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Me vs. smartest critic of AP in low-income schools

This was going to be a piece about a great new book about Advanced Placement, "AP: A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program." I promise to summarize its conclusions before this column ends.

But I want to focus on the most interesting contributor to the volume, a Texas economist named Kristin Klopfenstein who is author or co-author of two chapters and one of the four editors of the book. She has become the most articulate and knowledgeable critic of using AP to raise achievement in low-income schools, a movement I have been supporting for a quarter of a century, I decided to call her up, discuss our differences and report what she had to say.

Klopfenstein is an associate professor of economics at Texas Christian University, currently on leave to work as a senior researcher at the Texas Schools Project at the University of Texas-Dallas. In the new book, she is the sole author of a chapter that argues that people who say AP saves taxpayer money and reduces time to college graduation are wrong. Since I am not one of those people, I didn't ask her about that chapter, but about a chapter of which she is the lead author, with Mississippi State University economist M. Kathleen Thomas as co-author, entitled "Advanced Placement Participation: Evaluating the Policies of States and Colleges."

Klopfenstein has spent many years looking at AP in public schools, aided by a terrific state data base in Texas that follows students from grade school into college. Other researchers in Texas and California have produced studies that suggest that taking AP courses and exams in high school leads to more success in college than avoiding or being barred from AP, as happens with most college-bound students. Klopfenstein told me those studies should not be given great weight because they show correlation, not causation.

In the chapter she wrote with Thomas, Klopfenstein is critical of both the Bush Administration and the Obama administration for funding "the expansion of AP in schools with high concentrations of low-income students." The hundreds of principals and teachers across the country who have told me that enrolling more impoverished students in AP, International Baccalaureate or other college-level courses can enhance student chances of succeeding in college are misguided, she says.

"Because the likelihood of success in AP is determined largely by prior academic experience and readiness for college-level work, it is unlikely that many of the students who are the target of such an AP expansion will benefit. The assumption that the correlation between the AP Program and college success is causal leads well-intentioned administrators and policy makers to mandate 'helicopter drops' of AP Programs into schools that have neither a rigorous academic pipeline nor the resources to support the program," she said in the book.

I jumped right on that. I said that in the many high schools I had visited where AP or IB had energized the teaching and led, teachers there thought, to impressive student achievement gains, the rigorous academic pipeline and resources Klopfenstein wisely thought were necessary developed only AFTER the AP courses had been established and opened to all. Practically and politically, administrators had no way of arranging those supports until they had a target everyone could shoot for---AP courses and, in particular, AP tests written and graded by outsiders that could not be dumbed down by the classroom teachers.

To my surprise, Klopfenstein agreed with that scenario, as least as a general proposition. She said that AP, IB and local college courses open to high schoolers could serve as a useful target to build a stronger academic culture in a school. She acknowledged that that had happened at Garfield High School, where I first saw 28 years ago how successful AP could be in raising expectations and achievements for impoverished children. The notion that you had to have the AP courses before you could build the supports for them was conceived by that classroom genius, Jaime Escalante, whose death Tuesday is being mourned by educators across the country.

Klopfenstein also said she accepted the College Board's research showing that in some subject areas, only half or fewer of students who are ready for AP, as indicated by their scores on the PSAT test, ever have a chance to take AP.

These areas on which Klopfenstein and I agreed were in line with much of the rest of the book, a collection of papers by scholars and experts on all facets of AP. Several chapters are by Philip M. Sadler of Harvard, Robert H. Tai of the University of Virginia and other researchers who worked on the influential Factors Influencing College Science Success study. Among their conclusions: AP science courses have on average more experienced teachers and better integrated lab work than regular science courses. High school students who take AP science courses are morely likely to earn science degrees in college. Students who pass an AP science test and then take the same introductory course in college do better than students who have not passed AP. Awarding bonus grade points to students who take honors or AP coursework in high schools is supported by the fact that they earn higher grades in college science courses.

