"Bear in mind that the wonderful things you learn in your schools are the work of many generations, produced by enthusiastic effort and infinite labor in every country of the world. All this is put into your hands as your inheritance in order that you may receive it, honor it, add to it, and one day faithfully hand it to your children. Thus do we mortals achieve immortality in the permanent things which we create in common." - Albert Einstein

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Senior High School - Serious Questions to Ponder

The idea that additional years in high school could help better prepare students for higher education might look advantageous at first. Having the introductory courses in college covered in the senior years may reduce the number of courses a student must take in college. This can translate into savings since college is more costly than high school. In an ideal setting, this may be true. Under real circumstances, however, there are serious questions that need to be asked:

(1) Are there qualified teachers who could teach these advanced courses in high school?
(2) With a lack of uniformity across schools in the Philippines, would the two additional years further increase gaps and competitive disadvantages.

In the United States, high school students often take Advanced Placement courses during the final years of K-12. Several studies that evaluate these programs have been published. There is one book, for example, from Harvard Education press, that compiles the results of a conference held in 2007 attended by leading educators addressing the question on whether Advanced Placement courses are beneficial or not:
Image downloaded from Harvard Education Press
http://www.hepg.org/hep/book/120/AP
Commenting on this book, Scott Jaschik of Inside HigherEd writes the following:
Claims that the program helps students graduate on time or save money are found generally to have no validity. And research in the book suggests that many of the efforts to push the program into more schools -- a push that has been financed with many millions in state and federal funds -- may be paying for poorly-prepared students to fail courses they shouldn’t be taking in the first place. And the research suggests that not only is the money being misspent, but that the push may be skewing the decisions of low-income high schools that make adjustments to bring the program in -- while being unable to afford improvements in other programs.

John T. Tierney, a former college professor and high school teacher, recently wrote an article in The Atlantic ("AP Classes Are a Scam"). With the anticipated recruitment by the Philippines DepEd of college professors to teach in the proposed additional years in high school, Tierney's thoughts are worth our attention. In this article, he enumerated the reasons why he is not in favor of advanced placement courses:

  • AP courses are not, in fact, remotely equivalent to the college-level courses they are said to approximate. 
  • The traditional monetary argument for AP courses -- that they can enable an ambitious and hardworking student to avoid a semester or even a year of college tuition through the early accumulation of credits -- often no longer holds. 
  • The scourge of AP courses has spread into more and more high schools across the country, and the number of students taking these courses is growing by leaps and bounds. Studies show that increasing numbers of the students who take them are marginal at best, resulting in growing failure rates on the exams. 
  • Despite the rapidly growing enrollments in AP courses, large percentages of minority students are essentially left out of the AP game. 
  • The AP program imposes "substantial opportunity costs" on non-AP students in the form of what a school gives up in order to offer AP courses, which often enjoy smaller class sizes and some of the better teachers. 
  • To me, the most serious count against Advanced Placement courses is that the AP curriculum leads to rigid stultification -- a kind of mindless genuflection to a prescribed plan of study that squelches creativity and free inquiry. 

These are all insightful comments that warrant a pause among those who are currently planning what the additional years in high school in the Philippines ought to be. The "substantial opportunity costs" is one important example. With limited resources (in this case, not just classrooms, but more importantly, better teachers), is it really wiser to put these into the additional years instead of trying to improve the quality of the first ten years of elementary and high school education? The second question is the learning gap. With students unable to master the content of the first ten years, would not adding two more years simply waste their time and cause greater failure?

Thus, while we wait for the final two years of high school in the Philippines to be drawn, the following words of Tierney at the beginning of his article are worth our attention:
"Fraudulent schemes come in all shapes and sizes. To work, they typically wear a patina of respectability. That's the case with Advanced Placement courses, one of the great frauds currently perpetrated on American high-school students."



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