Bedford students must pass AP exams
Friday, February 1, 2013
The Petitioned Warrant Article 10 that will appear on the school district ballot in March seeks to persuade the Bedford School Board to inject new urgency into the educational process. It envisions setting a bar, for the system as a whole, that will require a rethink of educational philosophy from the leaders and a reprioritization of time from students.
Why should we undertake such a task when, by some accounts, our schools are working well already? The answer lies in the definition of “working well.” Is it sufficient, today, to be satisfied as long as our students perform on a par with their peers in Amherst and Bow?
“Civilizations die from suicide,” wrote the historian Arnold Toynbee, “not by murder”.
Historians of the future, I think anyway, will conclude that the American era was not ended by a bunch of guys hiding in caves in Afghanistan. Instead, I fear, they will tell how it came about from an unwillingness to recognize that generating the sort of prosperity that we are accustomed to is going to take a lot more skills and capabilities in the globalized economy of this century than it took to build wealth through domestic mass production in the last one.
So Article 10 suggests adopting a performance goal for Bedford’s schools, based around the annual number of Advanced Placement or International Baccalaureate exam passes, that is much more closely aligned to the results that might be seen in wealthy communities overseas. If adopted, our children will be far better equipped to play their part in their generation’s gargantuan task of paying for the graying boomers while burdened by national debt and facing abundant low cost competition from abroad.
There is something in this proposal for all of us:
For students: Passing AP/IB exams can be a life-altering achievement, completely redefining their trajectory through higher education. Even at selective colleges, most of the general education courses can be bypassed, giving undergraduates an opportunity to delve into prospective majors much sooner and change, if they wish, more easily. Perhaps even more importantly, the amount of material that must be mastered to find success in an AP/IB exam is an order of magnitude larger than a regular high school class. The focus and study skills developed in preparing for the exams will stand students in good stead when they encounter demanding college course content.
For parents: If your children pass three or four AP Exams, the college credit that they earn renders it entirely possible for them to graduate a semester, or even a full year, earlier than they would otherwise do. No parent of teenagers, I am sure, needs me to point out the economic benefits of that one.
For teachers: As the spouse of a public school teacher, and having witnessed first-hand the pressure that can be brought to bear on teachers to award high grades, there is no question in my mind that an arrangement where grades are assessed by an independent examiner is a far more professional and enjoyable environment in which to work. The teacher becomes an ally with students in a joint attempt to defeat an anonymous examiner, rather than the gatekeeper who can be bullied into handing out a satisfactory grade.
For taxpayers: It is worth pondering what would happen if our school system suddenly started producing substantially, and measurably, higher test results than surrounding communities like Amherst and Hollis. My guess is that it would translate rapidly into a significant rise in the value of our real estate.
Article 10 is not brought in an attempt to insult anyone, or belittle their efforts. It is brought because the petitioners are convinced that our kids, our faculty, and our facilities are every bit as good as can be found anywhere in the world, and with a belief that if a clearly defined goal is defined and captures the imagination of the community, then thousands of students will live more fulfilling and exciting lives in a challenging century.
Richard Evans is a 10 year Bedford resident, a former school board member in Londonderry, and a winner of the “Better Government for New Hampshire” award presented by the Josiah Bartlett Center. His publications include his book: “Coloring Our Way to Calamity”. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.