Last month, I read this opinion piece in the WaPo, in which eight DC area private school heads state that “we will better equip our students for further study and for life beyond the classroom by eliminating AP courses from our curriculums entirely by 2022.” I agree with them – that in this day and age, an Advanced Placement class, with its emphasis on breadth of knowledge and not depth, is out of line with a 21st century education. But I was also discomforted by what I read. These highly prestigious and sought after DC independent schools can do whatever they want when it comes to curriculum, and while it might impact the kind of courses offered, the curricular approach of any of these schools, it will not impact their admissions numbers or bottom line. People will still form a line around the block to apply to and, each applicant hopes, get into them. In short, this is an easy decision for them to make.
But it’s not an easy decision for less prestigious private schools or, for that matter, public schools, particularly those that serve historically underserved young people. A rigorous curriculum should be the hallmark of any school – should be a requirement for any school – and since the early 1950s, when AP was first introduced, a school’s slate of AP classes have epitomized that. More often than not, they were the hardest classes in any school, taught by the best teachers, with students in them who were preparing for college and college-level work. And as this one-pager from the Alliance for Excellent Education states, “National and international research finds that a challenging academic curriculum is one of the most powerful levers to boost student learning and narrow achievement gaps between advantaged and disadvantaged students.”
So, yes, there are complaints about Advanced Placement, as many have written before me: That the courses are not like college courses; that students no longer get college credit for taking them and making a score of a 4 or 5; that more and more students, prepared or not, are being pushed into them, resulting in poor scores on the AP test and a poor course experience for all; and that minority student do not enroll in these classes like their white peers. But while I applaud these private school leaders for taking a stand and for moving their schools beyond Advanced Placement, this kind of action needs to be more carefully considered for other school settings. At schools such as Sidwell and Maret and Holton-Arms, there is significant rigor in classes that are not AP; that may not be true in a more typical school setting, with AP still setting that bar.
Therefore, getting rid of your AP courses? OK, cool. How then will rigor be an everyday part of other classes at your school or in your school district? (In fact, how is it now, even with your AP classes?) How will you ensure that all students will be able to access these classes – and that there is the preparatory classes in elementary and middle school, to prepare all students for rigorous high school classes? And how will you communicate to post-secondary institutions what you’re doing, so that they know about this change and what classes will now set the highest bar for students?
I got the above image here.