Tuesday, June 16, 2015

AP US History

I'm not saying that US history should be taught in a sanitized, "onward and upward" style where everything is great and getting even better.  I believe in teaching history in the "warts and all" style.  Unfortunately, some people seem to focus on the "warts" and leave out the "and all":
Dozens of historians have sent the influential College Board back to the drawing board, after determining that its U.S. history exam for university-bound high schoolers is too heavy on social politics and too light on key events in America’s past.

While the College Board can’t directly dictate what is taught in high school Advanced Placement classes, by writing the test that half a million college-bound students take each year it strongly influences the curriculum crafted by teachers. It also publishes a guide to what will be on the test, which was what raised alarms with 55 historians who signed onto a letter earlier this month criticizing the board.

“Lost in the new guidelines is the central role of the American Founders in inspiring our country,” Harvard University history professor Harvey Mansfield, who signed the letter, told FoxNews.com.

“Students are not led to the idea that America is an experiment in self-government, that all its struggles and troubles, its drama and heroes, come back to its great ambition to make freedom and equality a reality.

“Instead of this,” Mansfield said, “the guidelines present America as just another society, wandering, mistaken, prejudiced and boring.”


maxutils said...

I'm with you … but, until you've actually done an AP course outline, you're really just guessing. When I did our school's inaugural AP Econ, I felt they placed way too much emphasis on macroeconomics -- when microeconomics can basically solve every problem, and there has never been a successful macroeconomic theory … so, my premise was, teach the basics really well (about 3/4 of the year) and, you can figure out the Macro later … I think the same thing's true in history. You can tell the AP commission whatever they want to hear (I told them I split my year in half *snicker* I totally lied) But they can't come after you if you produce results … and, yes my macro scores were consistently lower than my micro … but they still passed.

Darren said...

I don't think it's necessary to have taught an AP course to know these standards are bad, any more than I need to have taught a Common Core Integrated Math 1 class to know those standards are bad.

maxutils said...

I didn't say 'taught', Darren … I said actually doing the labor of writing up a course syllabus that is specific to the AP class. It's insane how specific they want you to be. Once you get the class approved (and I did it on my first try!) you don't need to adhere to those standards to achieve success, and that was really my point. If you're dedicatedd to the subject, you have two goals: teaching it well, and getting your students to pass the test. I don't know how it works in US History, but any history teacher worth his or her salt is going to spend time on the constitution -- but then again? If you assume that those students also take AP Government, it might be redundant. Econ is a special animal, because you have to get kids through two separate full semester college classes, with typically half the class hours, in less than a year. It really can't be done. My solution was to really do micro well, and then half-ass macro -- which I told the students. And gave them outside readings to do … but I had a 95% pass rate. And the AP people never knew I was spending 80% micro 20% macro. Until now, I guess.

Darren said...

I would think that most would teach to the standards because that, in theory, would best prepare students for the test.

And if the standards are bad, they're still what will be taught.

maxutils said...

I'm really not sure where you are on this issue. Personally, in math or economics, I'm pretty sure I know what's going to be most useful to the students … much more so than the people who decided to write standards instead of teach. It's always a teacher's professional judgement as to what standards get more weight than others … so, yeah, in geometry, I spent more time on trig and in Alg 2 more time on graphing …but, I also didn't get any complaints about my students not knowing what they should know in pre-calc and calculus.

In econ, same thing. I know … you're not a big fan of econ. But, if you master the basics on a small scale, and have a rudimentary understanding of the larger scale, you can pass both tests. Easily. And I've proved it. On the other hand … were you to follow the timeline AP favors for economics? I guarantee the pass rate drops by 20 points.

It's all about judgement. When teaching an AP class, you have a real responsibility to get your students prepared for the test … but how you do that can vary, and …for tests other than AP, where the students have no self interest in how they do? I honestly don't care. If the standards are bad, you don't teach to them. You teach to what the students need to know to go further. Or, you don't, I guess. But the only people who care about standardized testing scores are the ones who elected to stop teaching, and spend their days worrying about nonsense.

Ellen K said...

What's funny his how AP courses are scheduled. For example, in college Art History 101 is basically two entire semesters, which should translate into two years in high school terms. Yet we're supposed to teacher 40,000 years of art in one class. This includes knowing all the information on 250 images (down from 500) and being able to write both descriptive and comparative essays over objects that they would only know via speculation. One bright light went up this week in Texas however. Gov Abbot signed into law a measure requiring state colleges and universities to give full credit for AP exams successfully completed (4 or 5) which is great considering how many colleges will deny students credit for AP classes that are sometimes more rigorous than college classes under the same heading.