Former college prof and AP teacher: Advanced Placement is “one of the great frauds” in high school today

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

128 comments Add your comment

Dunwoody Mom

October 16th, 2012
9:20 am

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.

Oh,my goodness….Bitter, much? This, of course, depends on the teacher and their approach teaching the AP curriculum. My child took AP classes and dual enrollment at GPC. The AP classes were much more rigorous than her “real” college course. She was able to gain college credit at UGA based on scores received on the Placement Tests that UGA administred. To me, this is a tribute to her teachers, “regular” and AP.


October 16th, 2012
9:31 am

Minority students aren’t “left out.”. They either don’t qualify or don’t want to take the courses. This piece implies that they are excluded for no good reason. So now it’s time to trash AP courses. For most prepared students, their first year of college should be academically manageable. The more stringent the HS curriculum, the better chance of success in college.


October 16th, 2012
9:50 am

If AP courses are a “scourge … where intellectual curiosity goes to die,” aren’t those who are “left out” of them at an advantage rather than a disadvantage?

BTW, anyone who thinks a non-AP HS teacher has time “to take her or his students down some path of mutual interest” has not taught HS since, oh, at least prior to NCLB.

pride and joy

October 16th, 2012
9:56 am

Dunwoody Mom and RCB are both right. Even if AP classes aren’t extremely challenging, they are more challenging than the dumbed down classes. Good Lord, we do have some smart kids in these United States and some of them just happen to be Caucasian. Why has it become a crime on this blog to be white and smart?


October 16th, 2012
9:58 am

Parents claiming their children had much harder classes in high school believe this because their children went to schools like Kennesaw. At Georgia Tech, classes were actually hard, so AP classes are laughable in comparison. The thought of getting free credits for doing half of the work is also laughable. At Georgia Tech, professors need to have a doctorate degree in order to teach. In high school, this isn’t the case, so there isn’t an educational equivalent either.

Patricia Bishop

October 16th, 2012
9:58 am

I am a mother of 4 children, My oldest 2 didn’t take AP courses. My youngest 2 have. From what I have seen, AP courses are not only harder than traditional high school courses, but SOME of them do seem to have been harder than the courses in college. I do think these AP courses show the high school kids how tough college CAN be, and what kind of commitment is required once you get there.

ATL Born and Raised

October 16th, 2012
10:02 am

I took one AP class in high school and ended up dropping it halfway through to go back the honors class instead. I found the AP class to be tedious and boring, focused only on teaching you how to pass the AP exam. The honors class was much more enjoyable and didn’t make me hate the subject. High schools push those AP classes on “gifted” kids because they get money for every head enrolled. I had to threaten to transfer schools in order to get dropped from the one AP class I was enrolled in because my school didn’t want to forfeit the money I was bringing in. It was ridiculous.

The university I went to wound up not accepting most AP credits anyway, so those classes would have been a waste of my time. The college level intro courses were much more enjoyable and better prepared you for the higher level college courses than AP classes. They got students used to the lecturing style of college professors, the exam schedule, and the homework requirements. Plus many of our intro level courses were taught by the same professors as the higher level courses which let you get used to their teaching style and let you know what to expect from them further down the line.

(Plus those intro level college courses are good for boosting GPAs to get into competitive master’s degree programs, which are much more important these days than where you went to undergrad. The firm I work at pretty much tosses all entry-level resumes received without master’s degree designations right into the trash.)


October 16th, 2012
10:12 am

Experience in real world situations is better than eith AP courses or college level intro courses. How many college freshmen, or for that matter high school seniors, are excellent commited students? Perhaps the AP college courses should be for upperclassmen? Effort and experience overides all courses, regardless of the school backdrop.

Patrick Mattimore

October 16th, 2012
10:14 am

I quite agree with your perspective and as a former AP psychology teacher was embarrassed by Mr. Tierney’s remarks. He apparently doesn’t understand that AP courses are generally equivalent to college intro classes regardless how he feels about the individual course he taught. AP courses are vetted by college profs and their students taking equivalent courses. Will the AP course in all cases satisfy a college dept. that a person getting a 3 or above on the AP test should be granted academic credit? No, of course not.
There are problems with AP. The program has expanded too far in some regions IMHO which is why the exam score percentage (based on test takers) has declined by 10% in the last twenty years. There are too many unprepared students taking the courses which is why the percentage number of 1’s (lowest possible score) has doubled during that same period.
But the bottom line is that AP is still a darn good program and by far the best measuring stick competitive universities have to differentiate domestic applicants.


