AP pressure and other topics in today's Boston Globe Magazine education issue

Normally I pay very little attention to the magazine section in the Boston Sunday Globe. It alway has a few interesting features — such as Dinner with Cupid (where I once detected a former student of mine as a participant!), Miss Conduct, and Adam Ried’s cooking column — but usually the articles and the ads are eminently forgettable. This issue, however, was the education issue, so I had to read it carefully. Leafing through it, I first noticed a table titled “The Overachievers,” which made me think of Weston. Sure enough, Weston High School was listed as #1 among non-charter, non-exam schools in the state in this list of schools with the highest percentage of students taking AP courses (66% of upperclassmen in our case). The accompanying article provides a reasonably well-balanced analysis of the excessive pressure to take AP courses found in most of today’s top schools. Fortunately there aren’t too many students who aim to compete with my former student who took 13 during her four years here, but surely it’s statistically unlikely that two thirds of our students are really ready to do college-level work before they finish high school. Either the courses aren’t really doing college-level work, or else a large number of students enrolled in them aren’t really learning what they’re supposed to learn. On the other hand, it’s entirely plausible that a student in such a course is still learning more than she would have learned in a “regular” course. The article effectively explores the arguments on both sides, including interviews with admissions people from local colleges and discussion of schools that have eliminated AP courses or scaled them back. Read it!

The two other interesting articles in the special issue are one on the use of iPads and one on “five Big Ideas that just might transform the classroom.” The first of these is a disappointing opinion piece that is all too appropriately titled “Touching the Surface.” It makes the case that iPads promote edutainment rather than education, basing this conclusion on one month of observing students use them in English class! Contrast this view with what I saw students do at the Crimson Summer Academy and at Weston Middle School. In the former, rising sophomores used them effectively in every course and in their free time. In the latter, the entire school system saw a long video (produced by a group of students and teachers) that showed a great many educational advantages to using these devices. Personally I do have some significant reservations about their use in high-school math, but that’s just because I don’t think the appropriate apps are ready yet.

The five Big Ideas (I always like to capitalize that phrase) discussed in the last article are as follows:

  • a course at Rivers (a private school in Weston) that combines science with history, going all the way back well into pre-history
  • internships throughout all four years of high schools at Cristo Rey (a Catholic school in Boston)
  • a longer school day to reduce the achievement gap (focusing on Mass 2020)
  • digital textbooks (which can be used everywhere, a big potential plus for iPads, contrary to the article described above)
  • enrichment in the summer, another way to help reduce the achievement gap (focusing on BELL, around the corner from me in Dorchester)


Categories: Teaching & Learning, Weston