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Topic: Rethink and Rollback the Expansion of AP and IB
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Jerry P. Becker

Posts: 16,576
Registered: 12/3/04
Rethink and Rollback the Expansion of AP and IB
Posted: Nov 3, 2017 4:15 PM
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From TULTICAN, Thursday, October 19, 2017. SEE
Rethink and Rollback the Expansion of AP and IB

By Tom Ultican

What if the education reform ideology is wrong?
What if the ideology of reform was based on an
incorrect understanding of developmentally
appropriate pedagogy? In a 2006 hearing before
the senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
committee, Assistant Secretary of Education,
Henry Johnson testified, "We believe that the
Advanced Placement program offers a proven,
scalable approach to raising expectations and
increasing rigor in America's high schools,
particularly those with high concentrations of
low-income students that typically do not offer
such curricula." What if that belief is
ill-founded? [SEE]

I taught AP physics and what a treat that was for
me. I always had the highest performing students
in the high school. This year both the
salutatorian and the valedictorian were in my
class. It was way more interesting than teaching
a concepts oriented class in physics designed for
the general student. Of course, I enjoyed
teaching AP Physics to the school's elite
students, however, I perceived a dark side. The
more I pondered it, the more I concluded that the
AP and IB programs were developmentally

IB stands for international baccalaureate. People
who worked in embassies or other out of country
assignments put their children in international
schools. When they move from one country to the
next, the school curriculum tended to be
significantly different. IB developed to
standardize curriculum from one country to the
next. The IB program is unnecessary in America.
Local communities who pay for schools deserve
input into the curriculum and locally developed
curriculum vetted by education leaders at local
universities is more meaningful to the community.

AP stands for advance placement. It is a product
of College Board, the testing giant that produces
the SAT tests. College Board is organized as a
"non-profit" but it has hundreds of employees
making six and seven figure incomes. AP is being
heavily promoted by technology companies,
politicians and other corporations. There is a
push to make AP the leader in curricular
development and teacher training. AP employs the
teach to the test strategy of pedagogy.

The National Math and Science Initiative (NMSI)
is now putting pressure towards the expansion of
AP courses in high schools across the nation. [
] A teacher in the Sweetwater Union High School
District wrote me this week saying teachers are
under heavy pressure to participate in NMSI/AP
sponsored training and AP class promotion.

Both AP and IB, allow students to earn college
credits that are accepted by most universities.
But is it developmentally appropriate? Are we
harming students?

"Sicker Not Smarter"

Paraphrasing an observation about American public
education students between world war II and the
publishing of "A Nation at Risk" in 1983:

"They were not serious about learning. They went
to dances, participated in sports and performed
in plays. They hung out with friends and listened
to rock music. They seldom studied and were
consistently average performers when compared
with foreign students. They graduated from high
school and three months latter a miracle
occurred; they became the top college students in
the world."

Throughout the history of American education
there has been a constant healthy debate about
pedagogy. It would be difficult to find any
professional educator that does not believe
education in public schools can be improved.
However, education reform that is not
developmentally appropriate is many times worse
than the derided status quo.

The 1983 polemic "A Nation at Risk" marks a
transition from education guided by professional
educators to education guided by powerful
business leaders, politicians and famous
scientists. Convinced that education in America
was failing, their solution was education
standards, testing and competition. The famous
education writer from Harvard University, Alfie
Kohn characterized modern education reform in his
2001 book, The Schools Our Children Deserve: "The
dominant philosophy of fixing schools consists of
saying, in effect, that 'what we're doing is OK,
we just need to do it harder, longer, stronger,
louder, meaner, and we'll have a better
country.'" (page 16)

Two years ago, Vicki Abeles published her book
Beyond Measure, Rescuing an Overscheduled,
Overtested, Underestimated Generation. She opened
chapter 1, "Sicker, Not Smarter" by quoting
Stuart Slavin, a Saint Louis University School of
Medicine professor and pediatrician. He shared,

"My personal feeling is that we are conducting an
enormous and unprecedented social experiment on
an entire generation of American children, and
the evidence of a negative impact on adolescent
mental health is overwhelming. Š It is even more
profoundly disturbing when one considers that
there is absolutely no evidence that this
educational approach actually leads to better
educational outcomes." (page 15)

Abeles quoted Donna Jackson Nakazawa, "There's a
perception that constant high demands will make
kids stronger says Nakazawa, '"but biologically
that is not the case; it's actually breaking down
the brain rather than creating resilience."'
(page 31) Abeles continued:

"We think of the years from zero to three as the
critical period for brain development, but Temple
University neuroscientist Laurence Steinberg
underscores that adolescence is another one.
'[T]he brain's malleability makes adolescence a
period of tremendous opportunity - and great
risk,' writes Steinberg. 'If we expose our young
people to positive, supportive environments, they
flourish. But if the environments are toxic, they
will suffer in powerful and enduring ways.'"
(page 36)

Writing for the New York Times Magazine this
month Benoit Denizet-Lewis addressed the
deteriorating mental health manifesting among
America's teens. She reported [SEE ATTACHMENT OR

"Š Suniya Luthar, a professor of psychology at
Arizona State University who has studied distress
and resilience in both well-off and disadvantaged
teenagers, has found that privileged youths are
among the most emotionally distressed young
people in America. 'These kids are incredibly
anxious and perfectionistic,' she says, but
there's 'contempt and scorn for the idea that
kids who have it all might be hurting.'

"For many of these young people, the biggest
single stressor is that they "never get to the
point where they can say, 'I've done enough, and
now I can stop,' Luthar says. 'There's always one
more activity, one more A.P. class, one more
thing to do in order to get into a top college.
Kids have a sense that they're not measuring up.
The pressure is relentless and getting worse."'

