How a Virtual AP Course Changed Her Son

Jay Matthews:

Maria Allen worried about her son Matthew’s prospects in high school and beyond. He had always been regarded as an underachiever by his teachers. He received B’s in middle school with virtually no effort because he did well on what were, she thought, very easy tests.
Every new school year, the Reston mother donned her Super Nag persona, got on his case and tried to turn around his bad habits and attitude. It never worked. By the second quarter, whenever her attention turned to other matters, he stopped working, and his teachers started complaining.
So she was more than a little surprised when Matthew asked if he could take an Advanced Placement biology course online at the beginning of eighth grade, when he was only 14 years old. She knew where he got the idea. His big brother, a high school junior, had signed up for online AP biology so he would have time for other courses during the school day. She laughed. Good joke, Matthew. But he brought it up again. He was serious. Even when she showed him the demanding syllabus on the Web site, he did not back down.
Well, she thought, why not? Her Super Nag act had not worked. She paid the $600 course fee and waited, without much hope, to see what would happen next.
“Matthew continued to put negligible effort into his middle-school work,” Allen told me, “but in biology, he started to work hard, very hard, in fact. And, even more remarkably, he continued to work hard throughout the year.”
She said he took a full complement of eighth-grade honors courses, but they demanded very little. “Unencumbered by any significant homework,” she said, “Matt had plenty of time available to log on to AP bio for a few hours each evening, and so he often did better on AP quizzes and assignments than my high school junior, who was always swamped with homework and competing deadlines from several other challenging courses.”