Are A.P. courses gateways to college and a better life, or roadblocks to high-level learning? Maybe it depends. For many school districts, especially those serving middle-class communities, A.P. classes are the pinnacle of their academic offerings, as well as something of a status symbol. So they vigorously promote A.P. enrollments by picking up the $89 tab for each exam or offering bonuses to teachers whose pupils pass the tests. "A.P.'s are not for the elite," says one superintendent. "They're for the prepared. And it's our job to prepare these kids." But the elite don't always harbor such egalitarian sentiments. In fact, many top-notch private schools are shunning the A.P. curriculum because teachers must move so quickly to cover all the required material. "[The A.P. courses are] not as valuable as what we could be offering on our own," snorts one private school guidance director. And competitive colleges, aware of A.P.'s growing popularity (and also aware of its lessening prestige), are increasing the test scores that incoming students must post for receipt of university credit. Fancy private schools dumbing-down their standards, regular public schools pumping up theirs: it's a novel way to close the achievement gap, but it just might work.
"The Two Faces of A.P.," by Tamar Lewin, New York Times, January 8, 2006
"Surviving a Midlife Crisis," by Andrew Mollison, Education Next, Winter 2006