One Of These Is Not Like The Other

In his Class Struggles column this week Jay Mathews holds another meeting of his AP fan club, this week taking issue with a recent commentary in which the writer dares offer the opinion that maybe AP courses should be dropped from the high school curriculum. Mathews, of course, goes ballistic at the idea that someone could differ with his belief that every student should be taking AP courses (but just ignore the ignore the student’s test scores).

Mathews is just as wrong in his views as is the writer about eliminating AP courses. However, there is something else I object to in Mathews’ writing. I wish he would quit equating the AP program, marketed by the College Board, and the International Baccalaureate (IB) program, sponsored by a non-profit organization in Geneva, Switzerland.

Although Mathews insists on calling the two programs "similar" they are not. Or at least they’re not supposed to be. According to the IB Organization’s web site, the high school program is supposed to be "a comprehensive two-year international curriculum". The creators also believe that students in an IB program "should share an academic experience that would emphasize critical thinking, intercultural understanding and exposure to a variety of points of view".

That’s certainly not the program being offered in many DC area schools and elsewhere. Instead IB is usually structured as a collection of unrelated classes, just as is the AP – Pepsi to their Coke. Of course, both AP and IB students take tests so maybe that’s where Mathews’ confusion lies. Or maybe he’s spent so much time hyping both programs that he can’t tell them apart. Either way, the bottom line is that neither IB nor AP is a miracle cure for education in this country, only one tool in the solution.