One of my favorite examples of how private-sector involvement can improve public education is the AdvanceKentucky program to improve participation and course quality in Kentucky’s Advanced Placement (AP) courses.
Kentucky’s AP participation is up again this year with more students earning scores that can lead to college credit for their courses. And AdvanceKentucky gets a lot of the credit, as Interim Commissioner of Education Kevin Brown candidly admits:
“A lot of Kentucky’s success in Advanced Placement can be attributed to the AdvanceKentucky initiative. The state has made an investment in AdvanceKentucky and it is paying off based on the number of students who are not only taking higher level coursework, but also are succeeding on AP exams.”
To take a look at the 2015 AP story for Kentucky, click the “Read more” link.
AdvanceKentucky started back in 2007 (years before Common Core came along) as a privately-funded program where teachers in participating schools got extra training to teach science and English AP courses well. Those AP teachers receive a reward of $100 for every one of their students who passed the AP final exam with a score of 3 or higher, and the students earning those successful scores also got $100 for their performance, as well. Those rewards led to some resistance for AdvanceKentucky on the part of teachers unions, most notably in Jefferson County Public Schools, where it took years for AdvanceKentucky to win its first admission to a Louisville area high school.
Today AdvanceKentucky is a well-recognized success story and it receives funding from multiple sources, both public and private. It is clear that money provides a good return on the investment, with more students taking AP exams and more getting college-credit-bearing scores of 3, 4 or 5 on those exams.
Participation is also up for racial minorities, especially more recently after Jefferson County Schools began participating.
Finally, more students are earning college credit level scores of 3 or higher.
Nevertheless, there’s still a lot of work to come. For example, 26,013 white students took one or more AP exams in 2015 yet only 13,067 got a score of 3 or more on one or more of their exams. That is a “passing” rate of only 50.2 percent.
Only 505 of the 1,748 African-American students who took an AP exam in Kentucky got a college-credit score of 3 or higher, a success ratio of only 28.9 percent. Thus, the AP continues to show the serious achievement-gap issues that we’ve seen elsewhere on tests such as the ACT.
Also, while Kentucky currently has around 230 standard public high schools, only 101 are in the AdvanceKentucky program. Students in the rest of the state’s high schools have traditionally not done nearly as well on the AP tests as the AdvanceKentucky schools’ students. Thus, at present, Kentucky is not doing an equitable job of making AP courses available for all of its students. That is something we need to correct in the future.