Wednesday, April 14, 2010

It's Not About IB or AP- It's About Effective Curriculum, Instruction and Assessment Practices

Dr. Diane Ravitch, former Assistant Secretary of Education for the US Department of Education writes in her new award winning book "The Death and Life of the Great American School System" that:

“Our schools ...

... will not improve if elected officials intrude into pedagogical territory and make decisions that properly should be made by professional educators."

Less than 4 months after approving the IB inspired curriculum unanimously and passing the QSAC audit for curriculum- the Kids First majority (a group of elected officials) is making the decision to take the district into new pedagogical territory.

"For every complex problem, there is a solution that is simple, neat, and wrong"- The recent decision by the Hoboken Board of Education to remove the International Baccalaureate program (IB) from the district in favor of the Advancement Placement Program (AP) makes it appear as if an educational change is being made- but in reality what is happening is an avoidance of the true challenges that the Board of Education seems reluctant to articulate: how to effectively deliver curriculum, instruction, and assessment practices. In addition, there seems to be significant catering to special interest parents over the benefit of the vast majority of the district's children. In actuality,
there is not much difference between AP and IB but there is a difference in terms of who receives the more engaging and exciting curriculum (see report below- look online).

What is REALLY needed in the district is a comprehensive, systemic plan that increases teacher effectiveness and student achievement in courses through training, teacher and student support, vertical teaming, open enrollment, and resource dedication
like the one supplied to them before this school year began.

The new curriculum was created to
maximize implementation success of 21st century skills. While I think these skills are best leveraged via IB- there are certainly supporters of AP that feel equally confident in that program...and are not incorrect.

But-- arguing about IB vs AP is not very productive. Both IB and AP are rigorous, both seek to develop critical thinking and problem solving skills, and while both have supporters and detractors- each is recognized as thoughtful and sound. Effectively implemented---each would benefit the students of the district. The main difference is IB seeks to impact ALL students, AP seeks to impact a selected subset of the student population. Those who would like a clear, unbiased assessment of AP are advised to look at this April 2010 book entitled "AP- A Critical Examination of the Advanced Placement Program" published by the Harvard Education Press and authored by Dr. Philip Sadler, head of the Science Education Department at the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics.

As summed up by Philip Sadler, one of the co-editors of the volume and the F.W. Wright Senior Lecturer in Astronomy at Harvard, here is the outlook for students:

"Advanced Placement courses offer you an opportunity to study a subject in a very rigorous and demanding fashion. You will probably be in a class that has fewer students, those students will likely have stronger backgrounds, and there will be fewer student discipline issues than you have experienced in other courses. Your teacher will have a strong subject matter background and excellent teaching skills."

Similarly, Sadler sums up the situation from the perspective of college admissions officers, and tells them that they are correct to assume that success in the courses is a meaningful measure of academic achievements (although he is quick to add that there are equally valid measures, such as success in other rigorous high school courses (like IB) and dual enrollment programs (IB and AP) in which high school students simultaneously take college courses.

But where Sadler's summary will challenge the College Board and others is in his description of the emphasis on expanding the program to serve more and more high schools. While the College Board shows no sign of pulling back from that goal, Sadler writes that the research evidence suggests that the growth has reached a point of "diminishing returns."

More critical readers will also note that despite the immense popularity of the AP program, the research evidence on its value is minimal, Sadler argues. The College Board, the program's sponsor and same people who make the SAT, publishes or promotes its own research (favoring the program) and promotes "glowing accounts" of AP. But is this really the consensus? Take a look at this article published on March 30, 2010 by Scott Jaschik in USA Today.

The REAL questions that need to asked are:

1) What is the comprehensive, systemic approach that the Hoboken Board of Education plans on using for teacher development in AP? (a key factor in AP implementation success or failure)

2) How does the Hoboken Board of Education plan on increasing teacher effectiveness in implementing a new curriculum? (the AP curriculum is fundamentally different than the IB inspired curriculum that was developed and approved by the State of NJ and that was voted on by this very same Board of Education 4 months ago)

3) In light of the recent
well publicized mixed results of AP, why does the Hoboken Board of Education feel confident that this exclusive program will best deliver effective teaching, curriculum, and assessment practices to the Hoboken School District?

4) What is the expected cost that the district expects to dedicate to resource allocation for professional development in pedagogy AND content knowledge for the AP program?

5) Are you confident that AP will be easier to implement effectively than IB? Why?

6) Was the decision to abandon IB for AP presented to the public for debate? When? Who was present? Was this posted?

7) Was input requested for the decision to abandon IB for AP via public meetings? When? Who was present? Was this posted? When probed in an interview by the Hoboken Reporter why this decision was made, a Kids First Board member responded-- "the district decided"- as if the district is an entity without names.

8) Finally, Trevor Packer, who leads AP for the College Board, was quoted in a USA Today article 0n 3/30/10 as saying that he has tried himself and has urged others to talk about AP not as allowing many students to finish college early, but as a tool for giving them more "flexibility" in designing their curriculum." Why does the current Board of Education feel differently?

From the Hoboken Reporter: She (Kids First member Ruth McAllister) said that the district decided to make a switch from IB to Advanced Placement (AP) courses next year, and that the move was not related to the state cuts. The long-popular IB program was based on an international honors program that was taught to diplomats’ kids. But many other school districts focus on Advanced Placement courses instead.

McAllister said that the IB program will continue for the high school juniors who are already enrolled this year, but next year, juniors will be offered AP classes that can be used to accumulate college credits while still in high school. She said that they are making the switch because the school has no AP courses now, and there was a “cry” from parents for AP courses because they are more familiar to them, and because awarding AP credits can save college tuition costs down the road.

Again, this is the problem when well intentioned parents assert their wishes on the professional operations of a school district when such decisions are inconsistent with and not supported by research. It also indicates a much larger problem when Board of Education trustees are making curricula, pedagogical and assessment policy for a school district.

It's not about AP vs. IB---it's about effective implementation of curriculum, pedagogy and assessment practices. Requesting a detailed plan, justification and implementation strategy is not a political act. It is simply asking the Kids First majority to practice transparency and to communicate the extent to which careful thought, public input, and planning went into making this decision that is contrary to research.


The IB Diploma Programme (IBDP) was described as "a rigorous, off-the-shelf curriculum recognized by universities around the world” when it was featured in the December 18, 2006, edition of Time titled How to bring our schools out of the 20th Century. The IBDP was also featured in the summer 2002 edition of American Educator, where Robert Rothman described it as "a good example of an effective, instructionally sound, exam-based system." Howard Gardner, a professor of educational psychology at Harvard University, said that the IBDP curriculum is "less parochial than most American efforts" and helps students "think critically, synthesize knowledge, reflect on their own thought processes and get their feet wet in interdisciplinary thinking."

AP, or Advanced Placement, Courses are college-level courses that a student can take in high school. Typically, the school offers these courses to students who are in their honors program or who have completed all the high school courses available in the subject. These courses tend to be, therefore, courses in math and English, although they can be in virtually any subject. The courses are more rigorous than high school courses since they are, in fact, college courses and students can receive college credit for taking the courses, although not all colleges grant students college credit for the courses.