Last year, nearly a third of the students at G.W. Carver High School in New Orleans took an Advanced Placement class.
Though none passed the year-end AP exam, educators say that just taking the college-level courses raised the self-esteem of teenagers used to the stigma of attending a low-performing school.
"For most of them, just in my opinion, it boosted their morale," Assistant Principal Toyia Washington said. "They realized they were capable of doing something outside the box, whereas everything is usually inside the box."
I'm curious, what was outside the box here? A bunch of students took a class for which they were ill-prepared, and failed miserably to achieve even minimal standards in the course. That sounds like the very definition of in the box activities for this assistant principal and her school. If these kids get self-esteem from failing a test that they've prepared all year for, then I assert they have all the self-esteem they need.
And a picture accompanying the article shows three students arriving to take the AP exam--in an SUV limousine. You can tell so much from that picture.
But let's focus on the "educators" mentioned in this article. Can you believe there are people out there--college-educated people--who think like this?
Educators say the hardest-working students at schools like Carver and John McDonogh benefit immensely from exposure to higher-level courses, both in self-esteem and in tangible skills such as test preparation, even if few end up passing the AP exam.
Again, what does self-esteem have to do with this? They have failed. And to be honest, they've failed at something that they should have been prepared for. It's not like they failed rowing alone across the Atlantic, they failed at a course in high school. How does one get self-esteem from that? How does one look in the mirror and feel good about himself because of that? And how do so-called educators convince themselves that allowing students to take courses for which they are not prepared is actually a good thing?
Oh, don't think for a moment that I don't see some good in it. Don't think for a moment that I don't think that these kids should know how ill-prepared for college their education has left them. But let's not pretend that that's what these so-called educators have in mind when they talk about AP test failure leading to higher self-esteem.
Disagree with me? Let's continue:
But passing is not the only or even the primary goal of the program, proponents say. AdvanceNOLA students receive extra tutoring and tours of the Tulane University campus. They are treated to Saturday restaurant dinners and are chauffeured to the AP exam in limousines.
Students receive $300 from the program for getting a score of at least 3 out of 5 on an exam -- the minimum needed to receive college credit -- and teachers also receive $300 for each student who passes.
So we allow them to take AP classes for which they are obviously not prepared, we give them extra tutoring which doesn't help, we offer money that the kids can't and don't earn--but that's ok because passing the test isn't even the primary goal of the program--and there's someone out there who claims this is a good expenditure of money? We waste money on limousines and Saturday night dinners, and this is a good expenditure of money? Oh, this program is good for the teachers who get their $300, but what good is it doing the students? What they really learn is that they're not at all prepared to attend Tulane, the school they tour as part of this program. What else do you think they learn from this? I'll tell you what I think they learn. I think they learn that people will justify anything for these kids because of the color of their skin. This program could be the poster child for President Bush's concept of "the soft bigotry of low expectations".
The final section of the article talks about how the students are "proud of themselves", but that pride is misplaced. They shouldn't be proud that they've taken AP classes; heck, they've shown that anyone can take an AP class. They could be justifiably proud if they'd exceeded expectations and passed an AP test--but they didn't do that. Their standards are set too low, and they couldn't even achieve those standards. What's to be proud of? I consider the lyrics of this song:
I step out of the ordinary,
I can feel my soul ascending,
I'm on my way,
Can't stop me now
And you can do the same.
What have you done today to make you feel proud?
They've not done much. And that's sad.
Update, 1/2/11: A similar opinion piece from the same New Orleans paper:
G.W. Carver High would be high on any list of lousy schools, but that does not mean the kids there lack the will to succeed. Last year one third of them signed up for the advanced placement classes that provide college credits for those who pass the year-end exam.
Your heart must ache for the Carver kids, all of whom failed the exam, but educators quoted in the paper are made of sterner stuff. They pronounce advanced placement classes a success because they have apparently raised the kids' self-esteem. In case you don't understand how failure can do that, Carver Assistant Principal Toyia Washington explains, "They realized they were capable of doing something outside the box, whereas everything is usually inside the box."
Educators have an obvious motive for putting their students' performance in the best possible light, but what are they going to say if some kid eventually passes the exam? They'll have no words left to express their joy.
In truth, no Carver kid is likely to pass the exam...
Still, it is axiomatic that low expectations hold underprivileged students back, and it must be dispiriting for students at Carver, and the other five schools where the Cowen Institute provides AP support, to read in the paper that passing the exam "is not the only or even the primary goal."