Sunday, October 14, 2012

Some guy yells at the moon, thinks that’s where College Board is located

I’ve been a vocal critic of the College Board, home to the oh-so prestigious Advanced Placement program.  I think the conferences are over-priced and totally underwhelming.  I think they have a monopoly on the pricing of exams.  And I think they focus way, way too much on satisfying often arrogant college professors that probably hardly teach classes anyway.

But sheesh, it isn’t like it doesn’t have strong benefit to those that make use of it.

Enter John Tierney, a former high school teacher and college professor that has decided to call the College Board a scam.  The problem with his argument in The Atlantic is that it is less legitimate and more “hey you damn kids, get off my lawn.”  Since I’ve now taught seven years of AP Comparative Government, and 4 years of AP U.S. History, I figured that I’d throw in my five cents on the ever more controversial Advanced Placement testing. 

“AP courses are not, in fact, remotely equivalent to the college-level courses they are said to approximate…….The high-school AP course didn't begin to hold a candle to any of my college courses.”

Having been to a university to acquire my degree, and having talked to former students that have been to some of the most prestigious colleges in the world, I’d have to say that this comment is somewhere between “bullshit” and “unbelievable bullshit” range.  Advanced Placement courses are supposed to be equal to Introductory level survey courses at four year colleges.  AP U.S. History is far beyond almost any college history course that I have taken within lower division course work.  You write not only constantly, you learn to write well.  Most of my history classes had writing once every three weeks to a month.  My classes are writing every week, sometimes more.  The breadth of information needed for APUSH would be like taking all my former upper division specialized classes and throwing them into one 55 minute a day course for a semester.  It’s insane.  And if Tierney honestly believes that AP courses can’t touch his college courses, he’s doing his AP courses incorrectly.

Increasingly, students don't receive college credit for high scores on AP courses….”

Yes and no.  Some of the more elite colleges are dropping this requirement because they are basically losing money on students’ success.  Students can still get credit for levels at many of those universities and skip the introductory work that many students find as repetitive.  Oh, and by-the-way, you don’t have to go to Yale to get a first class education.  Enough of that.

“Studies show that increasing numbers of the students who take them (AP courses) are marginal at best, resulting in growing failure rates on the exams.”

This is actually statistically incorrect on many exams, although I do agree that many students who take Advanced Placement courses are marginal.  But if you aren’t under pressure from your administration in regards to test scores, then open enrollment should be a very desired priority.  Students that want to succeed should be exposed to rigor.  They should be exposed to curriculum that demands focus, that demands concentration, and that demands a commitment to do more than take up a seat and be average.   Some will leave.  This year’s roster was full at the end of last year.  It….isn’t….as of this moment.  That was simply a choice by kids that didn’t want to put forth the commitment.  That’s less the College Board and more variables that they can’t really control. 

“Despite the rapidly growing enrollments in AP courses, large percentages of minority students are essentially left out of the AP game.”

The head dude of Advanced Placement at the College Board, Trevor Packer, has addressed this concern many times online at the Annual Conference.  In my opinion this isn’t an issue of the College Board as much as an issue of society itself.  Blacks and Latinos (although not all minorities) are suffering from a general problem in terms of education.   In my classroom Latinos have become a much bigger presence in Advanced Placement curriculum, although they still struggle mightily on the test.  Saying that, even those that take the class and don’t pass the exam improve their overall chance of getting their degree dramatically.  That’s more than worth it. 

“The AP program imposes "substantial opportunity costs" on non-AP students in the form of what a school gives up in order to offer AP courses, which often enjoy smaller class sizes and some of the better teachers.”

I think this is a horribly warped perception of opportunity cost in relation to Advanced Placement classes.  If you have an Advanced Placement class then the opportunity cost is Auto Shop?  Yeah, try again.  AP is not killing electives and to even think that’s close to the truth is idiotic.  The only real relevant opportunity cost comes from college prep classes having some of the stronger kids going to AP classes, which sometimes brings down the intellectual stimulation of college prep classes.  That doesn’t happen too much at our school since a whole lot of Seniors want an easier schedule and don’t want the challenge their final year. 

“To me, the most serious count against Advanced Placement courses is that the AP curriculum leads to rigid stultification -- a kind of mindless genuflection to a prescribed plan of study that squelches creativity and free inquiry.”

So, I fell under this category until I chose not to focus on the test and focus on creating dynamic thinkers and better learners.  Those that pass the exam are going to prepare for the exam by studying outside of class, and that means that you reach the middle-of-the-road students by making the class really damn good.  The rigidity comes from the teacher who is really concerned about test scores, and while they are in the back of my mind, in the end I want better students, not better test scores.

Some of the comments made at the bottom of the article were interesting as well. 

“As a long-time AP English reader, I have regularly asked the CB what it is doing with the immense profits this "non-profit" concern makes from AP--in the hundreds of millions, I estimate. I never get an answer. Maybe this article will elicit one. It certainly does not go to AP readers, who (in my field) spend long days scoring the exams under sweat-shop conditions, with little compensation.”

So you are paid $2,000 to read essays over the course of eight hours over eight days, and all expenses are paid; the lodging, the food, the transportation.  And that is sweat-shop conditions and little compensation.  Listen, I’m the first to complain about the food at the Reading but the gross hyperbole to compare exam reading to a sweat-shop is pretty much ultra-trolling.  If the experience was anything close to nasty I wouldn’t go. 

There are plenty of issues to discuss about the College Board with the monopolistic tendency of charging a whole lot of money for a test, or five in some students’ cases, being at the top of the list.  But when you start screaming that the scam is in, then you do little but really leave out options for higher end students, and those options are more and more limited as the funding continues to be funded towards lower achieving students.  Let’s get a conversation going, not howl at the moon.

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