American Students Deserve Better than the AP SystemHistorians in the News
tags: education, Advanced Placement, teaching history
Annie Abrams’s recently released book, Shortchanged: How Advanced Placement Cheats Students, is a deep dive into the history, theory and practice of the College Board’s Advanced Placement program and how it has come to damage the overall ecosystem of liberal arts education in the United States. In my opinion, it’s a book that was long overdue, and I’m pleased it’s here to kick-start a debate we should be having at the program and institution level.
Over email, I had a chance to ask Annie a few questions about the book and its genesis that I was curious about. Shortchanged was previously reviewed by IHE’s Scott Jaschik.
Full disclosure: Annie Abrams and I share a publisher (Johns Hopkins UP), and we’ve previously exchanged information and feedback regarding our writing and mutual interest in challenging existing educational structures.
John Warner: Because I’ve written on the problems of AP exams in the past, I’ve noticed that lots of folks have a fairly simplified notion of what AP courses are and what they do, essentially that they’re a way for high school students to get college credit. What’s wrong or incomplete about this view?
Annie Abrams: AP represents a huge consolidation of academic, economic and political power.
AP exams cost between $97-$145 and, last year alone, the College Board sold over 4.7 million of them. Twenty years ago, the company sold only 1.7 million exams. Twenty years before that, only 211,160. Expansion might seem great, but the program’s substance has changed. An increased focus on testing justifies narrower, more prescriptive curriculum, mechanical assessments and unnerving data collection policies, at scale. The AP African American Studies disaster started to expose some of the model’s danger—politicians influencing how a corporation steamrolls scholars and teachers—but there are other concerns. Holden Thorp, editor in chief of Science magazine, recently called for more scrutiny of the company’s power in an editorial in which he concludes, “The corruption of the College Board is appalling. It simply cannot be trusted, and academia must stop relying on it to make important decisions about education.”
At the same time, Advanced Placement has been enshrined in law or systemwide policy across states. Public colleges and universities must grant AP credit, which means that most faculty’s thoughts about the program’s academic merit don’t matter much. Still, it’s important to understand AP as college, and to think about the company’s prescriptions in terms of setting college curriculum, standards and pedagogy. If we want to expand access to college, why aren’t we doing that by employing Ph.D.s? If we want to support high school teachers and strengthen curriculum, why aren’t we fostering collaboration? Instead, we’re outsourcing that work.
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