I was mildly irked by historian Tim Lacy's chapter, which concludes that AP has become "a potentially tragic morality tale about corporate-style revenue grabbing and the subversion of AP's non-profit ethos." He is entitled to his opinion about AP's owner, the College Board, but he neglected to say the same could be written, and often has been written, about nearly every large and prestigious non-profit institution in the country, including Harvard University, whose press published the book.

Like Lacy, Klopfenstein suggests the College Board has been overselling itself, and AP. I told her I thought that contradicted her view that AP, as well as the non-College Board IB program and local college courses, could galvanize a failing high school and lead it to create the structures that raise student achievement, even for disadvantaged students.

She told me not to go overboard drawing conclusions from the many schools I had studied where AP or IB had seemed, to me and the schools' teachers, to have changed the culture. "It is suggestive, it is informative," she said, "but to suggest because this worked for a school I have seen that it would work for all schools is a very disturbing approach."

We agreed that a program had to be able to maintain high standards against great odds when raising the level of achievement in public schools where standards have traditionally been low. But there we got stuck. AP had not proved itself to her, she said. She was going to continue to look at its costs and benefits, and warn school districts that it might not be worth the money they are spending on it.

Okay, I said. We know that AP, IB and local college courses have helped successfully raise and maintain high standards in some high schools. Are there any other programs that have done that? Are there any single schools in impoverished neighborhoods that have done that on their own? I said I didn't know of any. Klopfenstein said she didn't either. But, ever the confident researcher, she said that was not what she was working on at the moment, leading me to think she might investigate that issue eventually.

She also told me something I didn't know, always a plus for me. She said Texas would soon require end-of-course tests for all high school core subjects. Those new exams, she said, could be a useful target for schools that want to invigorate their academic culture but think AP is too tough for their ill-prepared students.

Many of us who work or live in Virginia and have watched the development of its end-of-course tests since the 1990s likely will have doubts about her suggestion. The Virginia high school Standards of Learning course exams have none of the essay questions that make AP and IB tests so supportive of good writing instruction. In some cases you can pass a Virginia end-of-course test even though you get nearly half the questions wrong.

That is a topic for another day. It is invigorating to talk to Klopfenstein and have all of one's assumptions challenged. I suspect this will not be our last conversation.

Read Jay's blog every day at

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By Jay Mathews  | April 2, 2010; 5:30 AM ET
Categories:  Trends  | Tags:  AP critic vs. Jay Mathews, AP studies differ, Kristin Klopfenstein, accepts the fact that AP has occasionally help set a higher standard for schools., downgrades the impact of AP on low income students  
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Public schools in poverty areas have failure rates of over 50 percent in Reading in the 4th grade, yet Jay Mathews claims there is a need to focus on Advanced Placement in public schools in poverty areas.

This is like saying that at the hospital where you have a scratch on your face while your leg is gushing with blood like a river, the doctor should focus on putting a band-aid on your face.

The time for concern of AP courses for public schools in poverty areas will be when public schools in poverty areas can turn out over 90 percent of students that can read by the 5th grade.

The public should be thankful that Mr. Mathews is not a doctor at emergency admission at the hospital.

Posted by: bsallamack | April 2, 2010 12:40 PM | Report abuse

My concerns about AP classes go back to a time when I was denied access at my hick high school several decades ago. My concern now is the caliber of teachers in public schools allowed to teach the classes. I don't know if opening access to these classes in schools where the reading level is questionable, parental involvement is minimal and the dropout rate is high. There are more crucial repairs and corrections that need to be made before this specific area is addressed.

Posted by: kodonivan | April 2, 2010 1:12 PM | Report abuse

Awarding bonus grade points to students who take honors or AP coursework in high schools is supported by the fact that they earn higher grades in college science courses.
Mr. Mathews has to stop with pretended facts.

His article claims to be about AP in low-income schools yet he supplies general statements of "facts" without providing any evidence that these facts pertain to AP students in poverty public schools.

One could provide "facts" about affluent and middle class public schools. These facts will have little if any value in a discussion regarding public schools in poverty areas. Based on the logic of Mr. Mathews the "fact" that over 90 percent of students in affluent and middle class public schools can read by the 4th grade indicates there is no such thing as a failure rate of 50 percent and above in reading in the 4th grade in public schools in poverty areas.

