With this analysis, you can make interesting comparisons. Andover and Exeter are alike in size of graduating class and prestige. But Andover (based on an estimate using its 2010 data) has a much higher AP test participation rate. This may reflect Exeter’s decision to deemphasize AP in favor of home-grown courses. Some parents and students like a heavy AP environment. Some don’t. Such information helps them, but most private schools don’t provide it because they don’t think it’s important or don’t want to be compared with other schools. Take Sidwell Friends, the prestigious private school in Northwest Washington. The number of AP tests it gave last year is a secret. School spokesman Ellis Turner said that information and other data are shown only to colleges to which its students have applied.
This is common among private schools. Instead of data, their Web sites offer press agent prose. On the Sidwell Web site, Upper School Principal Lee Palmer says: “[O]ur teachers understand that a student is a whole human being whose value is not tied to the grade on a report card. They provide structures for students to be active decision-makers and self-advocates in a supportive and joyful environment.”
writes a weekly column about education and the Class Struggle blog.
My daughter attended Sidwell from the seventh through 12th grades. She liked the school and did well. I thought some of the teachers were terrific. But there was no sign that the level of grade anxiety was any lower, or the level of joy any higher, than at hundreds of public high schools catering to affluent families that I have studied in the past two decades.
Information on college-level courses and tests is important because many high schools are run by people who do not believe average students belong in AP or IB. I can cite a long list of distinguished educators — Erin McVadon Albright, Mel Riddile, Jaime Escalante, Mike Riley, Doris Jackson and many more — who have proved the opposite. We should be able to see which schools come up short on this measure.
And why not identify and celebrate those who understand the power of rigor and depth for average kids? On the top of my private school list is St. Anselm’s Abbey, a small Catholic school in Northeast Washington that probably has a higher Challenge Index rating than any private school in the country.
This is the work of the school’ s former headmaster, now president, the Rev. Peter Weigand. He told me when I started the list that he would be happy to supply the AP data because it was one of his school’s great strengths. He said that he doesn’t think my list is a measure of overall school quality but that it helps students and parents understand what is going on.
It’s a shame more private schools aren’t willing to let a little sunshine into their data banks and back up their claims that they are changing lives.