"Kansas’ Long History of Unequal Access to Education Continues" is a subtitle in the ProPublica release on students taking Advanced Placement courses. Under that false assumption that AP courses for economically poor students are the important measure of a state’s education quality, ProPublica puts Kansas at the bottom of the 50 states with the worst "opportunity gap."
Their report condemns Kansas by referring to our "landmark civil rights decision Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka" and then leading into: "Nearly 60 years later, Kansas still has a deeply unequal educational system." This journalist blather flies in the face of multiple education measures that place Kansas in the top of states in education: high ACT and NAEP scores, low dropout rates, and discipline-specific achievement.
Meanwhile, Florida–a state that ranks in the bottom half on most education measures–is considered a leading state because it has raised AP test-passing for poor students from ten percent to 20 percent.
Just as in Florida, the percentage of low-income AP-test takers in Kansas has doubled, but ProPublica finds our numbers are too low, apparently oblivious to the fact that Florida is nearly seven times more populated than Kansas. Their study likewise only looked at USDs bigger than 3000 students.
KSDE’s deputy commissioner Neuenswander ably defended Kansas against charges that Kansas is depriving poorer children of educational opportunity. Nevertheless, ProPublica even drags in the unrelated Schools for Fair Funding lawsuit as evidence to support their AP-rate-is-too-low "opportunity gap" theory.
One assumption is that students with high enough AP scores to gain college credit will then move ahead into those disciplines when they reach college. The reverse has happened: in a decade when AP-taking increased dramatically, the number of American students entering college science programs continued to decline.
Just as private-college prep schools advertise, taking AP in high school may actually allow students to "get it over with" and divert them out of that discipline in college. AP is also notorious for teach-to-the-test lecturing in science and shortchanges lab and fieldwork. Students may never experience college science labs critical for sparking long term science interest.
This last decade’s surge in AP courses was an unintended consequence of the NCLB requirements. To get low-performing students up to proficiency, schools have often decreased or abandon advanced courses for average and gifted students. AP and dual-credit courses filled that gap. But most students are not Doogie Howsers nor do most have the maturity to fully internalize college coursework as young high school students.
AP is far from being an indicator of quality educational opportunity. The National Research Council, in their analysis of AP Biology in Fulfilling the Promise, Biology Education in the Nations Schools had serious questions that remain to this day. They found that some teachers "report that the AP course covers too many aspects of biology in too short a time, puts excessive emphasis on lecturing by the teachers, does not devote enough time to laboratory work, requires teaching to the examination, and induces some of the most academically able students to take a course merely to gain admission to college." (page 85)
Had ProPublica actually interviewed teachers, they would have found some of our best science teachers reject teaching AP. That many Kansas teachers have not bought into the teach-to-the-test AP curriculum is our strength, not a weakness.