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[Susan notes: Alfie Kohn has a terrific sentence summarizing what's wrong with AP courses.]

Published in New York Times
05/06/2009

To the editor

Re “Many Teachers in Advanced Placement Voice Concern at Its Rapid Growth” (news article, April 29):



Much of what’s wrong with what passes for the school “reform” movement is captured in the report on Advanced Placement courses released by the conservative Thomas B. Fordham Institute. The worry, it seems, is that “a generally good program” may be “weakened by making it too accessible.”



Much could be said about the troubling notion that quality is necessarily diluted by “democratization” — or, to put it the other way around, that the best kind of teaching must be restricted to an elite. But the real problem here is the uncritical assumption that A.P. courses are good merely because they’re “rigorous” — that is, very difficult.



In fact, these courses often represent an accelerated version of the worst sort of teaching: lecture-based, textbook-oriented, focused more on covering (a prefabricated curriculum) than on discovering, and above all, driven not by a desire to help students think deeply and become excited by ideas but by the imperative of preparing them for a test.



Could this tendency to confuse harder with better, and high test scores with real learning, be at the root of what’s wrong with an approach to improving education based mostly on “raising the bar”?



Alfie Kohn


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