Do Advanced Placement classes make a school stronger?

The story of  Stand and Deliver teacher Jaime Escalante, who died this week, had an enormous effect on the career of Jay Mathews, the longtime Washington Post reporter who writes the Class Struggle blog on the Post’s Web site.

Jay Mathews, Washington Post

Mathews wrote a book about Escalante and, ever since, he has extolled the benefits of rigorous Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes as a way to expand educational horizons and outcomes for all students. Mathews’ advocacy is one of the forces that has brought about a significant expansion of AP nationally.  He came up with the Challenge Index, which ranks high schools based on their graduation rates and participation in AP and IB classes.

At first blush, this sounds like a great thing. Parents and policymakers want students to be challenged and pushed so they can learn more. But should students who read poorly be put into classes where they are expected to read and analyze Shakespeare? The Index has been criticized because it doesn’t take into consideration how well students do on AP tests and also lauds schools with low graduation rates and large achievement gaps.  Mathews responded to such critiques here.

Mathews is a reporter who likes to engage with people with a different point of view. In this column, he has a discussion with a researcher he says is “the smartest critic of AP in low-income schools.” Well-worth reading.

— Richard Lee Colvin