Greater Greater Education

Should all AP classes be in one DCPS building?

DC Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson says she'd like to consolidate all AP classes in one building rather than "trying to get at least five AP classes into every single one of my 17 high schools." Does that make sense?


Photo by DCPS.

In an interview with The Northwest Current that followed on the heels of her speech on the state of DCPS last week, Henderson went through a wish list of innovations she'd like to see at middle and high schools. Some of them sound appealing, but the AP idea was puzzling.

Henderson suggested that "kids could go take AP classes [at the designated AP school] from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. every afternoon or all day Saturday."

That would certainly be easier from an administrative point of view, and it could enable DCPS to develop a stable of highly qualified AP teachers. But for students, having to travel across town to take an AP class might well be a disincentive, especially if either a student's home school or the "AP school" isn't near a Metro stop. It's possible that only the most motivated students would actually make it to class, especially one on Saturday. Not to mention the instructional time that would be lost in commuting.

Henderson told the Current that "the idea of kids going to the school that's closest to them and circling through 8 classes is limiting." Kids get bored with that routine, she said, "so we have to find a way to do something different."

Aside from consolidating AP classes, Henderson mentioned that she'd like to give high school students a chance to audit courses at nearby universities, or maybe invite adjunct college professors to teach some classes at high schools. That kind of opportunity might be just the ticket for an able student who's bored by high school. And it's probably no accident that Henderson chose to make these points in the Northwest Current, which has a wide distribution in an area that has a relatively large concentration of high-achieving students.

Henderson also said she'd like all students to go on international excursions, maybe for a week in 8th grade and a month in 11th grade. No doubt this is an idea that would appeal to many students and their families across all wards. But how would Henderson pay for it?

She was vague on that point, saying only "We hopewe expectthat these are the things you'll see in the budget for fiscal year 2015."

Well, you can always hope. You can even expect. But even if the District adopts a recent recommendation to increase per-pupil funding in DC schools, it's hard to imagine there would be enough money to send every DCPS student abroad at public expense. Twice.

And of course, many high school students in DCPS lack basic reading, writing, and math skills. It sure would be nice to send every 11th-grader abroad for a month, but ensuring they can perform at something approximating grade level might be a better expenditure of funds.

It's fine to dream big. And it's also fine to come up with ideas that might lure more affluent Washingtonians to keep their kids in the public school system through middle and high school. But these big shiny dreams shouldn't distract us from the very real deficiencies in DCPS high schools that most of these proposals will do nothing to remedy. It's possible that many DCPS high school students are bored, not just because of the routine, but because they're not equipped to do the work that's put in front of them.

Natalie Wexler is a board member at DC Scholars Public Charter School and a volunteer tutor in a DC Public School. She also serves on the board of The Writing Revolution, an organization that brings the teaching of analytical writing to underserved schools. She has been a lawyer, a historian, and a journalist, and is the author of three novels. 

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Not a lot of specifics so its tough to draw conclusions.

Without any details its hard to see much wisdom in moving all AP classes to one central location. It might make more sense to offer some classes at local schools and a wider selection at a central location, or several central locations.

More travel would certainly be a burden for my 9th grader. We chose Wilson over Walls in part because its much closer to home. Another reason was its a bigger school offering more class selection and more extracurricular activities.

On the other hand, offing classes, later in the day or on Saturday, that most DCPS high schools don't offer, is a creative idea. It would help make going to a smaller school with fewer classes more inviting. Maybe my kid would take a class on Saturdays? it would be a nice option.

Definitely worth exploring the possibilities.

That said the logistics seem daunting. Participating in an after school sport or other activity and then traveling to class somewhere else in the city on top of regular homework eats up a lot of time.

On travel... It would be great to send all the 8th and 11th graders out of the country for a month. Last year at Deal 8th grade language classes went to France, China and Costa Rica over spring break. It was a great trip. Unfortunately parents had to pay several thousand for the trips so a lot of kids did not get to go. Its kind of lame to offer services in a public school only to the kids who can pay or the few lucky ones who got scholarships.

by turtleshell on Oct 25, 2013 1:08 pm • linkreport

This is crazy. AP teachers teach other classes and inspire kids at all levels, basically you are trying to remove all the best teachers from an already weak system and cloister them at some leprosy colony for privileged kids.

by parent on Oct 25, 2013 3:39 pm • linkreport

That's a horrible idea. Even in a system as benighted as DC's, 25% of all students take at least one AP class.
http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/c8/c8s1o12.htm
Very few students, however, take *only* AP classes (there's no AP gym, home ec, band, rhetoric, Arabic, etc.). So you're forcing DC's best and brightest students to interrupt their school day to spend probably a half-hour each way on the buses, every single day. I can't think of a better way to punish learning.

by Tom Veil on Oct 25, 2013 6:23 pm • linkreport

I think the comments by Henderson reveal a fundamental cluelessness. AP or IB classes should not be considered so exotic that they are housed in a separate facility. Instead, they should be ingrained within every high school, and the kids taking these classes should set the tone for other students. It's one more reason why DCPS can't retain many bright students after elementary school if they are not in boundary for Deal and Wilson.

by Eleanor on Oct 26, 2013 9:39 am • linkreport

Wow. Further evidence that Ms. Henderson doesn't understand or appreciate what happens in the schools that she "runs". Not to say that I prefer the crazy profit driven charter system that's growing in this district, but I'd like to see the next mayor do a proper vetting of chancellor candidates, instead of adopting a Rhee acolyte.

As someone who has been working here for six years, I can tell you that this district needs serious leadership, not gimmicks and just weird suggestions like this...

by DCPS AP teacher on Oct 26, 2013 9:15 pm • linkreport

is the alternative for schools with only a few qualifying students to not offer AP or IB courses at all?

by bm on Oct 27, 2013 2:13 pm • linkreport

My decision to move to Mongtomery County 4 years ago for access to a wide array of top public schools in the nation for my middles schooler seems smarter by the year.

DCPS is a joke, and has been for decades. They keep trying to reinvent the wheel rather than simply modeling their programs and policies after their neighboring school districts.

by FormerColumbiaHeighter on Oct 28, 2013 8:22 am • linkreport

"DCPS is a joke, and has been for decades."
OK, easy to criticize from afar, but as a parent working in DC to make the schools better, I am sorry you left, since we need more active parents.
DC needs to:
-Fix the truancy problem; which in turn will help the graduation rates
-Get a computer and internet access to every Middle and High school-er, who needs one.

by DCPS Advocate on Oct 28, 2013 11:36 am • linkreport

I bet that idea would change if the location for AP classes was in Southeast, DC.

I like the idea of foreign travel for students, can't think of one student I ever taught who didn't benefit from it. Also like the idea of adjuncts and local universities partnering, though university partnership is pretty good already with DCPS.

by Kenneth Carroll on Oct 28, 2013 12:15 pm • linkreport

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