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Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Stand and Deliver? No, Sit Down and Shut Up

The movie, Stand and Deliver, told the inspirational story of one teacher's success in using Advanced Placement (AP) calculus with his demoralized students. The students complained, worked hard, fought back, bought in, and eventually passed the AP calculus test. Test administrators thought the students had cheated and canceled their scores. The students retook—and passed---the test. Garfield High in Los Angeles would never be the same. Or would it?

Texas hopes to replicate Jaime Escalante's resounding success. More and more schools are offering more and more AP courses to more and more students. But Texas school officials do not like the results. At least they do not like the statistics. More and more students are failing.

But the latest data show Texas high school students fail more than half of the college-level exams, and their performance trails national averages.

School officials wring their hands and wonder what could be going wrong. The students who are expected to fail are failing, and surprise, students from elite schools, the top tier, are failing in increasing numbers, too.

But high failure rates from some of the Dallas area's elite campuses raise questions about whether our most advantaged high school students are prepared for college work.

What is the problem?

For one, you can not just “helicopter-drop” AP courses into a school and expect instant education reform.

Because, two, the teachers may not be qualified to teach AP courses.

So, three, the teachers tend to fail to cover the material and properly prepare the students.

Besides, four, too many students enroll without adequate academic foundation for the courses.

The problem with looking to a movie for direction in education reform is that Garfield High's AP calculus program was just a bit little different than the movie version. Mr. Escalante spent years preparing the students, requiring them to take summer courses and come to school from 7:00 am- noon on Saturdays.

Even Garfield High did not sustain their own success. Please read that link. Mr. Escalante's experience is emblematic in terms of reform obstructionism, professional jealousy, and society's lack of respect for teachers.

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