Too few college-level classes offered in city schools, study says

Also, enrollment is rising steadily but too slowly

September 25, 2001|By Liz Bowie | Liz Bowie,SUN STAFF

Most Baltimore public high school students aren't offered Advanced Placement courses and only a tiny percentage are enrolled in them, according to a recent report by the Abell Foundation.

Although the number of classes has increased significantly during the past five years, only 2 percent of high school students in Baltimore take Advanced Placement courses, compared with 13 percent in Washington and 17 percent in Dallas, the report says.

"Baltimore is going in the right direction, but very slowly," said Robert C. Embry Jr., president of the Abell Foundation.

Advanced Placement courses are college-level classes given in a variety of subjects, from English to foreign languages to calculus. Students who take them have a better chance of scoring well on the College Board's AP exams, which can allow them to earn credits or skip certain introductory classes when they enroll in college.

Of the city's 19 high schools, seven offer AP classes, and the variety of AP courses is limited as well. Most of the courses offered are at the city's magnet high schools, leaving the majority of students - who attend neighborhood schools - without the opportunity to take such courses.

Abell, which has given millions of dollars to help run rigorous academic programs in city schools, has tracked participation in the courses during the past five years. Embry said school board members and superintendents have not put enough pressure on schools to offer the classes.

But, he said, he believes the schools' chief executive officer, Carmen V. Russo, will increase the numbers.

Russo has entered into a partnership with the College Board, which often subsidizes the cost of AP exam fees in impoverished areas and helps train teachers. Russo said the board will evaluate exams taken by students in the past and analyze where students failed so the board can help teachers change content and strategies.

"By the end of two years, I would expect that every [neighborhood] high school would have one and preferably two or three" AP courses, Russo said.

Some of the magnet high schools, as well as a few neighborhood high schools, have increased the number of advanced-level courses offered in recent years.

Principals of neighborhood schools often have said it is difficult to justify the cost of devoting a teacher to the few students with the background for and interest in AP classes.

But Patterson High School, one neighborhood school, has added AP U.S. history and calculus courses during the past two years. This year, a total of 23 students are enrolled in the two classes.

"It has raised our standards and expectations for our kids. We have made them believe they can do this. It is like magic," said Laura D'Anna, Patterson's principal.

The Abell report says that although the best high schools offer on average five AP courses, that's not enough. Polytechnic Institute and City College recently added classes.

This year, for the first time, hundreds of students at City College are enrolled in AP classes or another rigorous diploma program called the International Baccalaureate.

"The city [school administration] has definitely politely put pressure on schools to offer more," said Dennis D. Jutras, who teaches an AP U.S. history course at Poly.

Although AP courses require much more work from teachers, he said, they're fun to teach. "They are bright, bright kids and they have good insights," Jutras said.

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