AP Like Common Core is not Age Appropriate

I taught my first AP physics class in 2004, my
first year at Mar Vista High School in Imperial
Beach, California. All my AP students were taking
multiple AP classes and four of them were taking
five. I was shocked! They were high school kids
not college kids but were allowed - no encouraged
- to take a heavier academic load than most
college students take.

Jay Mathews of the Washington Post creates an
annual ranking of America's high schools. He
explained the ranking criteria with this year's

"America's Most Challenging High Schools ranks
schools through an index formula that's a simple
ratio: the number of Advanced Placement,
International Baccalaureate and Advanced
International Certificate of Education tests
given at a school each year, divided by the
number of seniors who graduated that year. A
ratio of 1.000 means the school had as many tests
as graduates."

Today, we actually have AP classes for ninth
graders and non-profit organizations pressuring
public and charter schools to accelerate moving
college education into high school. Like the
inappropriate efforts to make kindergarten the
new first grade, and move advanced mathematics
into 7th grade, college classes in high school
are not developmentally appropriate.

History Teaches that Breaking the AP Hold in America Will Not be Easy

By the 1980's, an education philosophy popular
among the titans of industry started dominating.
This ideology posits that standards, high
expectation, increased rigor and accountability
are the keys to improving k-12 education. In
1994, the CEO of IBM, Louis Gerstner wrote in his
book Reinventing Education:

"Schools must meet the test any high-performance
organization must meet: results. And results are
not achieved by bureaucratic regulation. They are
achieved by meeting customer requirements by
rewards for success and penalties for failure.
Market discipline is the key, the ultimate form
of accountability."

Gerstner started and led a non-profit called
Achieve Inc. Achieve wrote and holds the
copyright for the Next Generation Science
Standards (NGSS). These standards have wide
financial and political support; however, they
are so poorly written, that California re-wrote
their version of the NGSS.

In 2010, Bill Gates, who also became an advocate
of standards and testing, instigated the writing
of the Common Core State Standards. Twenty-one
people working in secret wrote the standards.
Nineteen of the twenty-one writers came from the
testing industry including fifteen from College
Board and ACT.

I am not saying there is an evil conspiracy here.
I believe that people like Peter O'Donnell the
wealthy businessman and political activist from
Dallas, Texas, who poured personal wealth into
promoting AP are totally sincere in their desire
to improve the plight of education in America. I
have the same view of Bill Gates and Louis
Gerstner. The problem is they have great
financial and political power, unfortunately,
they do not know what they don't know about human
development and good pedagogy.

Today, colleges throughout the nation are giving
college credit to incoming students for
successfully completing AP courses. In addition,
they are giving extra weight towards admissions
to applicants with multiple AP courses on their
transcripts. This system is well established and
ubiquitous. Chinese history teaches how difficult
it is to mitigate this kind of culture.

Two years in a row, representatives from the
Chinese ministry of education came to observe
classes at Mar Vista High School. They even
contracted with one of our math teachers, Mark
James, to go to China and teach a model class. In
China, there is general agreement that their
high-pressure test centric education needs
reforming. It is harming the youth.

In Young Zhao's book Who's Afraid of the Big Bad
Dragon there is a chapter titled "The Witch That
Cannot Be Killed." In it he wrote:

'"Thus, more than a decade's history of
prohibition orders from educational departments
has been a history of ineffective orders,' notes
a report in China Weekly after reviewing numerous
attempts to curtail the power of testing in
Chinese Education. How is it possible that in
such a tightly controlled, authoritarian society,
the omnipotent government has been unable to kill
the witch of testing?" (page 151)

Professor Zhao's answer to his own question is a
warning for us. If we ever recognize the wrong
educational path we have taken, changing course
will be difficult. Zhao explained:

"In the effort to lessen academic burden and
reduce testing, Chinese parents, students,
teachers, and schools are all playing the
prisoner's dilemma game. Knowing or assuming that
others will continue to do more homework, seek
private tutoring, and prepare for tests, very few
parents, children, and schools would choose to
voluntarily reduce the work load for fear of
losing the game. Most schools, knowing that
others will continue to use exams to select
better students and gain an advantage, will
choose to continue to use exams to admit students
because the school's reputation is on the line
and will be judged by how well its students score
in the future. Essentially the dilemma dictates
that everyone must continue to behave in the same
way. No one can afford to cut back first, for
fear that the others won't follow suit.
Consequently, although new policies might bring a
better education for all, no player in the
education game is willing to take the risky first
step." (page 155/6)

There are many factors that would improve
education and they are well know; smaller class
sizes, integrated schools, well maintained modern
facilities and teachers certificated in the
subjects they teach are four such positive
reforms. Surprisingly, increasing rigor and
driving expectations down to younger students are

Kindergarteners should receive lessons such as
don't eat the clay and it's not nice to pull
hair. Academics are developmentally inappropriate
and likely unhealthy for them. Teaching Newton's
laws of motion and principles of algebra in
fourth grade will surely cause more harm than
good. The nine-year-old brain is not ready for
symbolic reasoning. And, teenagers are dealing
with natural biological stress; they need a safe
low stress environment for healthy development.
Rigor and high stakes testing is the wrong recipe.

It is time to rethink AP and roll it back.
SIDEBAR PHOTO: Physics Lab 2 -- Mar Vista High
School - Picture by Thomas Ultican
Jerry P. Becker
Department of Curriculum & Instruction
College of Education and Human Services
Southern Illinois University Carbondale
625 Wham Drive / MC 4610
Carbondale, Illinois 62901

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