MVLA teachers talk of capping AP courses, union president says

STORY BY TOMOKI CHIEN, PHOTO BY ARYA NASIKKAR

A number of teachers in the Mountain View–Los Altos Union High School District have suggested that the board limit the number of Advanced Placement courses students can take per year to three, said teachers’ union president Dave Campbell in a Monday address to the board.

Campbell said that capping AP courses was a suggestion posed by teachers in a recent survey about homework free weekends; the suggestion was part of Campbell’s summary of that survey, rather than being a formal union stance or request of the district.

Underlying any conversation about an AP course limit is a broader discussion of what steps schools — and by extension, school boards, which set homework policy — should take to protect students’ mental health.

“Sometimes, you have to protect students from themselves,” Campbell said in an interview. 

Current district homework policy allows for 2–3 hours per week of “focus, undistracted” homework in college preparatory and non-honors courses, and 4–5 hours weekly in AP and honors courses. There is currently no cap on AP courses.

“The District encourages students to consider the number of AP classes they enroll in, keeping in mind that real college courses frequently require self-directed study that can … far exceed time specified here,” the policy reads. “The District encourages students to leave time in their schedules for this self-directed study.”

At the board meeting, Campbell argued that despite common misconceptions, limiting APs wouldn’t make students any less competitive in the eyes of college admissions officers, who he said evaluate applicants in the context of their high school; if schools allow students to take an unlimited number of APs, then students are encouraged to take on more AP courses than they can handle in order to stand out among their peers.

“When a school makes a bold move like this, it is clearly explained in our school profile; each university will know that students graduating from MVLA are only allowed to take three [APs] per year,” Campbell said.

He also argued that any student who wants to challenge themself beyond school offerings could take additional classes at a local community college.

As of now, Campbell said that he suspects any formal push for an AP limit is “not imminent,” but that there’s certainly support for it within the union.

“It’s hard to speculate,” he said. “I know that [this issue is] something that’s near and dear to many of the members of our union, and they are ultimately the ones who drive our negotiations process.”

Editor’s note: Look out for a more comprehensive story detailing the effects of limiting AP courses on mental health, learning and college admissions in the coming weeks.

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