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High School = College

Is it May already? It must be since, just like the flowers (and weeds), Jay Mathews’ annual list of the “top US high schools” is back.

The national “challenge” index, a simplistic ranking based solely on the number of students taking AP and IP tests, is on the web now and will be in the dead-tree edition of Newsweek later in the week.

Back in March, Mathews asked his readers to send him stories of how the index has affected their schools. A sampling of the responses are featured in his Class Struggle column this week.

It’s interesting that only one of the ten responses offers unqualified support for his scheme.

I love the list, not least because we have been moving up and it can be noticed by parents, community and even bosses!

And it’s all about PR.

Another has nothing to do with how the index has affected the writer’s school but instead spotlights several of the more complex problems facing American education.

I think the reason our school systems are not very good compared to other countries is that we underestimate the abilities of our children. I think too the education field is fuzzy — not very good data or evidence to support the programs that are out there. . . . More and better research is needed. And of course there are the socioeconomic/family issues of some schools/districts that cannot/will not be fixed with just higher expectations.

That last sentence also spotlights one of the great weaknesses of pushing AP/IB as a simple panacea.

But several of the emails he received did try to fulfill Mathews request by discussing the influence the index has had on their school. Most are examples of how the number of students taking AP and IB classes were pumped up, some with successful results, some not.

However, in the end, it’s this assessment that explains just what is wrong with the simplistic concept behind this ranking.

Not all kids welcome or are adept at doing college work in the high school. If kids’ working at a college level in high school becomes de rigueur, why don’t we just put the little buggers in college? Why don’t we put middle-schoolers into the high school? Why can’t kindergartners take on middle school work? Developmentally, kids are individual souls who progress in a sort of lopsided hobble toward adulthood. By assuming that one size [in this case, AP] fits all, we have demeaned our students’ very identities and individuality.

Exactly right!

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1 Comment

  1. Dave

    You’re right, the test isn’t perfect. Using the title “America’s Top Public High Schools” to describe the list is almost certainly inaccurate and misleading (although, I’ll reserve judgement until I see evidence that someone was actually, personally misled by the title). Number of exams taken doesn’t measure the “whole child” and it’s sort of a slam on graduates who aren’t college-bound.

    But I’d imagine the test has led to good things: more schools offering more AP/IB courses, more students taking and passing the exams, more schools encouraging students to take exams (and helping pay for them). Most importantly, for a few weeks each May, tens of thousands of people spend at least a few minutes thinking about schools: what makes schools good, what role college plays in society, what education we expect of modern students, whether their local schools are meeting their expectations, whether they should encourage their own students towards college and college-level high school courses. At the very least, they have to think about how students across the country are receiving very wide-ranging educational opportunities, and think about what that means. Is it fair? Is it unavoidable?

    Like Clay Shirky says, at least Jay Mathews is doing something. He had a point to make about schools (students willing to work hard should not be denied opportunity to take AP courses) and he made it on a national scale. I love to navel-gaze and talk about these exams, and yes, posting and commenting about it is doing something, too. But as society shifts from watching sitcoms to contributing to shared online knowledge, those of us who already work with shared online knowledge need to follow Jay’s lead and do something a little bigger.

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