October 16th, 2012
10:16 am

I never really considered any AP class – or any class before grad. school at Georgia Tech – to be very difficult.

Atlanta Mom

October 16th, 2012
10:23 am

So, anyone know of a college history course where they cover world history from the beginning of mankind up to WW II?
How about calculus? Take AP and learn to maximize your graphing calculator usage. Take calculus at GSU and leave that calculator at home. Which do you think is harder?

Atlanta Mom

October 16th, 2012
10:26 am

As for AP classes being harder than college courses. It all depends where you go to HS and where you dual enroll. And don’t you think the final university your child want to attend notices if your child dual enrolled at GPC or GT?

Big Al

October 16th, 2012
10:29 am

Some classes are already advanced enough without adding AP to the title. I mean what is the difference between AP Calculus and regualar Calculus. Difficult math is difficult math.

Father of 5

October 16th, 2012
10:30 am

Dr. Tierney has a distorted view of “college-level courses.” It totally depends on the subject, the college, and the teacher — and not the way most people think. Many of the most “reputable” colleges place almost no premium on actual teaching — they want professors who enhance their reputations and bring in research $. They let their assistants teach the classes — or they make videotaped lectures for auditoriums full of bored students (getting the most “bang for the buck.”) Bottom line — college classes are not created equal, and many of his arguments are fatally flawed.

As for the high school experience, students should ALWAYS take the more challenging courses. Maybe they don’t get “credit” for working harder to get the same grade. So what? They might actually grow in more important ways. They might challenge their minds! Maybe they will learn that, contrary to what they’ve been told, somebody will always be smarter than they are. Important lesson. Maybe they can learn where they are gifted (and where they are not) and focus on a more productive education.

My daughter entered a public high school from a private middle school, which meant that she had to waste an entire freshman year. She did not have a minute of homework the entire year. She took 5 AP classes her soph and junior years and made 5s on her exams. She may never go to college, but she has had good experiences from the challenges associated with those classes. Our experience differs from the representations made by Dr. Tierney.


October 16th, 2012
10:32 am


“college professor[s] 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.)”

I have taken math classes at Georgia Tech and also at a couple of other state schools which shall remain nameless. Mathematics classes at Tech are a whole ‘nother ball game from other state schools, so with respect to AP, I suspect that just about any kid who passes an AP calc exam, goes to Tech, and exempts a semester or two of calculus is in for a rude awakening.


October 16th, 2012
10:38 am

I agree with Patricia, AP courses show high schoolers how difficult college can potentially be. The real question is, how, if at all, do AP courses impact life after college graduation? Does it matter in the long run? I took “normal” courses and my classmates who took AP classes are not any better off. They didn’t graduate before me. They don’t have better jobs. And most of them have the same, if not more, student loan debt.


October 16th, 2012
10:39 am

Typical anecdotal “evidence” used to discredit dual enrollment. I’m sure there are also “crip” AP courses that students find out about, too, and as Dr. Tierney points out – most AP courses are not up to par to the entry level college courses.

Trashing all entry college level courses with the above anecdotes to balance a wary eye on high school AP courses is uncalled for.


October 16th, 2012
10:47 am

The only AP class my younger daughter took prepared her very well. Of course, she was also well-motivated. Scored a 4 and went directly to Calc 2 her first semester; ended up her undergrad with dual degrees in math and astrophysics. The AP Calc she took in high school is a very big reason she has the dual degree.

intown parent

October 16th, 2012
10:49 am

At my child’s high school, all kids are encouraged to take an AP class if they’re anywhere near a dedicated student. Yes, they don’t get great grades on the exam. But they’re in a challenging class and many find it was the boost they needed to actually start taking life after high school seriously, as well as finally taking postive stock in their own inherent abilities~

Yes, there’s a huge difference b/w taking classes at the rambling wreck vs pole dancer U (for years on nightly news when they interviewed dancers they were going to KSU). If that isn’t obvious to you and your offspring, well can’t help ya there.

Not sure that skipping out on the monster cattle-call freshman intro classes is automatically bad thing even if you don’t get a financial break. I skipped out on lots of those nasty 500+ people classes. Didn’t save my tuition bill, but i got a better education b/c it freed me up to take lots of sampling classes across many fields. Broadened my horizons, which is a big part of why i went in the first place. However if you need three classes of statistics minimum for your social sciences degree, taking AP Stats in high school then re-taking the intro class is probably a wise thing. It sounds to me like many of these kids are actually suffering from poor/lacking adult guidance in their college course selections.

