A World Without Advanced Placement

Some good points in the Facebook comments on my last post. One notable comment was the fact that many teachers wouldn't be able to gain the traction needed to teach CS without an AP designation. This is true but also sad that we've awarded such educational authority to a private company that's accountable to no one. Schools should run courses because they're good for kids not specifically because they're AP.

Stuyvesant just implemented a policy that every student has to take at least one AP class to graduate and that now every student in an AP class has to take the AP exam. There's also been a push for Stuy to run APCS Principles in spite of the fact that the current home grown intro course is superior.

These policies and pushes at Stuy are purely for the sake of ratings and in no way for the benefit of the student.

But let's imagine a world without the college board. To do this we're going to have to take off our computer science hats and look at another, more established high school subject area - mathematics.

First, setting the stage.

It's the mid 1990's. High school students across the nation are taking math classes. Some are even taking calculus. This makes the College Board happy since they offer two AP Calculus exams. But the College Board notices that many students aren't ready for calculus. To fill this gap, they create AP Statistics. First offered in 1997 to 7,667 students it was given to almost 200,000 students last year.

According to wikipedia, the course was created to give an AP mathematics option for students not ready for calculus.

I don't seem to recall any huge demand for an AP statistics course but it was created and adopted. It turned into one of the fastest growing AP classes and a nice money maker for the college board. I don't know how the class was pushed or perceived in other schools but at Stuy it was seen as a way to get an easy AP math course on the transcript. Before any statisticians get the torches and pitchforks - I'm just relaying the student perception. I haven't looked into the course sufficiently to form an opinion on it.

Now, let's imagine a world without the College Board.

An individual school would look at it's students needs and decide if they needed an additional math course. Maybe they'd conclude that what they were doing was fine or maybe they would conclude that a new class was needed.

If they decided they needed a new advanced course the school would either have the expertise to create it in house or they'd probably turn to the local college or university for guidance.

They might end up with a course very similar to AP Statistics or they might end up with something very different. They might end up with another class like Discrete Math or they might end up partnering with the college and having students take classes there. In all cases, since math teachers generally have a pretty good math backgroud, schools could make good decisions and design sound educational experiences for their kids.

All of these seem to be better results for the students than blindly following the College Board - keeping education and education decisions local.

What about CS?

I admit that's a tougher nut to crack.

Most schools generally don't currently have the in house expertise needed to build their own solutions or even to really critically judge what's out there.

That said, even if you need join the cult of the College Board to get your school to run some CS you can:

  • Grab all the materials you can find - those labeled AP and those not labeled AP.
  • Don't bother with AP Syllabus certification. Teach what you think is best. Designate the class as honors to differentiate them from other classes.
  • Engage with your local college and tech sector. They're not high school educators but they are valuable resources.
  • Unrelated side note - be wary of code schools - most don't really have any educational chops.
  • Don't force kids to sit for the exams and only encourage them to do so if the exam will likely do something for the kid.

I think that's it or my College Board rants.

Then again, I also thought that when I wrote Friday's post.


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