It’s time to teach civics

It’s now or never for civic education, argues Robert Pondiscio, who’s taught civics at a Democracy Prep high school in New York City.

In an informal study of the mission statements of the 100 largest U.S. school systems, he found 60 percent didn’t mention civics or citizenship. Not one used the word “America,” “American,” “patriotic” or “patriotism.” Twenty-eight districts used “global” in phrases such as “global society,” “global economy” or “global citizens.”

Image result for letter from a birmingham jail

College Board’s redesigned framework for Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics requires students to read “19 Supreme Court cases and nine foundational documents, from Federalist No. 10 to Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Letter From Birmingham Jail,” Pondiscio writes. That requires a high level of literacy.

Serious civic education also requires teachers who can teach well and fairly, he writes. “Fears of teacher bias are not misplaced and surely make district officials gun-shy about any political course content, but that squeamishness is a luxury we can no longer afford.”

Teachers are promoting anti-Trump hysteria, charges Larry Sand on Union Watch.  United Educators of San Francisco issued a “Lesson Plan on the 2016 Election” as a guide for teachers. It includes:

DO NOT: Tell them that we have LOST and that we have to accept this.  We do not have to accept ANYTHING except that we must and will fight for justice against an unjust system and against unjust people.

If Clinton was your choice, “you did lose and you do have to accept it,” Sand points out.

So, who’s going to teach civics and government?

Who cares about high school achievers?

Only four states — Georgia, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Texas — have accountability systems that encourage high schools to focus on high achievers, concludes Fordham’s High Stakes for High Schoolers

Alabama, Idaho, Louisiana and New York are moving in that direction.

Most states measure proficiency in English and math: Schools get no credit for helping students move from proficiency to excellence.

Twenty-two states give or plan to give accountability points for helping high school students earn college credits via AP, dual enrollment, and the International Baccalaureate (IB).

Enrolling students in challenging courses that they’re not prepared to pass does little good, argues Checker Finn. It may harm well-prepared students.

Twelfth-grade scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) have flatlined; so have SAT and ACT scores, notes Finn. “As for international metrics such as PISA and TIMSS, we’re being sorely outclassed by far too many other countries, both in the fraction of our young people who reach the upper ranks on those metrics and in the representation of lower-SES and minority youngsters (save for Asian Americans) among those who do make it.”

College prep does little to boost outcomes

Taking advanced classes in high school does little to prepare students for college success, write Gregory Ferenstein and Brad Hershbein on Brookings’ Chalkboard blog.

In 2009, a federal review found “low evidence” that increasing the rigor of college-prep courses and adding Advanced Placement options produce better college outcomes, they write.

Relationship between college grades (first course) and high school course-taking

Relationship between college grades (first course) and high school course-taking

Their research looked at college grades for students who’d taken the same course in high school compared to those trying that subject for the first time. In physics, psychology, economics and sociology, the differences were “trivially small.” 

However, students who’d taken calculus in high school did modestly better in college calculus.

It’s likely high school students “often learn the wrong things, do not sufficiently focus on the critical thinking commonly needed in college, or simply forget much of what they learned,” they speculate.

They suggest schools “experiment with innovative and experimental courses” such as “non-cognitive skill development and technical education.”

The AP European History debate

College Board’s new framework for Advanced Placement European History slights religious faith and freedom, says the National Association of Scholars (NAS) in The Disappearing Continent.

Larry Krieger, a retired history teacher who criticized the new AP U.S. History framework, and helped revise it, disagrees. The AP European History framework “is a fair and historically accurate document that is widely respected by AP teachers and historians,” he writes.

Does the new AP European History framework have too much Marx and too little Churchill?

Does the new AP European History framework have too much Karl Marx and too little Winston Churchill?

APEH shows a left-wing bias, writes David Randall, director of communications at NAS, in a response to Krieger.

James Tracy, an emeritus professor of history at University of Minnesota, questions the framework’s assumption that “history serves as a prolegomenon (introduction) for the understanding of contemporary problems that need to be addressed by society.”

History “does not amount to a prescription for present politics, no more than it amounts to a recapitulation of past politics,” writes Tracy. “It is rather a gateway to worlds which have in common only the fact that they differ from ours. In other words, these are worlds from which students can learn.”

AP rewrites European history

College Board’s new AP European History course lauds “the triumph of secular progressivism” and marginalizes Europe’s “centuries-long rise to political freedom and prosperity,” concludes the National Association of Scholars in The Disappearing Continent.

Good-bye to Columbus. Winston Churchill “is reduced to a single prompt.”

Instead, “APEH treats Europe’s history as a neo-Marxist, generic narrative powered by abstract social and economic forces, complains NAS.

APEH underplays British history and “extenuates the evils of Communism, the brutal destructiveness of Soviet rule, and the aggressiveness of Soviet foreign policy,” the report finds. The curriculum also minimizes the importance of religious faith.