Dr. Anthony Stinson

October 16th, 2012
10:51 am

I taught AP Calculus or more than 10 years, and my students went on to Hampton, Morehouse, Ga Tech, Duke, MIT, Harvard, CalTech, UGA, Kennesaw, Clayton State and others. At each of the aforementioned schools, my students did well in taking the next level of mathematics in their curriculum. It really depends on the student commitment and the commitment of the teacher. Advanced Placement is exactly that. The course is supposed to be rigorous and challenging. If it is not, the teacher is not fulfilling the role of teacher for that class. Many of my students would return to inform me that I prepared them quite well for college and the calculus they had to take while in college. Many exempted math in college because of their performance on the AP Exam. I did not teach to the exam. I taught Calculus, therefore they were able to pass the exam with high scores. Do not make a general statement about AP Courses because ONE SIZE DOES NOT FIT ALL. I am very proud of my performance as an AP Calculus teacher and the performance of my students who went on to many “fine” institutions of higher learning.

Last name first, first name last

October 16th, 2012
10:56 am

Any class at Ga Tech is going to be more difficult than the same high school class because none of Tech’s professors speak English. My freshman literature class was taught by Xiaoli Lim. My freshman sociology class was taught by Myung Atyun. And my sophmore history class was taught by Pya Yoon Hong. And don’t get me started on the math and engineering classes. I once has a class taught by Raktimzel Bhattacharya. So my advice to any high student considering Ga Tech is to learn Chinese and Arabic ASAP.

Dunwoody Mom w/one child

October 16th, 2012
10:56 am

My only child went to a private school in Norcross. He took maybe four AP classes and got two 4s and two 5s. The school strongly recommended no more than five AP classes unless parent/student demanded more. EVERY student taking an AP class was required to take the AP exam (and pay for it). AP teachers were rewarded based on the AP exam grades for their students. In public schools, many students may get an “A” in the course but since they are not required to take the AP exam, you may have no real idea how well they learned the material. Also, don’t public schools pay for the AP exams for those students who want to take it? Also, the more challenging the college/university, the less likely the studen is to get any credit for his AP exam, based on the grade. Just food for thought…

Dunwoody Mom

October 16th, 2012
11:06 am

My daughter was torn between AP Calculus and AP Stat. She ended up with AP Calculus AB. She was glad she did once she got to the UGA Placement Tests. I’m not sure if they have different Math tests, but she indicated that her test was heavy (at least that was her thoughts) on the Calculus.

My daughter has indicated to me, based on her freshman curriculum and experience at UGA, that she was glad she took AP courses. It really prepared her for the rigor she is facing.


October 16th, 2012
11:17 am

My son plans on going to Tech and he will take AP courses. He will not take the tests to skip the Tech math courses, but he can do so for the Intro English/History/etc. courses that are not as rigorous as Tech. I’m sure he’ll be fine.


October 16th, 2012
11:18 am

Core classes in college are a joke, in my opinion they are just a way for a college to get more money out of you. They are high school classes, and I’m not talking AP high school classes, I’m talking regular to advanced high school classes. The only tough core class I took was english/literature, and that is because when I read a book I read what it says, I don’t try to draw up some imaginary meaning because a girl had a pink bow in her hair in the book.

If the AP classes are classes required to get into a major, an intro to engineering, or something such as that I might foresee a problem simply because the teacher may not have enough knowledge in that specific area. However, from what I understand they are your basic core classes.

I took an introductory anatomy class in college with a professor that literally wrote the book, it is the same book used at UGA. He wanted you to know that book word for word, over 70 percent of the class failed. We then took the class either by a different teacher, or at a smaller college across the street and passed. Once we got in our major, everything about anatomy we needed to know was taught to us. I think sometimes you have core teachers that think to much of the class, the purpose of the class is to merely lay a foundation.


October 16th, 2012
11:19 am

I took 2 AP classes and they were pretty hard. At my high school only the honors kids or others chosen with high grades in the subject area where even told to take AP classes. I think the experience you have in your specific class helps. My AP teacher stopped teaching in the middle of the year because he became an administrator and we had a sub for a large portion of the school year. Those who worked hard got good scores. Those that didn’t care or think of how this would help in college did not.


