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AP summer assignments reveal a fundamental flaw

July 23, 2006

I continue to hear about an increasing number of students that are being asked to complete summer assignments in advance of the school year in order to “prepare” for their AP classes in the fall. It appears that one of two things is driving this. Either there is a lack of competence, confidence or organization amongst the teachers that are delivering the AP classes meaning they feel they need more time than is allocated to them during the school year, or school administrations are simply failing to allocate sufficient time for the AP class to be taught. Either way, asking students to use what is supposed to be vacation time to do school work bothers me on several levels.

Firstly where does it all end? Do we start teaching after school, during lunch periods, Saturday mornings? Why not have the kids come and live at the school or perhaps in a tent at the bottom of the teachers garden? They’d probably do better with all that extra study!

Secondly it can set a dangerous precedent. I hear plenty of teachers say, “Well, I love teaching the students and I don’t mind giving up my free time to do it”. Fair enough, that’s their decision, but it can force other teachers into similar situations where this persistent use of personal time becomes the expected norm. In this situation teachers that don’t want to give up their free time can be taken advantage of. It’s potentially the top of a very slippery slope. How many other professionals give up as much, unpaid free time as it is, let alone more and more?

I feel there is a real problem with asking the students to do school work during vacation time. It is NOT serving them and it is revealing a broken system of learning. If there is insufficient time in the school year to teach the AP course, then don’t offer it. By agreeing to work all these “extra” hours teachers it can be argued that teachers are undermining the profession and potentially damaging their students.


  1. avogadro

    I admire your points in this discussion. However, I disagree. As being a AP Chemistry student in 1999 and now teaching the class, I feel that hard work is the key to doing well in most anything.

    In this case is there anything being ask of a student that doesn’t occur in a college classroom? My answer is no. In many if not all college classrooms I have taken part in, it is expected that the first day of class a student should already have read the first chapter. This is a common expectation in day to day college life. So this is one place that it seems to work.

    Secondly, Personally, my assignments will be only review. Which is what the first 2 chapters is all about. Writing forumlas, basic equations, reminder of matter and other things. This is really an assignment that can occur a few weeks before (for the people that need to work harder) or a week before (for the people who breeze through things). Working hard and setting goals is a key thing to be taught to students. Getting these top notch students to perform and mature intellectually is a high point that I try to make. By students doing this work they can gauge what they need to review right off the bat and come in for discussions ready on the first day.

    I’ve learned that hard work pays off. And I ask nothing of my students that I don’t ask of myself. And working long nights and early mornings is something I do to make sure each student has a great in class experience and that I am as much prep’ed as they are.

    Again, just a comment.

  2. Adrian

    Hi avogadro

    Thanks for taking the time to reply, I genuinely appreciate it. “Hard Work” is not in dispute here, and I bet that no student in the country works “harder” than one in MY class (without summer assignments) – many will work AS hard, none will work harder. To me, the key here is this;

    If the course cannot be delivered in the time allocated within the normal schedule then the schedule is broken. By agreeing to this, we as professionals, are perpetuating a broken system. I say it’s not professional to do so and it undermines US.

    I would also suggest that you note this about your students – THEY are NOT YOUR peers, and you should NOT be comparing yourself to them in ANY way, either in terms of the work you put in, or any other way.

  3. Adrian

    Hi ajchem

    Well, I “sort of” understand your comment, but at the same time it seems contradictory. IF you do have “enough time”, why subject the students to the extra burden?

  4. ajchem

    In giving summer homework, I am not saying that we do not have adequate time to cover the material. I am only giving my students the same amount of time to cover the material as schools that start their school year weeks before we do, but take the AP Exam on the same day. For me, it is equity of preparation time, not lack of time.


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