The concept behind Advanced Placement classes is simple: high school students get the opportunity to take college level courses and take a nation-wide standardized exam on the material in order to get the college credit they deserve. It’s an excellent way for students to experience the rigors of college while still in a comfortable high school setting. On the other hand, what if the high school environment is far more rigorous than the average college?
This is exactly what block scheduling does.
With the first two terms of block over, I have come to realize how amazing some of the feats the students at BC have achieved are. While some AP classes parallel semester-long college courses, others follow the curriculum of college courses that have been split into two semesters because of the magnitude of the material. For example, AP Chemistry is comparable to the two semester combination of CHEM 103 and CHEM 104 offered at UW schools. On the block schedule, however, students are expected to learn the same amount of material in one semester. The same applies for classes like AP Calculus BC (which covers both first and second semester calculus), AP Physics B, and AP Physics C.
While this may already seem unreasonable, there is another catch. Students have to take the AP Exam almost a full semester after the class has ended. After nearly four months, students are expected to review and to be tested on college-level material. It goes without saying, students need help from teachers.
There’s good news and bad news. The good news is that teachers are willing to help as much as they can. The genuine interest teachers at BC show for their students is part of what makes it such a successful school. Students need help, and teachers want to give help. What’s the bad news? The district is unwilling to bring the two together.
While some teachers are willing to hold up to 20 hours of review sessions, the school is only willing to pay for 10. Imagine trying to review material normally taught at a university throughout a whole year through lectures, labs, papers and discussions in a short 10 hours. Thus, teachers have no choice but to charge for their additional review sessions. Two problems arise as a result. First, this becomes unfair for students. In an ideal world, public school students, rich or poor, can get the same level of education and support from their teachers. Hiring teachers as private tutors might not be the most economically viable option for some families, thus tilting the previously level field.
The second problem is less obvious. Teachers must decide on a price to charge their students. A high price presents obvious problems to their students, but setting the price too low presents problems with other staff members. Any work place, including schools, works best when the staff is willing to work together. This complication has already begun to pit teachers against each other, each seeing the other as competition.
So, I present to you a question that has been the prominent concern since the beginning of the block schedule controversy. Is money truly more important to schools than the quality of education it provides?
Hmm… Let me think about that one. I’ll get back to you in four months.