Video Op-Ed on AP Classes

Vicki Abeles, the filmmaker of Race to Nowhere, had an excellent video op-ed in yesterday’s New York Times about the problems with Advanced Placement Classes. Watch it here and then let me know what you think.

If you’re a parent of a high schooler, or a high schooler, I’m curious to know what, if anything, you do about AP classes. I, for one, discourage my high schooler from taking zero period classes (those that start at 7:10) and from taking honors or AP classes. While her teachers (and other parents) often look at me askance, I think her free time is better spent on activities of her own choosing (and getting a good night’s sleep) than on doing the extra homework that comes along with those kinds of classes. And although the video doesn’t really get to it, AP classes in particular don’t require more advanced or creative thinking. They do, though, require an awful lot of memorization.

(You can see Race to Nowhere on Thursday, January 28, in Salt Lake City, Utah at 7:30 p.m. at the Megaplex Theater).

16 thoughts on “Video Op-Ed on AP Classes

  1. Sara, I saw this on Facebook twice yesterday. First a friend linked and began a discussion and then I saw it off stophomework’s Facebook page.

    Great video. I still have not been able to see the full film (Race to Nowhere) but have sent the trailer to so many people and organizations and have watched it so much, I have the best lines down to memory!

    It was interesting seeing the same people featured in the film, this time focusing exclusively on high school students. My favorite line: (paraphrasing here) “I knew something was wrong when my daughter, who’d just completed the French AP exam proclaimed, oh, good, now I never have to speak French again!”

    What you would call unintended consequences. Jay Mathews and his Newsweek Challenge Index have a lot to do with this AP mania.. He ranks schools entirely by what he considers a brilliant formula. Essentially, how many AP tests the school administers. Doesn’t matter if the kids fail. As long as they take the test, Mathews is convinced they are being challenged.

    Public schools, more consumed with how they look than meeting the needs of their students, are falling all over each other, trying to best the school down the street (where I live, there are so many high schools, all you have to do is drive a few blocks and there’s another one) and at least make it into the top 100.Politicians just salivate at the bragging rights.

    Many classes have students of every imaginable level. And many teachers are unprepared, rushed into cramming college course material that so many high schooolers cannot fully appreciate, racing to meet the test deadline.


  2. You don’t need to take AP classes to take the AP tests.

    They are a very useful tool for forgoing the more mundane basic class requirements at colleges that give credits for high AP test scores. Which probably defeats the intent of AP classes.

    I think it would be healthier for a student to consider why they are taking the class, and if they can pass the test without the class, ditch the class and take the test.


  3. MSN, last year, I tried to convince my daughter to ditch the courses but take the exams but she didn’t want to. She sees the charade in that too. Sometimes she’s too good for this world :(.


  4. My 10th grade daughter enrolled in her first AP class (European History) this year not because she was interested in history or had a strong desire to study this time period. She enrolled in this AP class because the guidance counselor explained the weighted grading system our high school uses for AP classes. Getting an “A” in an AP class is worth 5.00 instead of the normal 4.00.

    GPA status and class rank are big in our district and kids compete madly to be #1. The guidance counselors encourage this competition for grades and ranking.

    My daughter has discovered that AP European History requires 2-3 hours of reading and note taking each night. The textbook is a dry, vocabulary enhanced bunch of facts and trivia. She reads at a very high level but has to keep a dictionary close by due to the lofty word choices the author uses.

    The quizzes, tests, 5 paragraph essays and document based questions are based on following a certain formula for writing and memorization of rote facts, dates and names.

    The class moves quite rapidly and no time is spent on creative or original thinking. It is a race to cover the facts so students can spit them out on the AP exam to be held in April. My daughter has plans to burn her textbook once the exam is over.

    This was her first, and last, experience with an AP class – her decision.


  5. Shame on that counselor for encouraging students to take AP classes for grades and ranking. Shame on the system for allowing anything other than a 4.0 as the highest GPA.

    I really liked Vicki’s 5 minute op ed video on AP classes. I think it will make a great addition to her DVD extras once the “Race to Nowhere” DVD is finished.

    I wish every student who takes AP classes, every AP teacher and every parent of a child who takes AP classes would see this 5 minute clip.


  6. I’ve been in a few AP classes so far and I’d like to point out that not all of them are bad. AP Biology was a real nightmare with 2 hours of homework a night; AP Physics on the other hand has caused me no stress. I’ve found the classes that are more focused on “doing things” as opposed to memorizing things like AP Calculus and AP Computer Science are perfectly reasonable. Of course, this depends on the teacher; I have been lucky to have many good teachers.

