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AP Opinion

Contraining Innovation: AP Courses

Posted by sjtaffee on May 15, 2009

AP courses are bad curricula on steroids. The “rigor” that AP courses were originally designed to provide instead serves to constrain our most gifted teachers, forcing them to march in a lock-step, textbook centric fashion. The AP curriculum stifles innovation, crushes spontaneity, and promotes a singular metric, a score on the AP Examination, as the sole measure of success. AP courses are remnants of a 20th century model of curriculum and teaching that is no longer relevant to the 21st century learner.

Okay. Perhaps the APs are not evil in the same sense of he-who-must-be-named or PowerPoint, but it is an example of another boat anchor that is holding back real progress and 21st century learning and teaching. And I am not alone in thinking this.

The Independent Curriculum Group is a group of fourteen, nationally known independent schools who have dropped AP courses and exams and, as of this writing, had not been blasted to smithereens by a wrathful god. Their students still get into the best colleges, teachers still teach (albeit better), and students are more engaged in meaningful learning. To quote from their web site: “Learning unfolds differently at ICG schools. Instead of offering AP European History or AP Chemistry, ICG schools offer advanced courses that cover fewer topics in greater depth…”

It’s well known that colleges and universities are scrutinizing AP credits more closely than ever. Thousands of high schools offer AP courses, triggering fears among colleges that the academic rigor that they had grown to expect in AP courses may not be up to their standards. And then there’s the very real question of revenue. If a student takes enough AP courses to basically lop a semester or two off of her college career, that means less revenue for the college. Ouch!

At one time we had a system that was initially set up with a model of 1950’s academic rigor to provide a means for those few students who needed the challenge of more advanced work, and select colleges willing to cooperate. Now we have a system with millions of students involved, thousands of classrooms, a testing company and thousands of test preparation tutors and publishers of test-prep materials that make kazillions of dollars (actual number, I’ve read their financials), and colleges who still encourage students to take AP courses while muttering “not that we’ll give you credit for them.”)

What a racket!

An axiom for sales agents is when in doubt, use the FUD factor. Fear. Uncertainty. Doubt. It’s the FUD factor that allows the College Board and its ilk to have such a stranglehold on secondary school curricula.

We’re better than that. Aren’t we?

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June 10, 2009 - Posted by | AP

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