Mr. Mathews also needs to stop pretending that it is a fact if he is simply aware if there is one student that benefited in college from AP courses.

Based upon the idea of "facts" of Mr. Mathews there is no problem of massive unemployment in this country because of the fact that Mr. Mathews has a job.

Mr. Mathews is an opinion writer but at a certain point he has to stop this pretense about "facts" that are simply figments of his imagination.

A good opinion writer would present logical arguments that buttress his ideas. One needs to always question the statements of an opinion writer that simply rests upon pretended facts.

Mr. Mathews will always be a poor opinion writers until he stops his reliance on pretended "facts".

Posted by: bsallamack | April 2, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

Opening up the AP Program to more students and especially economically disadvantaged students is a great thing. It is important that students have hope and a goal to shoot for.

Jay makes a great point that until these options exist there is no reason for schools to push students harder in the prerequisite classes. Without these options students do not feel the need to work hard in the classes they have leading up to AP.

That said, will AP be appropriate for every student? No!

Will every student be able to succeed in every AP class? Absolutely not.

The key will be for schools to keep the standards in the courses high. The College Board will need the keep the expectations for the exams high. This may translate into an increased failure rate for some period of time. If standards remain high, one of two things will happen, either schools will get better at preparing all students for the rigor of AP so that students have to option of taking an AP class or schools will develop new ways to determine whether students are ready for the challenge of AP.

If schools keep the standards high, courses should be open to all students, with the caveat that if a student is not ready they will struggle.

Mike - Total Registration, LLC - For 2010 we helped 200 schools register more than 58,000 students for over 113,000 AP exams online.

Posted by: mikeeco | April 2, 2010 2:09 PM | Report abuse

I agree with bsallamack in that we need to focus on achievement in younger grades before focusing on APs in high school. Too much of the AP course work is memorization (having taken four as of right now, I know), making it easy to get by without a solid understanding. If we work on basic skills in the lower grades, students would progress as intended, instead of trying (or not) to catch up and instead memorizing all the material. Too many students get bored or confused in elementary school and just give up.

Posted by: VeganRunner | April 2, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

Opening up the AP Program to more students and especially economically disadvantaged students is a great thing. It is important that students have hope and a goal to shoot for.
Posted by: mikeeco | April 2, 2010 2:09 PM
The usual from someone who has never had to deal with public schools in poverty areas.

What children, and the parents that care, in poverty areas, want are safe schools and not the mad houses that from day one accept the disruptive and violent being in classes with normal children.

There would be far more hope in public schools in poverty areas if children did not have to deal with the possibility of violence in public schools in poverty areas.

Little James who is well on his way to prison or to becoming a psychopath from day one in public school is simply tolerated in public schools in poverty areas. Little James in a public school in a middle class or affluent area would not be tolerated from day one but removed from the class of normal children.

The middle class and the affluent have to start taking their blinders off regarding public schools in poverty areas. These individuals seem to have enough sense to make sure their cars are locked when they drive through poverty areas, but have no idea what children that live in these areas need or want.

Posted by: bsallamack | April 2, 2010 2:48 PM | Report abuse

Disclaimer: I am not a fan of Jay Mathews. He is an education journalist who has very limited if any classroom experience particularly in urban, rural and/or low-income schools. However, occasionally, I will peak at his articles hoping to glean a couple of facts.

I have a problem with Jay's comment, "I said that in the many high schools I had visited where AP or IB had energized the teaching and led, teachers there thought, to impressive student achievement gains, the rigorous academic pipeline and resources Klopfenstein wisely thought were necessary developed only AFTER the AP courses had been established and opened to all."

I know teachers in public schools where AP's have been helicopter dropped. None of these teachers have expressed this sentiment. Teachers feel that administrators are forcing AP classes on unprepared students. The result: a diluted non-rigorous AP class. I know that I have not canvassed the majority of public high schools, but I think that Jay's observation is representative of a small subset of America's struggling schools.

