News the powers-that-be don't want you to know

July 04, 1999|By Phil Greenfield

ONCE IN A great while, a ray of sanity breaks through the toxic cloud of misinformation, disinformation and distortion that darkens our perception of public education in Maryland these days.

Such a luminous moment occurred recently with the publication of results from the 1997-98 academic year which show that our Maryland high school students performed better on Advanced Placement examinations for college than did kids in 45 other states.

Seventy-one percent of Maryland's college bound test-takers received a passing grade or higher on the AP tests, which are the most advanced content-specific examinations a high schooler takes as part of the college preparation process.

These results, which propel Maryland to fifth place among the 50 states, place us substantially ahead of the national pass rate of 63 percent.

3rd in Maryland

Anne Arundel County, I'm proud and pleased to say, obliterates the statewide mark with a pass rate of 77 percent.

That ranks us third among the Maryland jurisdictions. Only Montgomery County which had 83 percent of its kids pass, and Howard County, which scored 81 percent, exceeded our 1997-98 figures.

No statistical games are afoot either. The state average has remained consistently high over the past five years even though the number of students taking AP exams has doubled in that time.

Should you be impressed by this, moms and dads? Oh my, yes.

Remember that unlike the nitwit Maryland School Performance Assessment Program tests, which have hijacked elementary and middle school instruction and are on the verge of metasticizing into our high schools, AP test scores actually mean something.

Indeed, with the possible exception of the SATs themselves, nothing counts for more than these highly specialized, knowledge based exams.

When scores are high enough, they are worth their weight in college acceptances, scholarship dollars and college credit hours.

High MSPAP scores by contrast earn you less than what the third-place "Jeopardy" contestant takes home.

The message is clear: Our AP students are performing in exemplary in fashion, our teachers are doing excellent work, and parents are getting real "bang for their buck" on the toughest tests anyone has seen fit to throw at their kids.

Why hear it from me?

So how come you're hearing about these terrific results from little old me? Shouldn't somebody in authority be claiming credit? Why didn't this information make the pages of this newspaper?

To tell you the truth, I don't know. But I can guess.

First, there exists the awful notion that teaching bright students is like playing tennis with the net down; that all AP teachers have to do is "roll the textbooks out" and let the kids teach themselves.

This is anti-intellectual nonsense propounded by education majors and other terminally clueless souls who have never subjected themselves to the rigors of serious academic study.

Professional heroism

When I think of high school foreign-language teachers who must teach remedial English grammar along with French, Spanish or German due to the criminalization of grammar instruction in our deplorable middle school curriculum, I'm especially aware of how AP kids are not simply "teaching themselves." Indeed, achieving these high test scores in such circumstances smacks not merely of classroom competence but of professional heroism.

I suspect the other reason for the silence is that these top-flight test scores are an embarrassment to our educational leadership which has managed to convince itself, the legislature and the public that exists a "crisis of instruction" in the public schools, and that only by teaching to their newfangled tests can we solve it.


The AP results are proof-positive that no such crisis exists when teachers are allowed to do what they are paid to do for kids who are receptive to them doing it.

Nancy Grasmick's claim that the best way to fatten a pig is to come up with an expensive new method for weighing it is exposed for the fatuous nonsense it is.

Our real crisis

Our real crisis is one of misguided policies, not of inferior instruction.

It's high time we stop checking our brains at the schoolhouse door.

We must hit the basics hard, demand that they be achieved, reassert the value of knowledge for its own sake, end the scourge of social promotion once and for all, segregate recidivist troublemakers, and tell the whining enablers of failure to take a hike.

This is what works for AP kids, and we've got the numbers to prove it. It would work for everyone else too if we would let it.

The writer teaches social studies at Annapolis High School and is an arts reviewer for The Sun.

Pub Date: 7/04/99

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