This introductory chapter provides an overview of the Advanced Placement (AP) program. Advanced Placement is a privately operated, mostly privately financed, and almost entirely voluntary curricular option for high schools and their teachers and students—one that has been competently managed and adroitly led by the nonprofit, nonpartisan College Board. It has mostly avoided the politics and fads that roil contemporary American public education, even as it has gradually evolved into a significant player in the longest-running and most compelling reform impulse of all: to widen educational opportunity and foster upward mobility for disadvantaged youngsters. For several decades after its founding in the mid-twentieth century, AP was a modest venture—scarcely visible on the K–12 scene—which conferred extra advantages on a relative handful of already-fortunate kids attending a short list of exclusive private and posh suburban public high schools. Today, however, AP's profile is far higher and markedly different: A host of policies, auxiliary programs, and booster organizations have widened access to it. Not only is its scale vastly greater, its cadres are also much more diverse, both demographically and geographically, and it is being deployed strategically in many places to strengthen the secondary schooling and postsecondary prospects of poor and minority youngsters who long lacked access to high-level coursework.
Keywords: Advanced Placement program, curricular, College Board, American public education, disadvantaged youngsters, public high schools, secondary schooling, educational opportunity, upward mobility, K–12 education
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