The College Board Apology That Isn't Taking

A second apology sets off yet more anger.

March 5, 2018
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More than a week ago, the College Board issued an apology over an email message its president, David Coleman, sent to educators in the wake of the mass killings at a Florida high school. That email message drew anger for two reasons. First it cited the way some of the high school's students who are now pushing for tougher gun laws were using lessons from their Advanced Placement classes (this struck many as trying to promote the College Board's product based on a tragedy).

Second, the Coleman email criticized one of the students who noted her AP course, saying that her rhetoric "may have benefited from a less partisan approach and an attempt to better understand the positions of gun rights proponents." Many educators noted that she was engaged in a political campaign, not fulfilling a course requirement, and that it was insulting and inappropriate for the president of the College Board to criticize a high school student in this way. Amid growing criticism on social media, the College Board issued a statement that said in part, "We sincerely apologize that our words have taken the focus away from the needs of their community at this terrible time."

A week later, tensions remain.

Several groups of admissions officers have continued to discuss their views of the incident: reflecting what they see as the College Board being focused on promoting testing, and disconnected from the needs of high schools and colleges.

A group of admissions officials who discuss issues of social justice sent Coleman several email messages and on Friday received a response from him that one member of that group posted to Twitter, in which Coleman said in part, “Thank you for this principled and forceful criticism. You are right. Our effort began with good intentions but we made a real error. We are sorry and I am sorry. You are also right about one immediate action we should take. Please know that we will waive all College Board fees for every current student at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School over the course of their high school careers … I have assigned a College Board staff member to serve as a personal liaison between the school and the College Board to ensure all fees are waived for students throughout their high school careers. … I want to end by reinforcing to all of you what I sent to Marie on Friday: I am very sorry.”

This apology isn't taking, either. Critics online are noting that waiving College Board fees for students at the high school where students were killed is fine but is yet another gesture that they see as using the tragedy to promote College Board services.

The group member who tweeted the message from Coleman, Jon Boeckenstedt, associate vice president for enrollment management and marketing at DePaul University (and a prominent figure in admissions discussions nationally -- and a skeptic of the College Board's testing views), then responded with a series of tweets through the day Friday sharply critical of Coleman and the College Board. Many others in admissions weighed in to endorse his critique, and to forward it to others.

Highlights of his tweets:

  • "We finally get an, 'I'm sorry,' but it does not say exactly what he's sorry for: For shameless corporate self-promotion? For being tone-deaf? For criticizing a traumatized teenager?"
  • "Because I served on the Midwest Regional Council, I can tell you the College Board is already aiming to create assessments for 6th graders. And guess what? If you want your 6th graders to do well on the College Board test, they'll gladly sell you the course content to help."
  • "Is the company that sent these messages really the one you want defining the shape of education in our country? Do you want these people telling your school district how to teach 6th graders? No one voted for them; no government agency appointed them. They decided to do this."
  • "It's clearly time for David Coleman to resign as the president/CEO of this -- get ready -- membership organization. If he does not, we should all speak to the trustees and encourage them to fire him. I know for a fact that many people have lost whatever confidence they had in him."

The College Board did not respond to a request for comment.


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