To the many in the world of education and learning change, the newest AP Report to the Nation released lately by the College Board is cause for party on two fronts. The first accomplishment has to do with value. During the program’s early history in the Sixties, Advanced Placement Courses were generally applied by white students. Even as late as the mid-1990s, 80 percent of AP examinations were taken by whites or Asians. Today, however, approximately a third of learners on the program are non-Asian learners of color. And that number is growing every year.
The second accomplishment has to do with learning and training. By the twenty-first millennium, AP was being assailed by its experts for unable to progress. While college teachers progressively advised learners through closer examinations of topics with an alignment toward critical thinking and hands-on work, the Advanced Placement Courses continue to highlight survey-style coverage and content recall skills. This newest report, however, details a course and examination upgrade that brings Advanced Placement Courses back to normal with “current methods while attending college education.” And according to the College Board, changes in all subject matter will be significant. Both of these improvements are the result of effort, financial dedication (the Department of Education alone has invested one fourth of a billion dollars on its AP Incentive Program), and serious initiatives by everyone concerned to advertise the twin goals of value and quality. The problem, however, is that AP can do very little to actually recognize those goals.
Plan leaders, of course, are conscious of the restricted achievements of their labors, both through the Advanced Placement Courses and through other technically-oriented university enhancement initiatives. Still, they keep favoring centrally-designed changes that can be applied in a top-down way because they get around the unforeseen and time-consuming work of engaging stakeholders, developing university potential, and creating a politically brave plan. Consequently, their initiatives, while well-intended, never deal with the actual problems that impact school quality and academic value. To use a metaphor of Larry Cuban’s, they make storm-tossed wave on the ocean’s surface without distressing the strong current below.