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Thursday, June 30, 2005

Honors math courses

Weston, of course, is really Lake Wobegon, where all the children are above average®. Weston’s only public high school has just two levels of math courses: the higher level is called honors, the lower level college-prep. Everyone is above average.

That’s misleading, though not for the reason you might think. Some skeptics leap to the incorrect conclusion that “college-prep” is merely a euphemism for “low-level,” but that’s not true: these courses really are college-prep. Looking at the list of recently graduated seniors, I see products of our college-prep math courses going to Middlebury, Wisconsin, BC, Penn, Tufts, Rochester, Michigan, Johns Hopkins, McGill, and other fine colleges and universities.

So, why do I say the names are misleading? It’s not that college-prep is misnamed; it’s that everyone wants to be in honors. That’s an exaggeration, of course, but it’s still true that honors is no longer for the top 10-15%, the crème de la crème who are excellent and enthusiastic mathematicians. Maybe that’s a good thing; why shouldn’t a wide range of students have this opportunity? And yet...wouldn’t some of these students be better served in a good college-prep class, instead of getting all stressed out by adding honors math to AP history, AP science, honors English, AP Spanish, Theatre Company, chorus, piano lessons, tutoring, and athletics? (I’m not making this up, as Dave Barry would say.)

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