AP classes/exams go on to be quite successful and vice versa. Because if Cook had some experience with the AP subject matter, she would see the flaw in the assumptions upon which her conclusion is based.

Parents and students have a direct financial interest in whether a school offers AP classes, and whether an individual student learns enough in an AP class to then pass the AP exam. If a student passes an AP exam, he or she may receive full credit at their undergraduate college. This reduces the tuition cost for that semester by a substantial percentage and depending upon the college, that may be thousands of dollars. In cases where a college does not apply an AP exam as full course credit for tuition and graduation requirement purposes, that college may still allow a student to skip an intro level class, which frees him or her up to take more advanced classes while receiving their undergraduate degree. Finally some colleges may factor in passage of AP exams into admission and/or scholarship offers.

In response to Julie Williams’ initial proposal and subsequent statements to the press/TV, the College Board that oversees AP certification put Jefferson County School District on notice that too much tinkering with the AP curriculum could affect its certification, and thus the availability of APUSH to students in the district. The Williams-College Board dust-up put in play the financial benefits of APUSH for students and parents throughout Jefferson County.

From that moment on, students and their parents had compelling rationales and powerful motivations to oppose the JeffCo majority, independent from the interests of the teachers unions (who might be concerned with salaries and job security, etc). Unfortunately for Williams, Newkirk, and Witt, and their supporters, the interests of students, parents, and teachers are now aligned. For better or worse, the very students who are eligible and take AP classes, and their parents, skew towards the more affluent and educated. These demographics define some of the most potent of political adversaries, at least at the citizen-level. While it is true that teachers and student/parents may have different reasons and incentives for scrutinizing and opposing the actions of the JeffCo majority, the alignment of their respective incentives makes it natural that the efforts of one might leverage and amplify the political message of the other. For achieving each group’s political objectives, there is little downside for doing so, only upside: bigger crowds, reinforced messaging, and a broader range of individuals to represent multiple faces of opposition. This seems like Politics 101, right?

As to whether “censorship” is an accurate, much less fair, way to characterize the initial Williams proposal, that ship has sailed. There was enough ambiguity and ideological phrasing in the original language to make this a plausible-enough interference, at least from a messaging perspective. Without those elements, a cry of censorship would have fallen flat, but among Williams owns words there was enough fodder to attract media coverage from the angle of that most un-American of values — censorship. While “indoctrination” or “nationalism” might be more accurate one-word substitutes, those are a bit more abstract and don’t resonate in the same universal way, across the full political spectrum. This is why there is such an effort to explain why this is -not- censorship. Which of course only serves to keep that word on-the-air, or in-print…only helping to continuing to cast doubt on the motivations of the School Board majority, in a vicious or virtuous circle, depending on your position. In either case, this was a gift served up on a silver platter by Williams herself, and students/parents (and yes, teachers too) cannot be faulted for gratefully putting her gift to use.

Which finally leads to a less flattering chessboard analogy: Julie Williams’ clumsy introduction of the curriculum design committee proposal in the midst of the Board’s ambitious effort to revamp teacher compensation, was like her agreeing to add an extra rook and bishop to the side of the teachers, while announcing to the world that at least a few pieces on the Board/supporters’ side are checkers.

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