Friday, December 31, 2010

A Waste of Money: AP Courses for the Unprepared

That some educators believe this saddens me and should be a concern to taxpayers everywhere:

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."


mrelliott said...

This should teach us once and for all that throwing money at the economically disadvantaged type of student does not necessarily increase academic achievement. But, I doubt this will.

There is a $2 million dollar grant at the school I taught at that is following this one class from 7th grade to graduation with the goal of having 100% college acceptance. The students have received laptops, private tutoring, trips to conventions, and tours of colleges, parties, backpacks, you name it. It even covers a full time person whose only job is to fill out...not help, mind you.....but to fill out college applications and college scholarship applications for the kids.

I can already tell they are not getting 100% college acceptance, but they still might get a high percentage, however it's my believe these kids don't have the preparedness or desire to handle and stay in college, and most will end up dropping out.

The "self-esteem" crap is just more administrative BS trying to justify a failed program.

Here's a question. How can students go through a year-long AP class with extra tutoring and not learn and be prepared enough to pass the test? I don't get it, unless these kids slept through the course and did none of the work.

Mr. W said...

I think I will just repost this post on my site. I can't add anything...just classic. My favorite line?

Again, what does self-esteem have to do with this? They have failed.

hahaha great paragraph actually.

Want to talk about wasting money. Some kid wrote an article for the Huffington Post saying that school should give $50 to students who score between 550-600 on all of their CSTs. What are the chances of that? Funny read actually. Full of holes, but I am sure his self-esteem is higher now.

socalmike said...

Self-esteem? These kids have TOO MUCH self-esteem. That's the thing. They have been raised in this culture where every kid on the team gets a trophy without ever earning anything. Sickens me. Why should they pass the test? They get free dinners and a ride in a limousine. There's no incentive to pass the test. Ridiculous. This is just another example of how entitlement fails.

Cal said...

I don't get it, unless these kids slept through the course and did none of the work.

Seriously? So if you put a kindergartner in a calculus class, would you not understand how he or she didn't learn anything?

AP for totally unqualified students creates attractive transcripts that are, sadly, fraudulent.

There's nothing unusual about this school. Look at Jay Mathews' Challenge Index and you will see dozens, if not hundreds, of "Striver" schools, with pass rates below 10%.

Many states are misusing AP profoundly--using state funds to pay for tests, simply to qualify for the Challenge Index, or brag that they are preparing students for college. If not the norm, it is a significant percentage of schools.

Many of the schools have Hispanics who are passing the AP Spanish test, but are otherwise remedial. We can argue whether or not the AP Spanish test should be used to inflate pass scores or GPAs, but we should at least acknowledge that it has no bearing on a student's academic preparation.

Look at the AP score stats. For blacks, not only is the most common score 1 (the lowest) but it is twice as frequent as the second most common score (2). This is much the same for Hispanics, once the AP Spanish score is removed.

I wrote an op ed about a Bay Area school that puts all students in AP, regardless of ability:

Summit is a suburban charter school with very few rock stars, but a percentage of reasonably qualified students. However, many of their students are remedial, yet are put in AP classes anyway--and Summit is given a great deal of praise for it.

AP classes for wholly unqualified students has the following negative effects:

1) It wastes public funds.
a) We are paying teachers to teach classes that the students can't benefit from
b) Paying for AP tests that students have no chance of passing,
c) Paying for remedial courses in public universities because of unqualified students who wasted two or more years of high school,
d) Paying for college loans for students to take remedial level courses when we've already footed the bill for their high school education.

2) We are allowing schools all over America to mask the profoundly low abilities of their students. By putting them in classes where they can't do the work (AP is just one manifestation of this) but passing them anyway--in fact, giving them good grades--the schools don't have to acknowledge that many, most, or (sadly) all of their students are reading at a fourth grade level and can't add two-digit numbers easily.

3) Worst of all, we're lying to these students about their abilities and their preparation for college.

We are wasting money and lying because if we admitted they weren't ready, then we'd have no plan B. Our entire educational policy is based on the pretense that all students can be prepared for college and succeed there.

Cal said...

I left a previous comment that, I think, was accepted but it got an error message. If it didn't go through, oh well, but I wrote an op ed piece about the misuse of AP in the Mercury News just last week that's on point, here:

If the first comment went through, please delete this one.

Anonymous said...

I've said on other posts; when the dinosaurs roamed and I was in ES-HS (50s-60s), self-esteem wasn't even on the radar screen. The focus was on self-control and hard work. That was before some study found that high-achieving kids had high self-esteem; the ed world immediately jumped to the conclusion that high self-esteem caused high achievement. It didn't seem to occur to them that the causation might flow in the opposite direction.

As far as this situation is concerned, I would have been surprised if significant numbers of kids had passed AP tests, even if they had worked hard. It is all too likely that they were well below HS entry-level, let alone AP, in terms of acadmics, whether in reading, writing, math or the disciplines. I think that putting unprepared kids in AP classes is academically unsound, at best, and certainly a misuse of funds. More likely, their actual abilities meant that these kids were set up to fail and told they - and their "educators"- should be proud. Only in the ed world...

Ellen K said...

Unfortunately, many state and federal evaluations included sections that denote minority involvement in AP programs. Consequently, in order to get or maintain a high rating, districts resort to these kinds of demographic hijinks. This push is already on in my school to include students who are seriously unprepared for the rigors of a real AP program. As a result, many take the course knowing that it won't apply to their GPA and they either fail the test, which makes the instructor look bad, or they don't show up for the exam even when the district has paid for it. It's a travesty at best and it puts our best adminisrators in the position of having to dumb down their curriculum in order to make the classes appealing to those students shopping around for easy credits.

Linda Fox said...

I can understand pushing kids harder, making them work for the grade.

What I can't understand is how putting unprepared kids in a class they are NOT ready for is improving their education.

Or, do all of the students who DON'T pass the AP test get F's?

Don't be ridiculous!

Why can't we just give them fair grades, no inflation. If they're OK with failing, why can't we do so in regular classes?

There's a HUGE benefit for the large AP enrollment - those obnoxious parents who put those bumper stickers - MY child is an Honor student at __________ school - can brag about their AP student.