Laurence E. Block, a retired Broad Neck High School teacher, responds in this post to the Advanced Placement story that raised questions about an educational system that puts pressure on top students to overload on AP.
By Laurence E. Block
I have always been amused when I hear comments that describe AP courses as "college equivalent." What colleges are they referring to? Yale, Duke, and Stanford or Muddy River State? To suggest that the typical AP course taught by the typical high school teacher is an educational experience equivalent to that offered at our nation's most distinguished colleges is ludicrous.
I was a social studies teacher at Broadneck High School during the last twelve years of my career. Among the high school courses I taught were honors American Government for freshmen and honors U.S. History for juniors. I could have taught AP U.S. History but elected not to, because it is not possible to cover U.S.history from Columbus to the present in eight months unless one treats the course with the superficiality that is so common in public education. Instead, I taught honors U.S.history, which covers the period from Reconstruction to the present, a reasonable period of time for two semesters.
I resent the argument that AP History is more beneficial to the student than honors or standard (for average and below average) simply because the course is AP. Much also depends on the quality of the teacher. As a graduate of Princeton with a Ph.D. from Johns Hopkins, I submit that the intellectual climate of my classroom was at least equivalent to and probably superior to that found in traditional AP classrooms.
I once asked a junior whom I had taught as a freshman and was now in my honors history class why he was not in AP history, inasmuch as he was a top student. "If I took AP I wouldn't be in your class, Dr. Block," he replied. He graduated from Johns Hopkins in 2010.
With all due respects to Jay Matthews, to rank high schools based on the per capital number of AP courses enrolled in is just plain silly.
In "David and Goliath" Malcolm Gladwell tells the story of Caroline Sacks, who enrolls at Brown rather than the University of Maryland inasmuch as the former is a far more prestigious institution. She loves science, but finds herself struggling to keep up with her classmates in the highly competitive Ivy League environment. She eventually abandons her science major. Had she gone to the University of Maryland she would have been much more competitive and almost certainly would have remained a science major. So for Caroline Sacks, going to the more prestigious institution was not the best choice for her.
Much the same can be said of students being pressured to take AP courses. Many quickly find themselves in academic difficulty and rush to the guidance office to change their schedule.