High school students often rely on Advanced Placement courses for a jump on the college experience.

Jay Mathews, an education columnist for The Washington Post, looks at some critiques of these classes made by some professors and how those concerns can be best addressed.

I complained recently that college professors too often wrongly dismiss high school teachers as being unsuited to teach college-level classes such as the Advanced Placement courses so popular in the Washington region. Two scholars from distinguished universities gently chided me for being too hard on their academic colleagues. They might be right.

After an e-mail exchange with John T. Fourkas, Millard Alexander Professor of Chemistry at the University of Maryland, and Bryan McCann, associate professor of history at Georgetown University, I concede that professors’ concerns about AP often show no disrespect for high schools but instead stem from discomfort with the ill effects of colleges competing for AP students.

Fourkas and McCann like AP and similar college-level programs such as International Baccalaureate. They recognize that those classes have made high school more challenging and gotten students ready for long college reading lists and long exams.

“College professors love well-prepared students and are big fans of high school AP courses,” Fourkas said.

“I happily acknowledge that the best high school teachers are, as a general rule, better teachers than the typical college professor,” McCann said.

Critics of AP often say the program is losing clout in higher education as more colleges withhold more credits. The opposite is true. For every elite institution such as Dartmouth, which recently dropped credit for AP and IB, there are hundreds of state community colleges and universities eager to lure good students by giving even more credit for college-level high school courses.

Prestigious universities such as Georgetown and Maryland also compete for the best students and are unlikely to do much to restrict credit. “As long as colleges see a competitive disadvantage in being careful about doling out Advanced Placement credits, few will go the route of Dartmouth,” Fourkas said.

Mathews ends with this suggestion:

Here is a possible joint venture: Why don’t the professors help the teachers persuade public high schools to teach research with required projects? That might raise the quality of the first year of college in a way that would please AP teachers who see the students off and the college instructors who greet them.