Too good for AP

Some elite private schools are dropping AP courses, reports the LA Times. Instead of AP’s survey courses, the schools offer in-depth classes in selected areas.

In a Jan. 11 column, Jay Mathews of the Washington Post gives a forum to Luther Spoehr, a former U.S. history AP teacher turned Brown lecturer, on the usefulness of AP classes. Spoehr writes that students benefit from a survey history class. He adds:

College professors who denigrate AP sometimes cite as proof the growing number of elite prep schools that no longer offer AP courses. But such schools are playing their own marketing and branding games. Back when AP was restricted to a self-chosen few, it was to the independent schools’ advantage to set themselves apart and offer AP. Now that more than half the high schools in the country offer AP, they’re doing it again, implying that “We’re too good for AP.”

That’s nonsense. They’re indulging teachers who don’t want to (or can’t) teach a survey course and flattering their “customers” that they’re getting a superior “product.” College faculty who end up teaching their graduates will be getting a very mixed bag of students: well prepared in a few areas, woefully unprepared in many others. The already-minuscule amount of core knowledge that college faculty can assume their students bring to the classroom will shrink still further.

Jon Reider, a former Stanford admissions director turned private school counselor, likes AP courses in some subjects but not in others.

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  1. KimJ721 says:

    I actually refused to apply to Amherst College because they didn’t accept any AP exams. I wasn’t going to spend all that money to take those exams, only to have them not count towards my degree or even let me take advanced courses in those subjects.

    My undergraduate school let individual departments decide how AP exams would count. The biology department required a 5 to pass out of first semester bio. The history department gave everyone credit for a 3 or above without even having to ever take a history course. Foreign language departments made you take a placement exam to show you really knew the language before they’d consider AP credit. It seemed to work well for us.

    My public high school was very enthusiastic about the AP curriculum; they touted it to parents considering pulling their kids out and sending them to prep schools. Of course, part of the enthusiasm may have been that many of our teachers wrote the AP exams, so “teaching to the test” meant teaching what they thought was important anyway.

  2. three thoughts: depth, placement

    in-depth is the approach taken by Int’l Bacc, so survey is not the only approach. Survey may (or may not) be parallel to an intro course of one’s freshman year.

    real value of AP (or any other) isn’t accepting credits; it is in moving to a challenging level in college. Of course in an imperfect world of limited offerings of requisite courses, it may also return a 5-year process back to a 4-year mark.

  3. 16 years ago, I was on the board of a private, college prep high school that has a distinct mission (as opposed to: take high-net-worth offspring & cram them, so to get them placed in the most selective colleges). The problem? The school offered 0 APs, and parents were complaining. The perception was that the school wasn’t “challenging” enough without APs.

    The faculty and the board team wrestled with this concept for months, and we finally caved. The faculty didn’t mind the math APs and the science APs weren’t that different from the existing curriculum, but accepting any of the humanities APs? It was a real defeat.

    The difficulty is the shallowness and the required briskness of the progress through the curriculum.

  4. I forgot to say three things:

    1. The academic rigor of my school: my freshman year at Stanford was about half the work I was accustomed to (but that was 34 years ago);

    2. The place of community colleges: our local CCs are developing “Middle College” programs, wherein qualified high school students spend all or part of the day at the CC, taking college-level courses. If my child needed more challenge, I’d prefer a “Middle College” to a canned, national curriculum in the humanities

    3. Math and sciences: it seems to me that the math and science curricula are amenable to the AP approach.

    4. “Back when AP was restricted to a self-chosen few, it was to the independent schools’ advantage to set themselves apart and offer AP.” — I really wonder if the private prep schools were early adopters of AP. It sure seems like an abandonment of the right to construct a curriculum. Hmmn. I’d like to see proof of that assertion before accepting it.

    5. Variability in mental and emotional maturity.
    a. The first time through algebra in 1968 was torture. I scraped by, but didn’t understand much. The second time through, in 1978 (getting ready to take the GMATs and GREs) I understood and enjoyed it. It took two tries to get through statistics in 1979, but once I understood that I neede to do 2x the assigned problem sets, I really started seeing the patterns. I wonder how many kids have the same deal, the actual math part is more enjoyable later…. I also wonder if I would have enjoyed more math courses in college (which I ducked).
    b. Once in business school I got a lot of help from the engineers in my cohort, because I was happy to trade editing chops for quant. analysis tutoring. NONE of the engineers in my cohort could write plain English. Even with patient tutoring and coaching, the process continued to be painful and awkward for many.