Because all experiences are valuable.

Friday, February 25, 2011

The failure of the AP course system, IMHO

Whew! What a crazy week it has been. Like none of us have ever thought that before...
actually, how common are the non-crazy weeks these days?

Wednesday at school, we had Assessment Day. I am really unclear on what was being assessed. We went to a convocation and heard a speaker talking about the school's new initiative to focus in on Critical Thinking skills in all classes. To me...who graduated college the first time 20 years ago, it seems like a no-brainer. Isn't that what college is all about?

I remember a professor of mine at Agnes Scott used to say he wasn't teaching us
facts and ideas, he was teaching us how to think. He said you never needed to memorize much if you just learned to reason, because in the modern world, the data was always available to you..but learning to interpret it was everything.

My current Anatomy professor says the same thing all the time. At Brenau, I'm not really sure what the statistics would be, but I think we are a pretty darn bright group. But I do sometimes see a lack of logical progression in people's thinking.

The speaker treated it as a failure of the colleges- colleges as a whole- that accreditation boards are trying to address. He said members of "Generation Next" are coming out into the workforce and viewed as unprepared to figure out things for themselves. Not undereducated at all, just needing to be lead to an unacceptable degree. I'm not sure, as I am not employing anyone, and I am Generation X. But either way...are you ready for my usual rant???

I don't blame the colleges...I blame the high schools. From what I have experienced being heavily involved with my sons schools throughout their school careers, at many different school in different states- the middle school and elementary levels are still doing a great job. I know, you've heard me go off on this before. I just can't keep my mouth shut. Our high schools are failing our kids.

From the second the idea of AP courses came into the high schools, I think they were sunk. I have so many legitimate reasons why I think this, and not the time to really detail them. Let me just say that 1. I believe my opinion is valid and based in factual evidence of the decline of college preparedness across all high schools.
2. I have spoken with about 15 college recruiters, and they all have echoed a similar stance that success in AP courses does not predict success in college. (sure, you get that credit, but it isn't the same thing) 3. While colleges like to see a rigorous curriculum pursued in high school by candidates, they all admit that it is more the willingness to take on challenges than any specific course or grade, and indeed, some say they would actually Prefer! students not take too many AP courses.

AP courses are, in essence, college material. Many high school students are academically ready for that material. What they are not (there are exceptions, naturally) is emotionally and conceptually ready for college material. AP in high school is artificially pumped up with difficulty; cramming knowledge down their tender young throats and pointing virtuously to the rigor of the curriculum.

I think it is a mistake and a disaster. Students have little choice for an academic curriculum of any difficulty in high school BESIDES AP classes. You've created binomial education. You are either in or you are out. A student may be extremely bright, even gifted, and not ready for college yet. That is why they are still in high school!! If the majority of college bound students are taking AP courses, which is college credit, and it is felt that they are ready for this, then what the hell is the purpose of high school at all??

They are given no other options but to be placed with " currently academically inferior" (no offense intended) students should they choose not to take AP classes. They are told repeatedly that they can't get into college if they don't take these classes- they are mislead about how many AP classes colleges want to see...I honestly can't follow the trail of benefit in this scenario. Someone must be benefiting, and I am wholly unconvinced that it is the students.

I feel it creates a college freshman class of already burned-out kids, who have learned on pain of failure that the way to survive these pseudo college classes is to memorize, cram, cheat, pull all-nighters, and swim in a sea of semester-long
despair just waiting for the lifeboat of term's end. Inevitably, a purge must come...of all the information they just crammed in, in order to make room for the impending whirlpool of "information" they know is coming next. And the poor things...all the really bright, adorable teenagers...just swim unto exhaustion and beach themselves too often on an island of "I really don't have time to really learn anything." If they are lucky, they can turn it around in actual college...

I know it was an extended metaphor, and let's acknowledge that some high school teachers are simply superior, and saints to boot. I am speaking here of an overarching concept.

High school has stopped being a place to finish maturing before being thrown in with the sharks. After ninth grade it seems largely a pointless exercise, and a really entertaining social experiment. You've heard me say it before...Bill Gates said the American High School system is irretrievably broken.

My position in a nutshell? (insert your favorite nut joke here)
College curriculum is for College.


  1. I agree, Tara!! I think high schools are the biggest problem we have for our youth. Aside from cutbacks and layoffs the state governments are trying to do away with pre-school and the 12th grades all to save a few pennies. It is unfortunate that the public school system can't bring in enough money to support themselves. I, personally, think it is a HUGE mistake to do such things. A child's education is everything in this world and without it we are under-preparing them for the real world. Most seniors aren't even going to classes because of the work release programs in our high schools, and although that gives them the opportunity to go work some medium wage job, it really isn't giving them the knowledge or skills they will need in a "real" workplace. I think that high schools should be focusing MORE on teaching our students the fundamentals they will need for college rather than focus on anything else. College is essential in their development and without the proper preparation, we are setting them up for failure. The classes they should be taken need to be reviewed by someone other than the board of education, because they are one of the biggest problems we have. They are the ones who lay off teachers in order to take a 60% pay raise. There lies another HUGE problem with the whole system! The whole situation is a mess and something needs to be done about it. I, unfortunately, do not have the answers, but I am hoping someone out there does.

  2. Thank you Kristin, I know we share a lot of both opinions and experiences...as well as Anatomy professor! I hadn't heard that they were thinking of doing away with the 12th grade, but as it stands I think it makes no difference and might be a decent idea. Put that money into the earlier grades, and pre-school, etc, as you mention.