Sunday, September 2, 2012

Colleges are having a Negative Impact on Academic Quality

A recent news story reported how the Bayonne school district is now lowering its standards for passing from a 70 to a 65. Now rather than comment on this clear concession to self-esteem building and social promotion, I’d like to comment on something even more egregious, an issue directly related to the pressures being put on high school from our nation’s colleges and their demand that students take honors and AP courses.

When I left teaching in West Windsor, the procedure for placement in Honors and AP courses was a complete travesty. Although in theory a teacher recommendation was required, there was no other prerequisite whatsoever, and parents were able to override any teacher recommendation. In 11th grade social studies, there were MORE honors classes than regular track classes. We even had 9th graders taking AP courses.

Now I realize that West Windsor is an elite public high school, but the impact of this concession to parents and the fact that 60% of students were in honors classes has resulted in a dumbing down of the honors, and by extension the AP curriculums. The students that are suffering by this travesty are the ones that truly deserve to be in these courses. How can you truly call a course Honors if it is essentially open to anybody? I sarcastically suggested to our principal that we just call every course at school honors. An honor is something that is supposed to be reserved by the deserving few.  Students at the school should not compare themselves to kids in other districts as justification for placement in honors, they should be judged against their peers.

But G-d forbid students not have an honors class on their transcript. I feel some sympathy for these parents demanding placement for their kids; it all gets back to the colleges and the pressure they are putting on families and schools to have these courses taken.
I’ve been told to “chill out,” that the whole thing is just a “game,” and that it really doesn’t matter. But it does matter. It matters to the teachers that have to now take extra time to provide supplemental instruction to underserving kids placed in these classes, and it matters to our best and brightest students that are being denied the academic challenge that should be offered in honors and AP courses. I sat in on a few of our AP classes, and to say that they are akin to a first year college course is a joke.

So what can be done? In West Windsor, nothing I’m sure. I do hear that other districts do put prerequisites on entrance into these courses, and I applaud them for that. But I also think that those won’t last long as the competitive pressures of college begin to weigh down on them. Will it dawn on colleges that in the long run they are really only hurting their own academic standards by doing this. I doubt it.

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