NAS wasn’t a big fan of the revised AP U.S. History curriculum either.

AP doesn’t help if kids can’t pass exam

John Headley teaches Advanced Placement psychology at Woodstock High in Crystal Lake, Illinois. Photo: H. Rick Bamman/Shaw Media

Advanced Placement enrollment has more than doubled over the past decade as more high schools open up classes to less-prepared students and try to boost participation by lower-income and minority students, writes Jenny Brundin of Colorado Public Radio.

However, taking an AP class doesn’t help students who don’t pass the exam, concludes Philip Sadler, director of the science education at Harvard’s Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

Sadler conducted three studies of more than 20,000 students, he said at an Education Writers of America seminar in Boston. Students who earn a 1 or 2, equivalent to an F or D, on the AP science exam don’t earn higher grades in college or perform differently than similar students who never took an AP course.

AP teaches college content — for those who learn it — but doesn’t expose students to the “learning milieu” of college, he said.

In an AP course, he said, the class size is typically small, the teacher keeps tabs on students every day and monitors their progress. That doesn’t happen in college.

Jason Manoharan, a vice president at the College Board, said students who score a 1 or 2 on an AP exam are more likely than non-AP classmates to graduate from college on time.

He said 10th grade PSAT scores show hundreds of thousands of students have “AP potential,” which means a better than 60 percent chance of earning a “3” or higher on an AP exam. But they don’t take them.

“Those students are disproportionately minorities, disproportionately low-income,” Manoharan said. “These are kids who would likely pass an AP exam if they took one.”

Sixty percent of students who take an AP exam earn a 3 or higher , Manoharan said. That proportion has remained steady for a decade, even as AP participation has soared.

Expanding AP: Does it hurt smart kids?


The Obama administration is pushing schools to admit more minority students to advanced classes. Photo: Charles Dharapak/AP

Expanding access to Advanced Placement classes is good policy, even if some students aren’t quite ready for the challenge, argues Washington Post columnist Jay Mathews. But he gave space in his column to two high achievers who charge schools are ruining AP courses by pushing in unprepared students

Daniel Guth, now at Cal Tech, and Jacqueline Stomski, now at the University of Maryland, took many AP classes at Annapolis High.

“The students who signed up for the AP classes by choice were not challenged to the degree to which they should have been, because the instructors were consumed with catching up the less-prepared students,” Stomski told me. Guth said he thought the less-ready students “are worse off and everyone else suffers from a reduced learning environment.”

Annapolis High ranks in the top 2 percent on the Washington Post’s list of America’s Most Challenging High School, which Mathews invented. It ranks schools by participation in AP, International Baccalaureate and Cambridge tests, not by how well participants score.

Stomski and Guth say “their school shoved so many students into those courses and made them take the tests just to look good on the list,” writes Mathews.

 Guth said when he took the two AP calculus courses, AB and BC, simultaneously “most of the time was spent reviewing precalculus to get students up to speed. For the actual calculus topics, the grading had to be such that students who didn’t learn calculus . . . still passed.”

That meant, Guth said, that he didn’t get the challenge he desired: “I was placed in Caltech’s remedial math class because I didn’t understand basic calculus enough from this class.”

When districts open AP to everyone, the passing rate typically falls, but the number of students who succeed goes up, writes Mathews.

In 1997, when (Annapolis High) restricted access to AP, as most U.S. schools still do, it had a 79 percent passing rate on AP exams and a total of 150 passed exams. Last year, it had a 34 percent passing rate on AP, and a 77 percent passing rate on IB, but it also had 599 AP and IB exams with passing scores.

In 2006, the percentage of graduating seniors with at least one passing grade on an AP exam was 21 percent. Last year it was 54 percent.

“Even students who have struggled in those programs tell me years later that the experience made college easier,” concludes Mathews.

Is AP for average kids? More schools say ‘yes’

Charter and magnet schools dominate the list of most challenging high schools, according to Jay Mathews’ 2016 index.

BASIS Oro Valley, an Arizona charter school, ranks first on the Challenge Index with the highest percentage of students taking the Advanced Placement, International Baccalaureate and/or Cambridge tests. Other BASIS schools rank second and fourth.

BASIS also has three schools in the top 10 of the U.S. News list of best high schools, which is based on test scores and graduation rates.

Ninth-graders can take AP Chemistry at BASIS Oro Valley in Arizona.

Ninth-graders can take AP Chemistry at BASIS Oro Valley in Arizona.

Mathews designed the Challenge Index to identify “schools that have done the best job in persuading average students to take college-level courses and tests.” That’s why he doesn’t look at passing rates, which reward schools that restrict AP/IB/Cambridge to top students. He created a separate “public elites” index for schools that enroll “a high concentration of top students.”