Posted by: demondmoy | April 2, 2010 3:19 PM | Report abuse

Absolutely. Safety should be priority one, closely followed by appropriate order, discipline and self-control. Remove the violent, potentially violent and the chronically disruptive, then explicitly teach appropriate behaviors.

Then, explicitly teach phonics, grammar, spelling,composition, real math (facts and algorithms to mastery) and rich content across all disciplines. Include lots of quality non-ficton as well as good fiction and poetry. With good curriculum and explicit instruction, many more kids will be prepared to do well in AP classes/tests by their junior year. However, since half the kids in the country are below average (and the percentage in each school may vary wildly), AP is not a viable goal for everyone.

Posted by: momof4md | April 2, 2010 3:32 PM | Report abuse

I have to agree in part with the researcher (and not just because I am one too!). The problem with arguing about policy from anecdote is that you are usually arguing about outliers. But policy is designed for the broad middle. So yes, there are great stories like that of Jaime Escalante, but there are many calculus classes where students are pushed into material they are unready for and that turns them off of mathematics and school forever. My disagreement with Jay is that he comes across as willing to risk the large percentage of students who not only perform poorly in these classes, but internalize that poor performance as evidence that they cannot learn, for the students who are served by having the push. Policy is a broad brush, and something like pushing AP, for me, should be much more targeted. There are many ways to increase the expectations in schools besides attempting to accelerate all students into college level material while in high school.

And to momof4md, as a mathematics major and having taught in a top mathematics department, real math is not facts and algorithms to mastery, but reasoning and proof. That is not to say that facts and algorithms are not important, but they are important because having automaticity with facts and algorithms allows you to free cognitive resources to reason about things and use deductive arguments to prove them. The problem is when facts and algorithms become the goal, and it is so easy to measure when they have been reached, as opposed to reasoning and proof, everyone's mathematics education is deprived. If you don't believe me, look at the attrition rate in calculus at any top school, where the students come from districts where they have had lots of facts and algorithms from school or from tutoring, and note the greater than 50% failure rates there. My colleagues at Harvard and Yale complain all of the time, and have been throughout my career, through fads from back to basics to more recent reforms. It is not new, the fault of any particular elementary school curriculum, and it is endemic. Until you have teachers in the early grades who know how to do math, as I've described it, so can really answer a child's question about why something works and not just how to do it, we will continue to have that problem. But that is a rant for another day.

Posted by: kdking19 | April 2, 2010 7:41 PM | Report abuse

I make no argument that math facts and algorithms are everything; they aren't. As you admit, however, they are a necessary precursor to higher-level knowledge and skills. The fuzzy math curricula in far too many schools ignores the necessity of mastering one step before advancing. They tend to be built on "the spiral", where concepts are introduced, but never mastered, and the student goes on to something else which is not mastered, seriatum. Trying to teach algebra to someone who can't count without their finger and toes (or a calculator; horrors) or has no idea how to manipulate fractions is a recipe for failure.

Posted by: momof4md | April 2, 2010 7:53 PM | Report abuse


How many years have you been a public school teacher?

I taught math and science for 11.5 years in both middle and high school (public schools).

Students need to be pushed. Often low achieving students are not expected to do anything and therefore thats what they do.

Posted by: mikeeco | April 3, 2010 1:11 AM | Report abuse

At the worst performing urban high school in the community in which I used to live, many students enter H.S. with a 4th or 5th grade reading level. I can't imagine how implementation of an AP curriculum would be of benefit to these students. Talk about too little, too late.

What I do think is a shame is that there are such rigid guidelines for changing high schools. Other H.S. in my community offer AP, but promising students from failing schools are not allowed to attend the other high schools if they are not living within the boundaries it serves???

Posted by: mpmiles | April 3, 2010 5:19 AM | Report abuse

Is there any chance that other rigorous programs such as "Project Lead The Way" might get some illumination by the media any time soon?

I think programs like "PLTW" should at least be considered as alternatives to IB and AP, especially as a way to raise achievement with "average" students in low-income schools.

