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The Disorderly March XVIII

April 27, 2011

Seems the whole world is onto the Orderly March game these days.  Much of the OM has to do with how many “AP” classes you take as a HS student, seeing how this is so impressive to admissions officers.  As I’ve said before, any system whose rules get set into stone immediately sets people to game it, and this includes the academic institutions themselves.  Yesterday’s Times had an article on the dramatic rise in the numbers of AP classes on the books.

Even though students are getting more credits in more advanced courses, they are not scoring any higher on standardized tests.

The reason, according to a growing body of research, is that the content of these courses is not as high-achieving as their names — the course-title equivalent of grade inflation. Algebra II is sometimes just Algebra I. And College Preparatory Biology can be just Biology.

Lynn T. Mellor, a researcher in Austin, Tex., who has studied the phenomenon in the state, compares it to a food marketer labeling an orange soda as healthier orange juice.

So Skyler and Whitney are getting “AP” credit on their admissions applications, even though they aren’t really learning anything more than the “average” students destined for community college.

On the other hand, there is good news.  MIT of all places has hired a college dropout to run the Media Lab.  Of course, he’s not your typical college dropout, but then again neither are Gates and Zuckerberg.

Raised in both Tokyo and Silicon Valley, Mr. Ito was part of the first generation to grow up with the Internet. His career includes serving as a board member of Icann, the Internet’s governance organization; becoming a “guild master” in the World of Warcraft online fantasy game; and more than a dozen investments in start-ups like Flickr, Last.fm and Twitter. In 1994 he helped establish the first commercial Internet service provider in Japan.

He was also an early participant in the open-source software movement and is a board member of the Mozilla Foundation, which oversees the development of the Firefox Web browse, as well as being the co-founder and chairman of Creative Commons, a nonprofit organization that has sought to create a middle ground to promote the sharing of digital information.

All the same, a great leap forward in what I’m calling the “New Meritocracy,” and I think we’ll see more and more of this as we see less college graduates and more of the “dumb credentialed,” as colleges fail their role in the economy due to budget cutbacks and fee increases limiting the number of students who can go, the preposterous “gaming” of the system I’ve documented here repeatedly that ends up manufacturing not “good students good at everything” but good manipulators who can get ahead in large fixed systems, and the increasing availability of good and free education and expertise outside academia (Khan Academy, etc.) to those who want it.

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