America’s Top Public High Schools — as defined by how many students take Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate or Cambridge classes — is up at Newsweek.  Magnets and charters tend to rate high on the “challenge-index.” Some high-poverty, high-minority charters  — Preuss in San Diego, MATCH in Boston, KIPP Houston — make the top 100.

Jay Mathews, father of the challenge index, has a Catching Up list of schools with high rates of AP participation but very low pass rates on the exam. He argues students benefit from the challenge, even if they don’t do well enough to earn college credit.

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  1. AP classes should be limited to those kids who have the appropriate background knowledge and skills; they are COLLEGE classes designed for kids who have succeeded in the prerequisite high school honors courses. Honors classes are for those who wish more of a challenge than the regular high school/college-prep classes. I recognize that smaller schools may not be able to offer 3 levels, but they could offer extra reading/assignments/different grading standards in the regular class to those kids who wish an honors designation.

    The ES and MS should be doing a far better job of preparing as many kids as possible for AP classes in their junior and senior years, but putting unprepared kids into those classes only hurts those who belong there.

  2. jaymathews says:

    Momof4 correctly states the way many believe, and all hope, high schools work. But her faith in honors courses is misplaced. They are often very ordinary, with the label affixed to make parents and students feel like they are getting a challenge, when they are not. There is no substitute for an AP or IB class where all students are told they will be taking a college level exam the school cannot dumb down. And we have seen conclusively the last 20 years that the notion that they are just for “kids who have succeeded in prerequisite honors courses” has produced a situation in which most high schools will not let most of their students heading for college take the only courses they offer, AP and IB, that research shows actually prepare students for college. The latest Texas data showing that low income students who get 2s in AP do better in college than similar students who don’t take AP is the most powerful recent evidence of this. About half of students whose PSAT scores show they would do well in AP never take AP in high school.

  3. Oh, ho ho, it is certainly most possible to dumb down an AP course. Ask the scorers opening up folders full of blank essays.