October 16th, 2012
11:20 am

As a new teacher, I was appalled to hear that my physics students (mostly 11th graders) had taken AP Biology as freshmen. I could not believe that they would put 9th graders through such rigorous coursework because few 9th graders are really ready for college-level work. From their scores however, mostly 1s, it is evident that the coursework was not rigorous at all. However, the schools pushes students into these courses to make it look like they are challenging students and offering them the most advanced coursework when they are really setting them up for grade inflation in the classroom (they mostly earn As or Bs) then disappointment when they get AP scores back.
AP courses are valuable to students in that they can challenge students but not at the level that college coursework will challenge them. Honors courses are more appropriate for most students and the most appropriate label for many of these “AP” courses. My school does not even offer honors physics. Students have two choices, general level Physics or AP Physics. So many students would benefit from an honors class. Harder working students from my general level classes as well as students in the AP classes that feel in over their heads would be adequately challenged and put in an environment where they could actually be successful.


October 16th, 2012
11:38 am

The one aspect of this AP debate is the research that is always trotted out that shows that students who take AP classes in high school do better in college. The kind of person who would opt to take an AP class would most likely do better in college anyway.

AP needs to go back to what it used to be which is an elite program for exceptionally advanced high school students who are truly prepared to do real college level work. If most high school students can do AP work, then how difficult (or “college level”) can it really be? The fact that a huge number of college students in Georgia lose their HOPE scholarship, end up in college remedial classes, or even fail out of college shows that high school is not harder than college for the vast majority of students, even though it currently is in vogue to say so.


October 16th, 2012
11:43 am

If a student gets a “4″ or a “5″ on the AP English Literature exam, I promise you that they are well beyond an entry level Composition class in college. I can say this from teaching both classes, and being completely objective about it. Word choice, sentence structure, flow and style, plus literary analysis and higher level thinking cannot be faked. The PhD that wrote this article (and yeah, I have one too…and I don’t think I’m special at all for taking 60 more hours and writing a thesis than my “Masters only” collegues) apparently lacks for exposure in this area. It is completely short sighted and just wrong. I challenge him to come to any good AP class and see the quality…or better yet, go be an AP evaluator.

HS Public Teacher

October 16th, 2012
11:54 am

This is the stupidest thing I have seen in a long time.

Is a Calc I class the same at GA Tech as it is at Perimeter College? NO!!!

Is a Lit I class the same at UGA as it is as Georiga College? NO!!!

These differences is why colleges are ranked differently. Some colleges really are “more difficult” and that makes those degrees more valuable.

The same is true for high school AP class. First, there are differences among high schools. Then, there are also differences between those and ANY college. However, the proof is in the data. And, the data shows that students that take AP classes excel in college – and this means “colleges across the board.”

So to bash AP classes is just stupid!


October 16th, 2012
11:57 am

I challenge anyone to get through the AP World History exam and convince me it won’t stand up against any exam in a history survey course for incoming freshmen..hell, upper level ones for that matter.


October 16th, 2012
12:02 pm

The best thing about AP classes is that they generally have serious students in them and the teacher does not have to worry about dicipline and deal with unruly studentsj. With that said, and having been a teacher and administrator for 30 years, I really don’t see why the general public should be responsible for AP classes in public high schools. Those students who qualify should be given the opportunity to graduate early and begin classes at a Jr. College and start their college classes there. While many students wish to remain in high school for sports and social experiences, parents should realize that that is a ‘perk’ supported by tax dollars.

Since most states now have high school exit exams, the whole high school curriculum should be examined to determine if the majority of students really need 4 years worth of high school classes. If the curriculum were revised, many students who pass the exit exams could graduate in 3 years and go on to a jr college, vocational school, 4-year college, or join the military to complete their higher education. I personally feel that in many cases, the Senior year for the most part simply provides an expensive social experience for students that could be going on to other meaningful educational experiences.


October 16th, 2012
12:09 pm

Depends on where you go to school. I am a grad of one of Atlanta’s best private schools. My 10 AP classes were the best academic experiences I have EVER had. They were easily on par with my best courses in college and grad school (at top tier universities on the east coast). Overall, my high school experience was at least as demanding than my college experience, if I exclude organic chemistry from the equation…didn’t take that until college. The teachers at my high school were absolute intellectuals who loved teaching. A few were retired professors, one from GA Tech…

Private Citizen

October 16th, 2012
12:20 pm

At the very top universities the work is about 100x harder than at lesser schools. This was confirmed for me when once day I took a look around at some of the web-published undergraduate course syllabi at Harvard. According the syllabi they were covering about 4x the material of a typical state school course by the same name. The amount of texts / reading, and the density of the texts and title would be considered overwhelming for students from lesser schools.

