While this is new in Houston, HISD is actually joining several other districts around the country in this use of
While there may be similar-ish programs in districts across the country, the big dog in the AP bribery biz is the National Math and Science Initiative. NMSI is an organization that was launched "to address one of this nation’s greatest economic and intellectual threats – the declining number of students who are prepared to take rigorous college courses in math and science and are equipped for careers in those fields." You may recognize that as a classic reformster talking point-- low test scores are a threat to our national security-- and in fact, the big launching funders of NMSI include Exxon, the Michael and Susan Dell foundation, and the Gates Foundation. Partners also include the US Department of Education and the College Board, because why not fund an advocacy group that is telling everyone that your product is really important. This isn't philanthropy-- it's marketing.
And market they do. The college-ready initiative that supports the AP score pay-off plan features writing like this:
The AP curriculum is the best indicator available of whether students are prepared for college-level work. Students who master AP courses are three times more likely to graduate from college. For minority students, that multiplier is even greater: African American and Hispanic students who succeed in AP courses are four times more likely to graduate from college.
Or students who are more likely to finish college are more likely to do college-preppy things like take AP courses. Man, sorting out correlation and causation must be really hard, because so few people want to actually do it.
The operation is pretty simple-- NMSI unloads a giant pile of money with a college-prep program and the rewards begin as NSMI works to transform the culture of the school. This "grant" program has been operating since 2008, starting out in Alabama, Kentucky, Arkansas, Virginia, Connecticut, and Massachusetts. Press has been generally positive when the program popped up in big mainstream outlets like the NYT and US Today.
Are there issues with this? Well, yes-- any time we inject monetary bribery into education, we are essentially admitting that we can't think of any better reason for learning. That kind of debasement of education is typical of the reformster movement which holds as a foundational belief that the only reason to do things is to get a financial reward.
On the other hand, bribery was already cemented into the foundation of the AP product anyway-- the whole selling point has always been, "Take this course, score well on this test, and it will save you some bucks on your college education. Ka-ching." The AP appeal is to take a challenging course and get college credit. NMSI's program doesn't do much more than move payday forward. The one new feature added by the program is the increased incentive for AP teachers to drop everything and lay into test prep with a vengeance. If you think AP tests are not open to test prep, I have a bridge to sell you. In some courses, the test prep looks enough like real education to be tolerable, though under David Coleman's leadership, that is changing. What is true across the board is that hooking into the AP universe can be just a way to pay the College Board to write your curriculum for you.
NMSI may have to crank their program up soon. It pays bounty on scores from 3 to 5, but at least in my neck of the woods, colleges are increasingly rejecting 3s. Because they have high standards about how often they're willing to give up their own revenue in order to bolster the College Board's business plan.
It would be nice to talk about things like getting ready for college by acquiring actual knowledge and skills. As I often tell my juniors, "I understand that you have to worry about getting into the college of your choice, but you do realize that once you get there, they'll want you to show that you know stuff, too." An actual education is worth more than a hundred bucks.