Don’t let your kids take challenging classes in high school

I’ve been talking to Canadian and American friends after this latest round of college admissions and they have one message in common: Don’t let kids take honors and AP classes in high school. College admissions these days are mostly about GPA, which means that a B in AP physics is toxic compared to an A in basket-weaving. It’s also important to send kids to a high school where grading is relatively easy. From a Maskachusetts friend:

I found out that even though you need just 60% to score a 5/5 on AP Physics C, our [rich suburb public] school still applies the scale where 92+ is an A. So [my son] is scoring 80+ on the tests consistently and will end up with a B+ or even a B- and obviously will get a 5. I asked around and most schools apply the 60+ = A scale to APs. People in 3 private schools said that 70+ on AP Calc BC in their school is an A.

I’m not sure how this would work in Florida where high school kids are entitled to take college courses in actual colleges (for free and the state also pays for their textbooks). Does the college class grade end up being rolled into their high school GPA? This FAQ suggests that dual enrollment grades are weighted into a GPA the same as an AP course grade.

Also toxic:

  • applying from rich suburbs of Northeast cities
  • activities that sound elite (unless the kid is good enough at an elite sport to get admitted via athletics)

Speaking of schools, it was almost exactly four years ago (May 2020) when Donald Trump denied Science (Anthony Fauci) and said that American public schools should be reopened (which Democrat-run cities did… 10-16 months later). “Trump Pointedly Criticizes Fauci for His Testimony to Congress” (NYT, May 13, 2020):

Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, who had warned against reopening the country too quickly and stressed the unknown effects the coronavirus could have on children returning to school.

“I was surprised by his answer,” Mr. Trump told reporters who had gathered in the Cabinet Room for the president’s meeting with the governors of Colorado and North Dakota. “To me it’s not an acceptable answer, especially when it comes to schools.”

The president’s desire to reopen schools and businesses in order to bring back the economy has often led to public clashes over the guidance provided by Dr. Fauci, who has warned that taking a cavalier attitude toward reopening the country could invite unnecessary suffering caused by a virus scientists are still struggling to understand.

Dr. Fauci also told the Senate panel that a vaccine for the coronavirus would almost certainly not be ready in time for the new school year, and warned of the dangers of the virus to children.

“Now when you have an incident, one out of a million, one out of 500,000, will something happen? Perhaps,” Mr. Trump said, minimizing the risk to children of returning to school. “But you can be driving to school and some bad things can happen, too.”

Mr. Trump added: “This is a disease that attacks age and it attacks health and if you have a heart problem, if you have diabetes, if you’re a certain age, it’s certainly much more dangerous. But with the young children, I mean, and students, it is really just take a look at the statistics, it is pretty amazing.”

As someone who has spent a lot of time teaching probability theory, I am cheered to see that the president of the U.S. in 2020 was using it!

Speaking of Canada… (Toronto Star)

9 thoughts on “Don’t let your kids take challenging classes in high school

  1. Seem to recall the AP students were able to skip a lot of prerequisites in college, borrow less, start making money sooner & move that money into their $150k houses faster. They don’t have to work anymore. It just pays to be a genius & low on hormones. Lord knows the lion genes over secreted in those days.

  2. Is this a joke? Not sure about avoiding APs. In our district, an A in an AP class gets a 5, while an A in a non-AP course gets a 4. This results in boosted GPAs for AP takers.

    The other thing to consider is that the motivated kids (and teachers) are generally in the AP courses. The material is a lot more challenging than the non-AP courses, which tends to sort of teach to the lowest common denominator.

    Your mileage may differ, this is just my kid’s high school in Northern California.

    • G C: Colleges get both the adjusted and unadjusted GPAs. Apparently they look more at the unadjusted. Maybe that’s especially true for state universities. I guess for the super elite universities here in the U.S. you need to take some tough courses AND get straight As (or have a valuable-to-the-college skin color). But the Canadian kids we talked to did get into some of the toughest programs in Canada and they accomplished this with easy courses.

    • Dr. Greenspun, does taking easy classes in high school hurt students’ ability to do well in college due to poor academic preparation?

    • Anon: To optimize for college prep I guess you’d have the kids take actual college courses while in high school, but not show the grades to anyone unless they turned out to be As.

  3. This isn’t our experience. My kid went to one of NYC’s specialized high schools that required physics, calculus, CS, four years of a foreign language, etc. and he got into a top university where he will earn degrees in both physics and CS. His university requires a college level foreign language that he was able to place out of by taking an exam testing what he had learned in HS and thus enabling him to complete the degree requirements for both physics and CS. I think it is a poor idea to take easy HS classes in order to game the system for college admissions since college is not an end by a step on the way.

  4. At the turn of the century affirmative action cases, it was revealed that, at the time, the University of Michigan had an adjustment factor for different high schools (especially in-state), so that a 3.5 from a good school would be boosted and a 3.5 at a bad school would be lowered. I do not recall whether AP classes were adjusted to 5 points, but the above suggests that perhaps they were.

    The AA points were added in at a later stage, which made it obvious how significant they were in comparison to the legitimate factors like SAT/ACT and Adjusted GPA.

    No idea whether that practice has survived, except that the overall process seems to have become even more selective each decade, with the reduction of state funding, increasing international students, the realization by everyone that the middle class is over, and the tendency of each student to apply to larger numbers of schools.

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