Rigorous Courses are a Good Thing – and Good for Equity

Recently, in Fordham’s Flypaper, Brandon L. Wright wrote an insightful rebuttal to Anne Kim’s recent long-form article in Washington Monthly titled “AP’s Equity Face-Plant” in which Kim interprets AP courses as problematic from an equity lens. Excerpts of the piece appear below:

We as a country should care deeply that Black, Hispanic, and other disadvantaged teenagers are less prepared to succeed in challenging courses than their more advantaged peers. And in virtually every type of policymaking—employment, housing, food security, criminal law, healthcare, social welfare, schooling, and more—changes ought to be made that make it easier for marginalized groups to succeed in America, that together will make outcomes of all kinds more equitable.

Kim is correct that, for teenagers who aren’t prepared to succeed in Advanced Placement courses, dual enrollment is a worthwhile way to get them extra preparation for college. As Kim writes, “success is not dependent on a single test,” students have a “potentially better shot at passing,” and “students who pass also have the certainty of college credit from the partner institution, while colleges vary widely in whether they accept AP (and many colleges only confer credit on top scorers anyway).” But for these same reasons, as well as some others, dual enrollment is a poor replacement for Advanced Placement. They each have different benefits for different students.

Longer-term, if the goal is to prepare more Black, Hispanic, and low-income students to succeed in our most rigorous high school classes—and it definitely should be—we must do a much better job, much earlier, of maximizing the potential of disadvantaged children. Kim recognizes this, too, writing in her closing paragraph, “the bottom line is that no single program—whether dual enrollment or AP—can substitute for the top-to-bottom reforms that K–12 education needs.”

But in an article about equity in American education, this should be the story, not a kicker. If we make changes that help a greater proportion of our disadvantaged students achieve at high levels—by, for example, creating better gifted education programs and frontloading rigorous learning early and often—we’ll diversify advanced programs like AP without lowering the very expectations that generate the benefits for the students who succeed in them. If we instead, in the name of equity, frame these beneficial advanced programs as problematic and, in response, lower their rigor or steer students away from them and into easier alternatives, many of those benefits would be lost. And it’s those students—including the millions who are Black, Hispanic, or low-income—who would stand to lose the most.

For more, see https://fordhaminstitute.org/national/commentary/rigorous-courses-are-good-thing-and-good-equity