When you transfer in or otherwise skip the first year formation level courses of this type school / focused environment, you are not taught the expected methodology and analytical method that is expected in the year 3 and 4 level courses.

It is difficult to generalize about schools. I took pre-calculus when I was 16 and the material was pretty much the exact same at the first semester of calculus in a mid-level college. But that is not what is happening at the top schools. It is 100x more intense, less pedestrian.

When young people / parents talk about 4.0, honors, etc. bumper stickers, etc. my reply is “you should have gone to a harder school.” You can guess how popular that is. In the most private / more “elite” prepatory schools, a “B” is considered to be an “A” in the rest of the world, and an “A” is very rare territory to leave a little room the intellectual monsters to show themselves. Also, grades are given with numbers, not letters. In some places, a “92″ would be a miracle and maybe 20% of the class would reach this level. The guy from Harvard / Johns Hopkins knows about these type grading systems.

Private Citizen

October 16th, 2012
12:24 pm

@ atljan, is that “Atlanta Janitor?” Because that’s what will happen to you with your background if you go work in the Georgia public schools.


October 16th, 2012
12:29 pm

Being in high school and being in college are not the same thing. So, why should these advanced high school courses be expected to equal college courses?

Private Citizen

October 16th, 2012
12:31 pm

@ “atljan” I think you should get a job with Merck and move to Belgium (their headquarters). Just think, health care coverage for all and 100% school choice where the money follows the student. Pack up your family and take your parents with you. No flying back and forth.

William Casey

October 16th, 2012
12:54 pm

I taught A.P. American and A. P. Modern European History courses from 1983 until 2006 at St. Pius X H.S. and North Fulton Schools, Crestwood, Chattahoochee and Northview. My courses were in every way comparable to actual survey courses in colleges and probably MORE demanding than such courses at most coleges. My son earned 27 semester hours of university credit through the A.P. Program at Northview. The most important thing both my students and my son learned from A.P. is that it takes more than being smart to get an “A” in a real course.

My thoughts on A.P.:

* AP allowed me plenty of time to help students explore intellectual curiosity because I taught them to learn the basics on their own time. Students had to adjust to my expectations. LOL

* Students are allowed to take too many A.P.COURSES. More than 3 per semester is a crime.

* Open enrollment for A.P. is NOT a good idea.

* I don’t believe that very many students are emotionally ready for A.P. before the 11th grade.

I would estimate that the average grade on my Major Unit Tests was usually 65-75% the first semester rising to 75-85% the second semester. These students were the cream-of-the-crop at top performing schools. It takes more than being smart to achieve success in A.P. They did MUCH better on the actual A.P. Exam.

Just Sayin.....

October 16th, 2012
1:00 pm

HallMom writes:
If AP courses are a “scourge … where intellectual curiosity goes to die,” aren’t those who are “left out” of them at an advantage rather than a disadvantage?

Nothing like a little basic logic to expose Tierney’s drivel for what it is.

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

Nice… play the race card. Sorry, but that does not cut it. Its like all of the minority students that went to my H.S. (graduating class of 100). All students had the same opportunity. Don’t blame the high performers for the lack of initiative in other students.

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.

So what? It’s better to trap ALL students in mediocrity? Using Tierney’s logic, ALL classes that are more advanced than is necessary to graduate High School are an opportunity cost on the students who merely want to graduate High School, and should be eliminated. That means NO college prep paths in High School (after all, they represent an opportunity cost to detriment of students that aren’t going to college!).

Schools are trying to find a way to meet the needs of brighter students. AP is one of those ways.
Are we going to throttle advanced learning for the sake of the students who aren’t able or simply don’t want to perform at a higher level?


October 16th, 2012
1:09 pm

There is a myth that college is the road to a better life for students. Let me tell you that college is probably one of the biggest scams around. The problem with college is that it teaches young people to be WORKERS. The best way to accumulate wealth is to be an OWNER, not a worker. I’m not against workers because someone has to do the work to make the owners wealthy.

