What’s Wrong With AP For All?

I can’t wait to read Jay Mathews’ interpretation of this new survey.

According to a study from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, while enrollment in AP courses is way up, more than half of the 1000 AP teachers interviewed “are concerned that the program’s effectiveness is being threatened”.

Why are students flooding into these college-level classes?

According to their teachers, it’s largely not due to intellectual curiosity or passion for the subject matter.

“Only 32 percent attribute A.P. growth to more students who want to be challenged at a higher academic level,” the researchers wrote, leading the authors to conclude that students were often enrolling in Advanced Placement courses “for utilitarian or pragmatic reasons, not intellectual aspirations.”

And according to the study, it is not just the students who are motivated in that way. The researchers also noted teachers’ concerns about high schools’ seeking “to burnish their reputation by showcasing A.P.” For example, the study found that 75 percent of teachers believed that school administrators were expanding A.P. courses “to improve their school’s ranking and reputation in the community.”

Would that quest for improved ranking be motivated by the hyper-publicized annual “challenge” index which produces a headline-grabbing list of high schools based solely and completely on the number of AP tests taken, while ignoring the actual scores on those tests?

Just asking. :-)

Anyway, a majority of the teachers surveyed also said “too many students overestimate their abilities and are in over their heads” and “parents push their children into A.P. classes when they really don’t belong there”.

Of course, this is just the impression of one group of AP teachers. The people who are actually teaching the curriculum that, in theory, expects high school students to produce work equivalent to that required in an undergraduate college course.

They could be wrong.

However, there are many more problems with the excessive emphasis on AP courses, beyond the fact that too many unprepared students are being channeled into the classes.

For one thing, it continues to lock in the concept that the only path for a student beyond high school graduation is college.

And if that’s not the path that best fits your goals, there must be something wrong.

We also need to create better ways to enrich the student learning process that aren’t so totally dependent on a traditional university-style approach.

Testing Prescription

California’s Governator has vetoed a bill that would have mandated public schools in the state to teach about climate change as part of the science curriculum.


In his veto statement, Schwarzenegger said he supported education that spotlights the dangers of climate change. However, the Republican governor said he was opposed to educational mandates from Sacramento.

“I continue to believe that the state should refrain from being overly prescriptive in specific school curriculum, beyond establishing rigorous academic standards,” he said.

“Overly prescriptive”? Don’t look now but we’re already doing that to the school curriculum as a result of the whole do-or-die standardized testing structure in the US.

The narrow focus of the exams on the lowest common denominator of reading and math skills basically prescribes the curriculum studied by students in most California schools and elsewhere.

We’re Not Really Running Things

The debate over the value of the Advanced Placement program continues as AP cheerleader Jay Mathews reports on “a series of competing, sometimes contradictory studies” looking at the effectiveness of this an other college-level high school classes.

Mathews, of course, focuses on the study that shows the AP in the best light. Nothing new there.

However, buried towards the end of the article, I did learned something rather surprising.

AP Executive Director Trevor Packer has emphasized that there is no official AP curriculum and that there are many different ways to teach the courses, but it has not mollified some school leaders, who say AP already has too much influence over what they teach.

Too much influence! No official AP curriculum! I thought that was the whole point to the program. The College Board was supposed to have developed an advanced national curriculum in a variety of subjects with the goal of challenging high school students who were ready.

It’s been a while since I went to AP teacher training, but it sure seemed as if we were being given the “official” curriculum. Maybe I should have looked closer to find their “many different ways”.