In his Class Struggles column this week, Jay Mathews reprints an email exchange he recently had with a teacher who disagrees with his hyper-support of AP/IB programs.

The teacher uses educational research to make some excellent points, only a few of which Mathews is able to counter. But a large part of their discussion revolves around Mathews’ Challenge Index.

As always, he does a poor job of supporting the concept, execution and use of the Index, which uses the number of AP/IB tests taken by students – and nothing else – to rank their schools.

In the end, however, the pressure to stampede every student into AP/IB classes is more political than educational.

Here is what I see as a significant problem with AP: too many people perceive it as an inexpensive panacea to public education’s problems (perhaps this is why conservatives latch onto AP as “the answer”). Is there a problem with motivating students? Bam! (Sorry, Emeril.) Advanced Placement. Achievement gap? Bam! AP. Want to encourage low-income and minority students to attend college? Bam. AP.

I don’t think we can correct our problems in public education so simply. H.L Mencken once said that there is a simple solution to every complex problem, and it is usually wrong and makes the problem worse.

And therein lies the problem with both Mathews’ Index and the disproportionate support he offers the AP program in high profile newspaper (the Washington Post) and magazine (Newsweek) articles.

All of the stories promising near miracles have parents and politicians buying into the fantasy that if we just get enough kids into AP classes, all will be well with high school education.

The solution isn’t nearly as simple as Mathews and others would like us to believe.