Charters, which are 7 percent of high schools nationwide, make up one third of the top 100 schools on the list.

Skilled teachers can show show even “habitual slackers” that “struggling with a challenging course is less boring than sitting through a painfully slow remedial course,” Mathews believes.

At IDEA charter schools in Texas, where most students come from low-income Mexican-American families. 99 percent of graduates go on to college.

At IDEA charter schools in Texas, where most students come from low-income Mexican-American families. 99 percent of graduates go on to college.

I’m not sure I agree that all or most students belong in what are supposed to be college-level courses, especially if the “average kid” is now a remedial “slacker?” But some schools are getting students to take and pass high-level courses.

“In some of the poorest parts of Texas,” six schools in the IDEA Public Schools charter network made the top 50 on the Challenge Index, he writes. At 11th-ranked IDEA College Mission, for example, 91 percent of students qualify for a free or subsidized lunch.

Last year they had AP test participation rates twice as high as those of affluent public schools such as McLean and Whitman high schools, or private schools such as National Cathedral and Holton-Arms.

. . . Low-income students who take AP courses “are significantly more likely to graduate from college than students who never take an AP course,” said Michael Franco, the network’s vice president for secondary school programs.

The network has increased pass rates while expanding access, Franco told Mathews. “Last year, 81 percent of our seniors graduated with AP credit.”

More kids take AP courses, fail exam

Glenbard West U.S. history AP class

Teacher Meghan Rio leads a discussion in AP U.S. history at Glenbard West High in a Chicago suburb. Photo: Antonio Perez, Chicago Tribune

As schools push disadvantaged students to take Advanced Placement courses, pass rates are falling on AP exams. Does AP help if students fail the exam?, asks Natalie Gross on the Education Writers Association blog.

“Cicero’s J.S. Morton High School District has pushed its mostly low-income students to take tough Advanced Placement courses and exams — just like teens do at elite high schools,” reports Diane Rado in the Chicago Tribune. The number of students taking AP exams doubled in five years, but “passing rates plunged.”

Trevor Packer, head of the AP program at the nonprofit College Board based in New York, said even students who get scores below 3 can still benefit from AP by attending a rigorous class, becoming familiar with a college-level syllabus, experiencing intensive reading and other benefits.

. . . “We are fundamentally opposed to the gatekeeping that was happening 20 years ago and it continues,” said Packer, referencing roadblocks — such as test scores or grades — that keep kids from getting into honors and AP classes in high school.

However, in 2013, Packer told Politico reporter Stephanie Simon that research showed college grades and graduation rates were no higher for AP students, unless they earned a passing grade of 3 or better.

Earlier research that showed benefits for all AP students was flawed, he said, because it didn’t control for other predictors of college success, such as family income and high-school grades.

A new Illinois law requires state colleges and universities to grant college credit for students who earn a score of 3 or higher on AP exams, Rado notes. Last year, 62.8 percent of public school students did that well.

At an EWA seminar in Los Angeles, Robert Tai, a University of Virginia researcher, said that students who passed AP science exams with a 3, did poorly in first-semester science courses.

Tracking is linked to higher AP scores

Tracking in eighth grade — usually in math — correlates with higher scores on AP tests at the end of high school, concludes the 2016 Brown Center Report on American Education.

In eighth grade, the tracking question currently boils down to whether high achieving students who are ready for a formal algebra course will get one—or whether all students will take the same general math course.

States with larger percentages of tracked eighth graders produce larger percentages of high-scoring AP test takers, the study found. “The heightened AP performance held across racial subgroups—white, black, and Hispanic.”

There was no relationship between tracking and and the number of students taking AP tests — just to the number who earned a 3, 4 or 5.

Another section looks at how Common Core State Standards (CCSS) are changing instruction in math and reading.

Teachers are teaching more nonfiction in fourth and eighth grade, NAEP data show.

In addition, “data and geometry are receding in importance in fourth grade math, and course enrollments in eighth grade math are shifting away from advanced courses toward a single, general math course,” the report notes.

Eighth graders study algebra at San Francisco's Presidio Middle School in 2011. Photo: Lenny Gonzalez, MindShift

Eighth graders study algebra at San Francisco’s Presidio Middle School in 2011. Photo: Lenny Gonzalez, MindShift

That suggests fewer achievers will start on the path to passing AP Calculus.

San Francisco Unified middle schools no longer teach algebra, as part of the shift to Common Core standards, reported Ana Tintocalis for KQED last year.

For years, all eighth graders took algebra and many failed, said Lizzy Hull Barnes.  Now no one will take algebra till ninth grade.

This “is a social justice issue for SFUSD,” writes Tintocalis. “District officials say the controversial practice of tracking students — or separating them based on talent and ability — is simply wrong.”