My general impression as an outsider view some AP programs as "20th century" learning models that don't seem to address the "21st century" skills that today's students need.

Posted by: MisterRog | April 3, 2010 7:35 AM | Report abuse

"My disagreement with Jay is that he comes across as willing to risk the large percentage of students who not only perform poorly in these classes, but internalize that poor performance as evidence that they cannot learn, for the students who are served by having the push."

from Kdking19

Jay, this is the heart of the matter. Please take Kdking19's argument to heart. I would love to learn how to speak Chinese, but I will do far better, in the long run, if I take Chinese 1 before I take Chinese 2.

Posted by: jane100000 | April 3, 2010 9:51 AM | Report abuse

for jane1000000 and kdking19--find such kids for me and I might change my mind. I have spent more time in such schools the last 28 years than any other American journalist, interviewed hundreds of students and hundreds of teachers, read much research, and seen zero evidence of participation in such courses leading kids to internalize negative feelings because they struggle in these courses. The opposite is true. Their feeling is, almost universally, that they are stretching themselves and learning more than they would in the dumbed down regular courses. Show me some evidence of yr theory, and I might buy it, but everyone I know who has spent time in these schools and knows these kids disagrees with you.
As for Project Lead the Way, I am just getting into it but it looks good---and challenges in just the way that AP and IB do. I will be writing about it before long.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | April 3, 2010 10:52 AM | Report abuse

Jay, so long as you keep throwing out anecdata instead of actual data, you're going to keep doing the large-scale damage you do with your Challenge Index, creating phony incentives that people can game--all because you've seen a few dozen, or even a few hundred, kids all excited about a subject.

"He is entitled to his opinion about AP's owner, the College Board, but he neglected to say the same could be written, and often has been written, about nearly every large and prestigious non-profit institution in the country, including Harvard University, whose press published the book."

I'm unaware of states pushing millions of dollars into the Harvard Publishing Company, all to give the books to kids that will never read them.

Yet that's what the states do--pay millions to the College Board for wholly unqualified kids to take a test they can't understand.

Spare the board the flailed equivalencies.

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | April 3, 2010 11:10 AM | Report abuse

More for Jane1000000 and kdking19---if you want to see kids with negative feelings about themselves, talk to those who were not allowed to take AP or IB in high school and learned how far behind they were when they got to college.

There are plenty of studies showing positive effects for kids from AP and IB, including the work of Prof Klopfenstein's co-editor, Prof Sadler. I asked her if she knew of research showing negative effects on kids. She didnt, although I suspect she may try to look at that in greater depth. All she had at this point was an anecdote. Some kids in her intro econ class at TCU told her their AP econ teachers were confusing and praised her clarity. That may be a sign of bad teaching by those AP teachers or clever sucking up to Professor K by those students, but it does not indicate a negative self image.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | April 3, 2010 11:50 AM | Report abuse

For bsallamack---that sentence from the piece you cite is just me summarizing what Sadler said in the book, based on very extensive surveys of former AP science students. If you think he is wrong, you should read the book and then send him an email cataloging the flaws in his research, and please copy me on that.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | April 3, 2010 11:51 AM | Report abuse

For Cal---talk to the state officials that are using more AP materials and tests. They aren't doing that at the point of the gun. They are professional educators who have seen the research, been in the schools and sincerely believe this will help many kids. Harvard feels the same way about its scientific research and its insistence on claiming some of the proceeds of success, even if it gets slammed as a money grubber.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | April 3, 2010 11:55 AM | Report abuse

We should have better lower-grade preparation for sure. Waiting for that to happen is like waiting for Godot. Let's do what we can to help as many students as we can. Some can catch up by having a high-standards class. Oh, they may fail the AP test, but they're being stretched to learn better learning skills.

Working for better elementary school learning does not preclude using AP courses as goals and learning opportunities.

