I am a little behind on blogging topics but wanted to give a quick plug to the Core Knowledge blog and this post on curriculum. It is a discussion on high expectations and I am always fascinated with the misdirection that goes on in education discussions (not from Core Knowledge but other discussants). In this case there is a discussion of writing assignments that is a part of the Ed Trust presentation on why are schools are failing. In one school students are asked to write a detailed character analysis of Anne Frank and in the school students are asked to write an essay about “my best friend” or “a chore I hate”. Obviously not even close to the same level of difficulty.
The discussion moves to student expectations which should be high and this is where the disagreements begin. Some would argue that you can’t suddenly ask students who are years behind their grade level to create outstanding 7th grade essays. Others would argue that we continue to set low expectations that keep students years behind. But the main point of the Ed Trust presentation is that this is an AP class and the AP standards have been watered down in the second school so that they can say they have lots of people in AP. So it really isn’t so much about general expectations of all students – it is more about forcing students into an advanced class and then lowering the expectations so we can keep the numbers up and show progress.
The problem is that school districts want to say that they have XX% of their students in AP when the class really isn’t an AP class. It is similar to taking Algebra in middle school. One of the new “coins of the realm” for demonstrating progress is the number of people taking Algebra – but then the Algebra class actually becomes basic math because none of the students are even close to being able to handle Algebra. This of course forced a California judge to halt algebra (still my favorite headline).
Symbolic progress creates that race to the bottom by forcing lower standards for advanced classes. Instead of worrying about the numbers of people taking AP, let’s only talk about the numbers passing AP tests or do away with AP altogether and just have the kids take college courses – seems to be a lot more valuable to everyone except ETS.