Extra Credit: AP for More Spells Better Things for All

(By Julie Zhu)
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Thursday, August 27, 2009

Dear Extra Credit:

I read with interest your article about the benefits of AP classes for all ["Is AP for All a Formula for Failure?," June 8]. I am the AP Physics teacher at Glen Burnie High School and believe that it is a good idea.

I come from a background in nuclear engineering and "retired" to teaching about seven years ago. Having low performers in class does them a world of good. The curriculum is tough and can't be significantly watered down. I teach to the "smart" kids with the firm conviction that even the table scraps picked up by the lower-performing students are a better meal than what they're accustomed to.

Further, opening these classes to essentially everybody has a benefit that you didn't mention. In a difficult economy, schools with a large percentage of low performers might more easily rationalize cutting high-level classes because of low enrollments. This could lock out the kids competing for selective college spaces with students from districts and schools that are more affluent. I am gratified that this is not the case in Anne Arundel County.

When I came to teaching, I had AP Physics enrollments in the low single digits. Because of the support I received, I now offer both levels of AP Physics (B and C) and have healthy enrollments for both (in the mid-teens). I have also been allowed to open the lower-level class to first-year physics students with sufficient mathematical preparation.

Although a few of my students do not pass the AP exam, simply having the class open on a yearly basis has allowed me to prepare students for enrollment and success at some of the best engineering schools in the world, including Georgia Tech, Virginia Tech, Carnegie Mellon and even our own University of Maryland.

Michael Willis

Anne Arundel County

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