Keen, Lament, Moan, Plaint and Hand Wringing

The lamentations have begun. I am having a growing personal concern around the way in  which class levels/subject structures and difficulty  are explained to students and their parents – most especially in middle and high school. It seems as though tracking is alive and well – it merely has a new name.  Not only is tracking in existence, it is the way it plays out which is alarming.

In middle school students have certain course work which is essential to high school success. While there is debate over when exactly Algebra needs to be completed the first time, there is no disagreement on the need for multiple exposures. This means a student should have middle school Algebra, high school Algebra and later, college level Algebra. They are NOT different courses. The re-exposure helps students develop the process and reasoning skills inherent in this stage of mathematics.  I have at various times used college level Algebra book problems with middle school students as the students understood the concepts and needed math grinding practice. The kids thought they were ‘cool’ years later, when I ran into some home on college break….well, they realized they had been duped and laughed about it!

Students need to be able to read and summarize, construct a five paragraph essay  (preferably longer and more concise) and know when and how to use a variety of charts, including the Venn Diagram by middle school. At high school, students need to be further applying these skills and developing more in depth study skills.  High school should not be in the business of providing ‘training wheels’.  Rigorous study skills should begin to be developed in Grades 7 and 8, alas, too many parents believe their child is remarkably special and can skate by.

Todays Honors English is remarkably the same as my high school English class years ago. Honors English is one step up from College Prep, which is the baseline to get INTO college and generally speaking, community colleges or state colleges.  College Prep gives students training wheels to get through Honors English.  College Prep is normal, regular English writing, reading, literary analysis, etc. In effect, College Prep is a level up re-do of what should have happened in middle school and did not occur or the student would not be taking it in high school. In other words, College Prep is ‘tracking’ and Honors is for students on their game.

AP English is COLLEGE Level English. It requires a student to  think and perform as a college student. It is imperative students know how to study – which is different in scope and depth from doing assigned homework. AP English is a foundation for getting through the undergrad years. It is not indicative of a smarter student (as the class tends to be sold to students and parents), it is indicative of a student who knows how to study, has high level persistence and is willing to put in the time and energy for the rewards of learning at a higher level and college credit.

Whether it is AP Engish or AP Biology, the underlying premise is the same – know how to study as the training wheels are off and no one is going to give you  more than an outline. A student needs to be able to take control of their learning. This is not the memorizing of facts and reading a chapter from a text book.

Instead of high schools being honest with the product they are trying to sell (remember, schools with both a variety and abundance of AP classes look better), they just keep marketing the product. Not all students have the essential ability to study at a college level by time they are in high school; Most high school students can and should be able to handle the rigors of so called Honors English.

To each and every parent who is led to believe only AP classes are appropriate for their child, I ask them to reframe the question. Do you and your child actually understand what AP means and what is expected for AP credit?  Have you had a frank discussion with your child about what may have to be given up in order to get through an AP class and are they willing to make the sacrifice at this juncture in time? As in college, college level courses require something ‘more’ and giving up an hour of TV may not be the only thing which must go.  Is the cost benefit analysis worthwhile to save on tuition of three units at a university?

Lamenting the need to give up a team practice or some other activity should not be a big deal to survive an AP class as scholar-athletes manage this routine in college for their scholarship. I know many, many high school coaches who would rather a student take an extra afternoon to study and miss a practice than to settle for C grades to ‘make it on the team’.  Notice the grade of C is low enough to get enough people on the team.

Part and parcel of taking an AP class is the fact it is not easy, there are sacrifices and the student has the maturity to deal with this issue. There is nothing wrong with taking Honors English and calling it a day.

There is something terribly wrong with parents who need to hire tutors to teach their child how to write an essay and study at a collegiate level, most especially after 3 months into the school year when the student has a C grade and needs to get it together.  A little thoughtfulness regarding when a student is ready for AP coursework will go a long way in benefitting a child in actually getting something from the  Honors or AP experience besides frustration and anger.