College Board is accused of using school shootings to promote its AP program — and then apologizes

The College Board sent out a letter to its members this week expressing sorrow for the victims of the Feb. 14 shootings at a high school in Florida — and used the missive to talk about a program that the organization owns, Advanced Placement. Reaction was harsh, and the College Board apologized.

The letter was sent by email under the name of David Coleman, the president of the College Board, the giant education nonprofit that also owns the SAT standardized test and other assessments. It said in part (see full text below):

The shootings in Florida reverberate throughout our halls, hearts, and mind. As I have spent the last few days reading through the language of adults, none of it felt adequate. But I am writing today because I have words to share that I could not find myself.

I was struck first by this remarkable speech by Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. One of the things that makes Emma’s speech so striking is that it is infused with references to her AP Government class. At a time of utmost passion, she insists that she has been trained in evidence.

I do not write today to endorse Emma’s every word; her speech may have benefited from a less partisan approach and an attempt to better understand the positions of gun rights proponents. But I am compelled to share the unadulterated, impassioned voice of a student, drawing on her education as both shield and sword in the aftermath of terrible events.

I then encountered this testimony from Emma’s classmate, David Hogg, who reflects on the importance of journalism in the American fabric. A reporter who interviewed him writes: “In the past year, Hogg’s interest in journalism has grown stronger. His AP U.S. History class recently learned about the Pentagon Papers and the role journalists — ‘the fourth check on the government,’ he said — play in the United States.” David Hogg’s words honor Advanced Placement teachers everywhere, for they reflect their power to open worlds and futures to students.

Some college admissions officers and educators immediately reacted with disgust, accusing Coleman and the College Board of using the event to promote itself.  Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management and marketing at DePaul University in Chicago, for example, wrote in a tweet:

“Seriously @CollegeBoard  How many people did you have take a look at that email that David Coleman just sent about the Florida shooting? Did you try to turn a national tragedy into a promotional opportunity? I’ve seldom seen anything in poorer taste.

Michael J. Hynes, superintendent of New York’s Patchogue Medford School District, tweeted, “What is David Coleman thinking? Kids are murdered and he references AP classes?”

The College Board quickly issued an apology, sending this message out:

This past week, our hearts have ached for the students, educators, and families in Broward County. The purpose of our letter to members was to put the focus on the remarkable students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to share their voices. We sincerely apologize that our words have taken the focus away from the needs of their community at this terrible time.

 

Here is Hynes’s tweet and some other reactions:

This was the text of the letter, as provided by the College Board:

Dear Members,

The shootings in Florida reverberate throughout our halls, hearts, and minds. As I have spent the last few days reading through the language of adults, none of it felt adequate. But I am writing today because I have words to share that I could not find myself.

I was struck first by this remarkable speech [na01.safelinks.protection.outlook.com] by Emma Gonzalez, a senior at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. One of the things that makes Emma’s speech so striking is that it is infused with references to her AP Government class. At a time of utmost passion, she insists that she has been trained in evidence.

I do not write today to endorse Emma’s every word; her speech may have benefited from a less partisan approach and an attempt to better understand the positions of gun rights proponents. But I am compelled to share the unadulterated, impassioned voice of a student, drawing on her education as both shield and sword in the aftermath of terrible events.

I then encountered this testimony from Emma’s classmate, David Hogg, who reflects on the importance of journalism in the American fabric. A reporter who interviewed him writes: “In the past year, Hogg’s interest in journalism has grown stronger. His AP U.S. History class recently learned about the Pentagon Papers and the role journalists — ‘the fourth check on the government,’ he said — play in the United States.” David Hogg’s words honor Advanced Placement teachers everywhere, for they reflect their power to open worlds and futures to students.

Surrounding these students and teachers are the voices of their parents and those who lead schools. I’ve known Bob Runcie, the superintendent of Broward County Public Schools, for over a decade, and we texted the day of this massacre. It is the worst nightmare of every educator to lose children in your care.

And it is a terrible nightmare of a parent to fear for the life of their child. That was the situation for a College Board staff member last week, when she was out of touch with her 15-year-old son for unbearable minutes as he hid in Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. Her other son — 17 years old — texted as he ran. I spoke to this mother the day after the shooting; it is difficult to convey the terror she felt.

May these students’ voices, changed by education and tragedy, offer us some comfort and stay against the darkness.

Sincerely,

David

David Coleman
President and CEO

And, again, this was the apology the board issued:

“This past week, our hearts have ached for the students, educators, and families in Broward County. The purpose of our letter to members was to put the focus on the remarkable students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School and to share their voices. We sincerely apologize that our words have taken the focus away from the needs of their community at this terrible time.”

 

 

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