The College Board is slowly and steadily attempting to increase its influence in high school and even middle-school classrooms across the country. It’s marketing new curriculums and opening new College Board Schools, which promise to be “centers of learning where College Board programs and services drive academic rigor.”
I think that College Board and AP curriculum can bring demanding standards to a classroom and improve the rigor of classwork, especially in public schools where nonstandard curriculums can’t prepare kids for college.
However, I do not think that expanding College Board influence is a good idea. The College Board, and ETS (the parent company), make their living by testing. Name a subject, field, value, or skill, and ETS has considered, made, or attempted to make a test for it. I don’t like testing, because it takes away from class time and, as David Owen shows in his fantastic book “None of the Above: The Truth Behind the SAT,” even standardized tests in areas like math aren’t terribly accurate reflectors of absorption of the material. Moreover, College Board curriculum, while ‘rigorous,’ may not give students the best education they can get. I have long held that school isn’t so much about the courses you take as it is about learning processes and skills (how to ask questions, what questions to ask, how to write well, how to think critically, etc). Most of the material learned in high school (Dante, Calculus, Chemistry, and World History) is only relevant for people entering highly specialized fields. College Board, rather than focus on learning processes, focuses instead on material. College Board wants to cram its students full of information, for them to unload it on a standardized test. I took an AP European History course, and almost the whole course was fact memorization, and short essay/document based question practice. College Board may be turning its students into good memorizers, quick test-takers, and excellent short-essay-writers, at the expense of turning them into lifelong learners. We almost never had time in European History to discuss any of the interesting topics in depth. Cramming material into students and then testing them College Board style is a sure way to bore them and leave them lacking vital skills (question-asking, actually in-depth analysis, ability to revise and write long papers, doing original research, becoming proactive), which will only harm in the future.
The success of College Board schools may come down to how much College Board is willing to pay its teachers. The more College Board, and for that matter any school, is willing to pay its teachers, the better quality it will be able to attract, which transfers to its students. Students learn more from good teachers, because good teachers will engage students, find ways to make the material interesting, and leave behind valuable things like work ethic, honesty, and confidence, that stay with students far longer than the actual material. Currently, College Board pays its SAT proctors around $8-9 an hour, and as David Owen points out, gets proctors who don’t report cheats and don’t administer the test properly. To achieve success, it must be willing to pay its school teachers much more.