AP vs. IB vs. Neither: A Plea for Peace and Love

Jay Matthews:

Watch out. Tumultuous days are ahead in the war of advocates for college-level high school courses such as Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate, particularly with the rise of some schools that say their teachers can do a better job without AP or IB.
Insults are flying. Good people could get hurt. I have a peace plan, but first let’s inspect the battlefield.
The AP vs. IB topic on my Admissions 101 discussion group at the Web site has 1,233 posts and more are pouring in. At the same time, educators who want to banish AP from their schools just launched a new Web site, ExcellenceWithoutAP. On Wednesday, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute at edexcellence will release one of the most detailed AP vs. IB comparisons ever: “Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate: Do They Deserve Gold Star Status?”
The Fordham report looks like a peace-making gesture, since it concludes that both programs “set high academic standards and goals for learning” and provide exams that allow students to “apply their knowledge in creative and productive ways.” But the AP vs. IB combatants will likely squabble over slight differences in the grades Fordham gave AP and IB courses in biology and math. And the ExcellenceWithoutAP people are going to hate the parts of the Fordham report that warn against attempts, like theirs, to make college-level courses in high school more thematic and deny students — at least in Fordham’s view — the solid facts, such as “the names, dates, events, documents and movements important to our history.”
The College Board still dominates the battlefield, with more than 14,000 high schools using its AP program. IB has only about 500. ExcellenceWithoutAP lists about 50 schools that have dropped or never had AP. This is a big jump from the 12 schools identified in this column two years ago. But even this group is made up of schools so small that they produce less that one-fifth of 1 percent of U.S. high school seniors graduating each year.