I'm looking at a series of K-6 elementary school textbooks right now and am very impressed at how well they'll prepare students for middle and high school science. In these grades, the primary problem is that most teachers are science-phobic. They really don't understand how to teach science. The teacher editions of the books do a great job explaining how to teach science. Will a first-grade teacher read all of that extra material just to improve science instruction?

Posted by: harry4 | April 3, 2010 12:57 PM | Report abuse

I’m throwing out some additional support for Kdking19.

I see plenty of high school students that are pushed too fast in math and that turns them off of math forever. It is happening right now with a few kids struggling in my AP Calculus class because they don’t have the prerequisite (see algebra) skills. It doesn’t happen all that much in AP Calculus because it occurs more often in honors/regular precalculus. Students enter the class without the fundamental skills and can’t even get to the trigonometry because they can’t manipulate fractions. Most of these precalculus students are in 10th grade and are receiving the final math credit they need to graduate from high school. We now have kids that take their final math course as a high school sophomore. I really enjoy teaching AP Calculus and even though 75% of my juniors are doing great I wish most of my students were seniors as opposed to juniors.

I think there are some students who were pushed into AP courses that really benefited from that push. There are some courses that are better suited for that push. AP Calculus is not one of those classes. I have kids in my class that have seen nothing but A’s and B’ in previous math courses but don’t know what an exponential function is. Students memorize material and then forget it because they are never asked to use it again. There are plenty of reasons why this is happening, poor curriculum design, poor teaching, etc. However, the number one reason is over acceleration.

Posted by: NoMoreWeast | April 3, 2010 4:12 PM | Report abuse

Ah, but NoMoreWeast, don't you see students that are put into dumbed down math courses, and learn that if something isn't easy the first time you try it, then it is too hard for you to do?

I do think that Jay tends to underestimate the amount of gaming that goes on in regards to his challenge index (i.e. "helicopter dropping", but the idea that raising the lower end of the achievement scale is more important than raising the top is tired and old.

One of the worst things about NCLB (at leas it's implementation in MD) is that is sets standards that are too low. Right now, schools are judged on how many of their students have achieved a 10th grade educational level... we need something like AP, IB, or (and I teach this) PLTW to bring ALL students higher, not just the low achievers

Posted by: someguy100 | April 3, 2010 4:41 PM | Report abuse

"They aren't doing that at the point of the gun. "

No, they're doing it because it's a cheap way to brag about how they are improving the schools--wow, look! We've moved up three places on Jay Mathews' Challenge Index!

But that's not the point, Jay. I'm not saying they are doing it at the point of the gun. I am saying that the College Board has a strong profit motive to encourage you in your reckless promotion of AP, in wasting taxpayer dollars on kids taking tests for which they are profoundly unqualified--and that they are forced into taking because those state and local administrators want to jockey for position on your Challenge Index.

That's probably what Tim Lacey is saying, too, and for you to equate that with Harvard Press is profoundly misleading. You need to acknowledge the massive waste of state funding that you actively encourage, Jay.

In a previous thread, someone challenged you to drop all "1" scores from your Index. How about taking that challenge, Jay?

Posted by: Cal_Lanier | April 4, 2010 2:46 PM | Report abuse

A few pages from the introduction of the book Jay has been impressed with are posted at the publisher's web site.

If the rest of the writing is up to the quality there -- this has obviously had the attention of very skilled and knowledgeable editors -- then it is easy to see Jay was impressed, and challenged.

The statistical evidence for AP is tough to evaluate when screening, signaling, and nudging all compete as explanations. Do you know that even after considering family background and 9th grade GPA that 12 grade NAEP math excellence is significantly signaled/nudged/indicated by peformance in HS-level foreign language classes? The NAEP Data Explorer lets anyone confirm that one of these meaning is true.

I think that "signalling" is the correct understanding of this "effect". Jay despaired years ago of making sense of middle schools. They're a mess. So are the kids. Because his and every other student of MSs are right in seeing this, foreign language learning in HS discriminates among students willing to be good students, when ninth grade GPS fails to do that well, due to the mess of early adolescence for so many students and the impact on MS grades. Language study isn't increasing math performance; it's indicating who the assiduous students are, the ones who will likely do the extra problems to get the stronger grades and wind up scoring "advanced" on the NAEP math test.

