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College Board Accused of Using Parkland Shootings for Self-Promotion

By Catherine Gewertz — February 22, 2018 4 min read
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UPDATED A letter from College Board President David Coleman about the Parkland school shootings has sparked accusations that the testing organization used the tragedy to promote its Advanced Placement Program. The company apologized after an outpouring of anger and criticism.

Emailed yesterday to College Board members, who include K-12 and college professionals, Coleman’s letter reflected on the Feb. 14 shootings in Florida and the wave of student activism they have launched.

He pointed to a recent speech by Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez, and noted that it was “infused with references to her AP Government class.” Coleman wrote that he was “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.”

Coleman’s letter also singled out comments that Stoneman Douglas student David Hogg made in a recent interview with CNN. Hogg mentioned that his AP U.S. History class helped him appreciate the value of journalism in shaping history. “David Hogg’s words honor Advanced Placement teachers everywhere, for they reflect their power to open worlds and futures to students,” Coleman wrote.

Another section of the letter triggered criticism, too. At one point, Coleman appears to critique Gonzalez’ speech. “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,” Coleman said.

UPDATED Coleman’s letter prompted Jennifer Pfannerstill, a biology teacher at North Shore Country Day School in Winnetka, Ill., to resign her position Thursday afternoon as chair of the College Board’s science academic advisory committee. She also quit the company’s academic advisory council.

“I cannot advocate for, and stand by, [an] organization that in one of our nation’s times of trial, would question the very students who allow them to exist and would promote itself as the only program to teach students how to use evidence,” she wrote in an open letter to Coleman and other College Board leaders and members.

The reaction to Coleman’s letter on Twitter was anything but supportive.

The director of admissions at the State University of New York at Geneseo posted:

The dean of admissions at Worcester Polytechnic Institute weighed in:

The associate vice president for enrollment management and marketing at DePaul University, had this to say:

Arun Ponnusamy, the chief academic officer at Collegewise took to Twitter to suggest that Coleman read the school counselor association’s guidelines on how to help students after a shooting.

Plenty of others had anger to share.

The College Board was silent about the controversy Wednesday, even as it responded on Twitter to one student’s demand for a test fee refund. But on Thursday, it issued an apology.

“This past week, our hearts have ached for the students, educators, and families in Broward County,” the organization said in a statement. “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.”

Photo: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School student Emma Gonzalez wipes away tears during a CNN town hall meeting this week in Sunrise, Fla. —Michael Laughlin/South Florida Sun-Sentinel via AP

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A version of this news article first appeared in the High School & Beyond blog.