To the Editor:
I read with interest the Commentary by Paul Von Blum (“Are Advanced Placement Courses Diminishing Liberal Arts Education?,” Sept. 3, 2008), in which he argues that the level of preparation he regularly sees in students who have taken Advanced Placement courses is not adequate for college study. I especially took note of his statement that “it is unrealistic to advocate the abolition of Advanced Placement courses in high schools.”
Scarsdale High School, where I serve as principal, is one school that has made the decision to move beyond the AP curriculum—not because it does not serve many students well elsewhere who might otherwise not enjoy a rigorous curriculum, but because it does not mesh well with the intellectual aspirations we hold for our students. We are in the fortunate position to be able to deliver students richer courses of study in all disciplines that encourage higher-order thinking and habits of mind such as synthesis, evaluation, persistence, and tolerance for ambiguity in the face of difficult questions and problems.
Instead of Advanced Placement courses, we are offering “Advanced Topics” courses, during the second year of a three-year phase-in, that still deliver a core of study but encourage instructional innovation and foster, we believe, a genuine love of learning among our students.
Many private schools have offered such a curriculum for years in lieu of the AP approach, and while we do not pretend to recommend it to others in their unique settings, I do want to correct the impression that public schools are somehow stuck with what is.
Scarsdale High School
A version of this article appeared in the October 01, 2008 edition of Education Week as Advanced Placement Becomes ‘Advanced Topics’