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AP Is Not The Only Path

In the title of his Class Struggle column this week, Jay Mathews asks the question, Is AP Good for Everyone?

The article is actually a discussion with Chester Finn, the Education Gadfly, who has accused Mathews of believing the answer is yes.

Mathews, of course, denies every having said that “everyone” should be in AP classes, only that “far more people than are allowed to, or encouraged to, enroll in AP (and International Baccalaureate) courses”.

Finn questions the motives of the effort to boost enrollment, wondering if schools are looking to boost their score on Mathews “challenge” index and if the College Board is looking for additional revenues.

So, why are the numbers of students in these college level courses increasing so rapidly? Mathews attributes to only good things; Finn isn’t so sure.

They say many kids are now signing up for these classes because (a) their yuppy parents are pushing them to; (b) principals and guidance counselors are pushing them to; and (c) all manner of dubious incentives are now being offered them.

The two go back and forth in that vein, with Mathews admitting a few deficiencies with AP/IB classes and Finn offering some praise.

However, at the end, I give the match to Finn for this conclusion.

That’s like saying everyone should concentrate on eating dessert because we can’t figure out how to serve palatable vegetables, meats and fruits. You are, in effect, giving up on the entire high school curriculum except AP and IB. I take your point about the value of external standards and exams keyed to them, but there are myriad other paths to that result.

Which is also true of school reform in general.

1 Comment

  1. Dave

    I think you may have finally convinced me of a weakness in the challenge index.

    You quote Mathews as believing that not all, but more students should be allowed an encouraged to take AP tests…but measuring the percentage of -all- students who take AP tests addresses a different goal.

    I still think the total effect of the challenge index is good, but eventually, it seems plausible that schools will go past encouraging students who should take AP tests, and will encourage students who aren’t ready for the tests…and then the effects will diminish or even start to be negated.

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