The Atlantic offers a provocative essay maintaining that AP classes are a scam and over hyped.
The piece is by John T. Tierney, a former college professor who also taught AP classes at a high school. (According to his bio, he received his Ph.D from Harvard and B.A. from Johns Hopkins. He retired from Boston College in 2000 and later taught American government and American history at an independent high school.)
There is research that students who take AP classes and AP exams perform better in college. However, increasingly, college professor complain to me that AP classes are not the equivalent of college courses, which this author also contends. (I hear that complaint most often from Georgia Tech math professors.)
However, I also hear from high school students in dual enrollment programs that the AP classes at their high schools are much tougher than the intro classes at their local colleges.
There is no doubt that AP is being promoted to high school students as a necessary element of their college admissions portfolios. A friend said her high school told the freshmen this year at orientation that they will need nine AP classes to be competitive for college admissions. My older kids were advised to take five to seven.
Last year, I published an essay by a Woodstock High School valedictorian on dual enrollment classes at a local college vs. AP classes at her high school. She wrote:
For the average ’smart kid’, entry level college course are not challenging. When compared to AP classes, they are even more laughable. My calculus exams at Kennesaw were composed of homework problems verbatim, so if I did my homework the weeks leading up to an exam, all I had to do was re-work them to get an easy A on my exam. My business law class allowed us to bring legal sized cheat sheets to every exam. I skipped an entire week of lectures right before an exam to go skiing and still managed to come back and get an A on the exam. My political science exams offered at least 25 bonus points on every test and the questions came straight from the book.
Is this what AP classes are like? Certainly not.
I took some AP classes at WHS before deciding to joint enroll. They are incredibly difficult and it would be highly unlikely that anyone would get a 100 in them. The whole point of the classes is to challenge the best and the brightest. If the brightest were able to coast right through them, they wouldn’t be call advanced placement classes. Ask any AP teacher or student and I can assure you that they are insulted that joint enrollment classes are given the same weight as an AP class. I’ve seen both sides of the fence and I can say without any hesitation that it is unfair to AP students.
Here is an excerpt of Tierney’s Atlantic piece. Please read the full essay before posting:
AP courses are not, in fact, remotely equivalent to the college-level courses they are said to approximate. Before teaching in a high school, I taught for almost 25 years at the college level, and almost every one of those years my responsibilities included some equivalent of an introductory American government course. The high-school AP course didn’t begin to hold a candle to any of my college courses. My colleagues said the same was true in their subjects.
The traditional monetary argument for AP courses — that they can enable an ambitious and hardworking student to avoid a semester or even a year of college tuition through the early accumulation of credits — often no longer holds. Increasingly, students don’t receive college credit for high scores on AP courses; they simply are allowed to opt out of the introductory sequence in a major. And more and more students say that’s a bad idea, and that they’re better off taking their department’s courses.
The scourge of AP courses has spread into more and more high schools across the country, and the number of students taking these courses is growing by leaps and bounds. Studies show that increasing numbers of the students who take them are marginal at best, resulting in growing failure rates on the exams. The school where I taught essentially had an open-admissions policy for almost all its AP courses. I would say that two thirds of the students taking my class each year did not belong there. And they dragged down the course for the students who did.
Despite the rapidly growing enrollments in AP courses, large percentages of minority students are essentially left out of the AP game. And so, in this as in so many other ways, they are at a competitive disadvantage when it comes to college admissions.
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. Schools have to increase the sizes of their non-AP classes, shift strong teachers away from non-AP classes, and do away with non-AP course offerings, such as “honors” courses. These opportunity costs are real in every school, but they’re of special concern in low-income school districts.
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. The courses cover too much material and do so too quickly and superficially. In short, AP courses are a forced march through a preordained subject, leaving no time for a high-school teacher to take her or his students down some path of mutual interest. The AP classroom is where intellectual curiosity goes to die.
–From Maureen Downey, for the AJC Get Schooled blog