Answering Your Questions: 20 Ways AP is Bad--Not!
The vigorous, but respectful, clash of comments in response to my Class Struggle column today, "20 Ways AP is Bad--Not!", pleases me because it mirrors the relationship Bruce Hammond of the Independent Curriculum Group and I have had as we have debated this issue the last several years. I would like to add a few thoughts and answer some questions posed by readers.
First, I am not paid by the College Board. They have always treated me professionally, answering my questions in full and providing me research relevant to what I have been writing. But they have only liked half of what I have been saying. My support for AP has been a plus for them. My disdain for the SAT, a much more important product in the College Board catalog, has made them unhappy. Our relationship began with my reporting on Jaime Escalante and his AP calculus classes in East Los Angeles, which in many respects made the College Board look bad. You could also surmise that my writing about the AP's rival program, the International Baccalaureate, including a book that made clear I think the IB is even better than the AP, might not have been received warmly.
As an education columnist, I remain skeptical, even doubtful, about most of the proposed solutions to the problems in our schools. But in a few cases where I have had years to sift all the data, do hundreds of interviews and visit scores of schools, I have concluded that certain approaches do work. AP and IB are on that short list. Having reached that conclusion, I think I have a responsibility to go after distorted and inaccurate portrayals of those effective programs, like Hammond's AP is bad list, while at the same time giving those critics a great deal of space to make their case.
No other journalist writes as much as I do about the strengths of AP, but at the same time no other journalist writes as much as I do about the weaknesses and criticisms of AP. My editor was not happy that I devoted 4,000 words, even in the infinite reaches of the Internet, to Hammond's latest AP critique, but I felt it was my responsibility to do so. I think if you count up the words in that column you will find that Hammond had about as many as I did. That allowed readers like commentator12 to get a good look and conclude that I was wrong.
I hope poster Chris Lorrain noticed that at the beginning of the column I strongly endorsed the view that both AP and ICG have good points. As I said, "good teachers should be able to challenge their students in any way that works best for them, AP or not." I also share the concern of Buckystown that travisormsby's post is a recipe for bad teaching. I am sure travisormsby did not intent it to be so, but from my point of view it underscores a lesson of this debate. ANY approach---AP, IGC, IB, DI, SFA, you name it---can be abused and diluted and rendered ineffective by bad teaching. Any of them can be elevated by good teaching. We should let good teachers do their stuff, and not pick at them as Hammond did in his piece.
You notice I never said anything bad about the inventive courses produced by ICG teachers. My one complaint was that Hammond showed so little respect in return for AP teachers, who have been patiently explaining to me what works, and what doesn't, in their classes for the last 27 years.
I also acknowledge that AP may be overused at schools like Thomas Jefferson, as wwc4g says. But such schools are very very rare. Only six percent of US high schools make Newsweek's annual Challenge Index of high schools. To make that list, all a high school has to do is have half of its juniors and half of its seniors take one AP course and exam each. That strikes me as a very modest standard. The sad truth is that the vast majority of US high school students are doing very little academic work, and regretting when they get to college that their high schools did not make them do more.
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