Simlarly many of JM's critics believe much --but not all -- of AP "effects" is signalling, not learning. The Georgetown U swim team has for years posted that the mean GPA of its members exceeds that of every sports team on campus. That's probably true at most universities. Why? To have included 1 1/2 - 2 hours of (socially solitary) swim practices, 5 /52 for the last 10 years while maintaining academics signals time-management skills that lead to academic success. It isn't chlorine or long soaks that makes these kids "smarter."

Posted by: incredulous | April 5, 2010 2:28 AM | Report abuse

Here's another thought. There's probably a difference between AP Calculus, where students have to have taken and passed College Algebra/Trig in order to be eligible to enroll (with or without encouragement), and AP classes in English, History, and other subjects where there are no firm prerequisites.

Posted by: jane100000 | April 5, 2010 8:57 AM | Report abuse

for Cal---Its a non profit. They are not paying off shareholders. They are not getting $10 million bonuses. The CB execs are paid much more than you and me, but no more that the standard high salaries for many other non profits, including Harvard. As for the challenge, I responded to it, saying I had interviewed lots of kids with 1s and they got a great deal out of AP. I would not want to discourage schools from telling any motivated kids they couldnt take the course, which theoretically (i dont believe schools are motivated by the list--it just gives what i consider the most sensible teachers and administrators political cover to open up AP) they might do if 1s didnt count and they thought the kid was a 1. It is all about letting great teachers like you do your magic. The vast majority of the AP teachers whose results have impressed me have said they want AP to be wide open, so I am sticking to that until somebody can respond to MY recent challenge---find me a kid who was harmed by getting a 1.

Posted by: Jay Mathews | April 5, 2010 7:49 PM | Report abuse

I have my issues with the Challenge Index, and I teach a course that is threatened annually by the prominence of AP-frenzy (competition for sign-ups among honors-level students), but I think Jay's position is more sound than some posters give him credit for.

It has always impressed me as wise to develop curriculum by looking at where the kids need to be at the end and work backwards. If we start by implementing a reasonable end-course (AP) and work backward to develop the appropriate rigor to get kids there, it is likely to develop more accurately than if we attempt to push forward starting in 1st or 6th or 9th grade. I am in accord with Harry4's reasoning on this topic, as well. Yes, some kids will not be ready, and as this curriculum develops over time there will be bad grades (especially on the AP exam), but the grade is less important than the challenge. Let's not throw out challenges for fear of bad grades.

I agree with the poster who wrote that many kids enter high school with 4th and 5th grade reading levels, but some also enter reading at or above grade level, even at those same struggling schools. Some. We need to offer better things for the latter group of kids too, and give appropriate targets for highly motivated others who might be somewhat behind. Differentiation is essential.

Sure there's foolish gaming and manipulation among some districts and schools. Sure there's blitzkriegy teaching to the test that stresses kids beyond what they should have to deal with. That's all a real shame that we must acknowledge -- and the idea that Cal_Lanier cited about removing "1"s may be worth trying, at least in an additional data point in the Challenge Index -- but it doesn't mitigate the good being done by having positive examples of real rigor out there in more places than had them before.

Posted by: carlrosin | April 5, 2010 9:20 PM | Report abuse

I don't think any student who gets less than a 3 on an AP exam should be given any extra GPA weighting and should not be counted on the Challenge Index. If it has to exist, scores should be broken down and weighted by 5-4-3 percentages.

BTW, there don't seem to be any swim parents here. As the parent of a former elite swimmer in the DC area, I've logged the road miles to attest that elite swimmers are highly likely to be training 3-5 hours a day, 6 days a week, from age 13 or so - especially those likely to swim for Georgetown. (and those are likely to have taken lots of honors/AP classes) In HS and college, the 5 hours is most likely; 2 hours EARLY in the morning and three (including weights) in the afternoon. Time management is critical.

Posted by: momof4md | April 7, 2010 1:18 PM | Report abuse

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