Thursday, May 7, 2009

Thoughts on the Advanced Placement Program

The following Letter to the Editor is well worth reading for those who want to understand Advanced Placement courses more completely. Often hailed as the benchmark for "rigor", Advanced Placement courses are often simply more of the same- given at an accelerated pace. In addition to this letter I have included a reference to a 2002 study on Advanced Placement courses that was conducted by the National Academies of Science that have similar findings. I realize Advanced Placement courses offers a certain amount of comfort and dependability but the topic deserves some critical thoughts and perspectives. After reading this post, one may come to a better understanding as to why the IB program and the utilization of Understanding by Design are being incorporated as cornerstones to the new curriculum. -Dr. Petrosino

Re “Many Teachers in Advanced Placement Voice Concern at Its Rapid Growth” (news article, April 29):

Much of what’s wrong with what passes for the school “reform” movement is captured in the report on Advanced Placement courses released by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The worry, it seems, is that “a generally good program” may be “weakened by making it too accessible.”

Much could be said about the troubling notion that quality is necessarily diluted by “democratization” — or, to put it the other way around, that the best kind of teaching must be restricted to an elite. But the real problem here is the uncritical assumption that A.P. courses are good merely because they’re “rigorous” — that is, very difficult.

In fact, these courses often represent an accelerated version of the worst sort of teaching: lecture-based, textbook-oriented, focused more on covering (a prefabricated curriculum) than on discovering, and above all, driven not by a desire to help students think deeply and become excited by ideas but by the imperative of preparing them for a test.

Could this tendency to confuse harder with better, and high test scores with real learning, be at the root of what’s wrong with an approach to improving education based mostly on “raising the bar”?

Alfie Kohn
Belmont, Mass., April 30, 2009
The writer is the author of books and articles about education.

Other useful links on this topic:

1) The 2002 report by The National Academies entitled Learning and Understanding: Improving Advanced Study of Mathematics and Science in U.S. High Schools

2) Notes on the above book by Bastiaan J. Braams of NYU's Courant Institute. 

Picture: On July 292005, this shrine gained publicity throughout the New York metro area when a miniature statue of Jesus apparently opened one of its eyes on its own. Before July 29, its eyes were shut. The statue is a part of a shrine at the corner of Jackson Street and Third Street that is taken care of by Julio Dones, a partially blind man who says he noticed one of its eyes was open while he was cleaning it. He claims that it is a miracle, while others believe it was a hoax. Some believe that there were already eyes in the statue, and that eyelids were glued on and one of them fell off. Regardless of how it happened, the incident gained publicity quickly. On July 29, 2005 two local news stations, ABC and UPN, came to the shrine to report it live and interview people. It has since been called "The Miracle Statue". The statue was found in a Jersey City garbage bin in 2004.