I did not attend college and neither did my parents. My parents owned several small businesses and I learned early on that the world of work was not for me. When I was 19 years old I got a $10,000 small business loan and started my own bookkeeping business. I started with 2 employees which eventually grew to 7 within 4 years. I sold that business when I was 25 and began an auto repair business. Eventaully I sold that business too and started a privately-held real estate investment trust with several other investors. We own several commercials properties. My family and I live a very comfortable lifestyle and I never miss my young daughter’s school performances because of work.

Not bad for someone who skipped college and never had a job in his life.


October 16th, 2012
1:14 pm

AP stands for Advanced Placement. It was intended to be a more rigorous course to get you ready for a college placement test. It sounds like its original purpose has been distorted. There should be noone below a junior taking an AP course, and even juniors are doubtful. They wouldn’t be taking any placement tests until their senior year.

At my school (in the distant past) there were either AP or honors courses, not both. AP English certainly helped. And it allowed me to take an elective English course in college instead of the introductory one taught by a TA.

And to second what others have said, Kennesaw State is not going to be as tough as Georgia Tech. We referred to our local junior college as 13th grade. I took my history and government courses in JCs over the summer, because I didn’t want the reading load during the regular year when I was taking 15 hours.


October 16th, 2012
1:15 pm

“My kid is smarter than your kid and my kid’s college is more demanding than your kid’s college.” It feels like this conversation is degenerating from the original premise. I disagree with the author of the essay, that AP courses are losing value. When any student takes coursework that challenges him/her, that’s an asset, regardless what post high school education comes next. My children have had superlative AP courses and they have had easy A AP courses. In almost every case, the college still required their own introductory level courses because one size does not fit all, and they wanted to make sure every student mastered the foundational concepts in math, science, writing, etc.

One caveat: I personally believe that AP courses in Human Government, Environmental Science, and a few other so-called “beginner” classes would be better replaced with electives in the arts, music, etc. Too many students are so focused on AP courses that they miss important opportunities to explore that important right brain.

Phil from Athens

October 16th, 2012
1:19 pm

“The Atlantic offers a provocative essay”

The Atlantic is a far left rag. This essay is nothing more than an attack of overachievers who worked hard.


October 16th, 2012
1:21 pm

I think the main problem with AP curricula is that they are developed and run by College Board, which is a for-profit company. This company has little to no economic incentive to help students learn, as long as its reputation remains intact.


October 16th, 2012
1:22 pm

AP classes allow students to perform better in college. Yes, they are challenging but the point of taking an AP class is to challenge yourself. Taking an AP class isn’t a fraud it is very helpful. My cousin has taken many classes and it has helped her when it comes to writing essays and getting used to the amount of work given daily. This is my first year taking an AP course and I would definitely take another one next year. I want to prepare myself for college and i would recommend it for anyone who wants to get in a good college.

Phil from Athens

October 16th, 2012
1:22 pm

“There is research that students who take AP classes and AP exams perform better in college. ”

Well no kidding, that’s what they’re designed for. My takeaway from your column + the cut/paste columns is that it seems as though you/they want to dumb down students. I read about how schools want to lower standardized tests for minority students because they just aren’t smart.

Is that true?

Jawga 69

October 16th, 2012
1:23 pm

My AP History class in 1985 was every bit as challenging as any history class I took at UGA, and I was a History major there.


October 16th, 2012
1:23 pm

As a High School student, I have no idea what college assignments and exams are going to be like, but from what I’ve heard, they’re double if not triple the amount of work in high school. AP classes are indeed challenging, but they’re worth the effort. They demand scheduling and attentiveness. And I think that preparing someone for a larger workload is a very good thing. It gives students study skills and readies them for the heavier workload in college. I think a student who has plans to go to college should take an Advanced Placement course at least once so they can get a taste of what’s to come.


October 16th, 2012
1:24 pm

I am currently enrolled in two AP classes at my high school, AP Language and AP Environmental Science. AP Lang is pretty hard, but APES is the exact opposite of that. I cannot claim that I know anything about college level courses. However, if they are as easy as people seem to say they are, then I am perfectly content with AP classes being difficult. If an AP class is much harder then its college counterpart, and for some reason we must take the class again, it would just be an easy A that would help us to maintain our GPA. I know in Georgia to maintain our HOPE scholarship you must maintain a 3.5, and easy classes can be the best way to go about this.


October 16th, 2012
1:24 pm

Whether or not you agree that AP classes are important, there is one thing that should be taken into account: Unlike high school students, college students don’t have to go to 7 classes a day. College courses should be more difficult, since college students may only have 2 or 3 classes a day.