    To some, myself included, the bigger problem isn’t whether or not the class is stressful — although that certainly is important — it’s the whole broken process of college admissions that has the College Board laughing all the way to the bank. It’s this dangerous idea that a person’s worth can be summed up with a series of numbers.

    I really appreciate the point that Julie brings up about essays. Before I took AP Euro, many told me that it would improve my essay writing skills. That is laughable. I learned how to write the essay the graders were looking for very well, but I did not learn how to improve my writing. The same thing could be said for AP Lang.


  7. Here’s an update on the AP European History class my daughter is taking this year and it’s not pretty.

    As the May testing date for AP gets closer, the pressure on the kids is out of control. Their teacher’s goal is to get as many kids as possible to score a 5 on the test so he has arranged for after school tutoring classes for the next three weeks! I think the more 5’s earned, the “better” he looks to his administration.

    The teacher has the kids, my daughter included, convinced that they need to attend these extra study sessions (free) for 2 hours after school each day in order to pass the AP Euro test.

    This extra time is on top of their 2 hours of “regular” homework he assigns each night. Like her classmates, my daughter is afraid she won’t pass the AP test if she doesn’t attend the after school sessions, plus she’s worried that her teacher will think less of her, and grade her more harshly, if she doesn’t attend. After all, he thinks the after school sessions are great!

    If the kids really need 2 hours of cram every day for 3 weeks to pass the test, just what was the teacher teaching every day all year? This is madness…pure madness.


  8. I’ve asked my daughter to consider that very question and to think about what this cram time is doing to her stress levels, her sleep, and her overall attitude toward school. All are deteriorating.

    She’s been well indoctrinated by the public school system to compete for test scores, scramble for grades, and obediently do what the teacher says despite the stress it causes her.

    Considering skipping the cram sessions and not taking the AP test causes her a great deal of anxiety — she sees it as failure — like she can’t handle it while other kids can. Someone needs to break this pattern. I’m hopeful it will be her.


  9. I agree that someone needs to break the pattern. It sounds as though you’ve given her the permission to be the pattern-breaker. But, as you said, it can be hard when a student has been indoctrinated by the public school system. I think that’s why there are so few student groups advocating on their own behalf. What happened to the days when students held protests, sit-ins, walkouts, or took some kind of action?


  10. @Sara said: “What hap­pened to the days when stu­dents held protests, sit-ins, walk­outs, or took some kind of action?”

    I think the economy is a big part of it. If you’re in high school and scared about not being able to get into the college of your choice (because there is so much competition for college spots right now) then you’re going to do anything you can to improve your chances. The schools drill into students’ heads that the “school way” is the only way, and the kids don’t realize how badly they are being prepared for college and future jobs.


  11. I think the student protests were a historical anomaly, brought on by economic comfort and the baby boom. We don’t have either of those conditions now. The economy got wrecked in ways that are still unraveling, and the country is aging. Children and young adults are a small percentage of the population.

    I agree with Matthew that anxiety keeps everyone in line. Kids are terrified that they’ll slip up and ruin their future.


  12. Or are their parents?

    Us enlightened ones, are seeing things in a reasonable way, but I don’t think we’re in the majority. I think most parents are very worried about the academic futures of their kids to unhealthy degrees..the kids are just doing what they see.


  13. Our public school system fans the flame of parental anxiety by constantly putting out the message that kids need a “world class education in order to compete in the global marketplace.”
    Here, world class means more and harder at younger and younger ages.

    My district pushes the PSEO program so students take college level courses while they are only juniors and seniors in high school. They tout this as a way for parents to save thousands of dollars while the kids are struggling to have any sort of life outside the classroom. PSEO is in addition to AP classes. Both are GPA weighted so kids shoot for GPA’s well over 4.00.

    We live in a community of about 40,000 and there are now four different tutoring centers operating here – and keeping very busy. Summer academic camps are popular and ACT test prep tutors are the norm. Last year, 4 kids at a neighboring district committed suicide. Our high school drop out rate has increased and the level of bullying in our middle schools is out of control.

    Thankfully, my oldest child will graduate very soon, but we’re now homeschooling the youngest. The system is broken and she would never survive the pressure. By third grade, we were losing her to full blown depression, all due to inappropriate pressure to “succeed” and meet the district’s “high expectations.”


  14. Julie, we beat a hasty retreat from the public schools when our older daughter started coming home depressed every day in fifth grade.

    Our kids were lucky to have parents who were involved and able to pull the kids out of a bad situation. The scary thought is how many kids are stuck in the public schools in spite of their depression, anxiety and stress.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: