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This pathbreaking biography of the Advanced Placement program tracks its evolution from an obscure benefit for privileged kids into America’s foremost source of rigorous, college-level academics for millions of high-school students, its emergence as an opportunity booster for disadvantaged youngsters, and the multiple challenges it now faces.

Jr., Chester E. Finn, / Scanlan, Andrew E.

Learning in the Fast Lane

The Past, Present, and Future of Advanced Placement


    48,95 € / $56.25 / £44.00*

    eBook (PDF)
    Publication Date:
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    To be published:
    September 2019
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    Aims and Scope

    The first book to tell the story of the Advanced Placement program, the gold standard for academic rigor in American high schools

    The Advanced Placement program stands as the foremost source of college-level academics for millions of high school students in the United States and beyond. More than 22,000 schools now participate in it, across nearly forty subjects, from Latin and art to calculus and computer science. Yet remarkably little has been known about how this nongovernmental program became one of the greatest success stories in K–12 education—until now. In Learning in the Fast Lane, Chester Finn and Andrew Scanlan, two of the country's most respected education analysts, offer a groundbreaking account of one of the most important educational initiatives of our time.

    Learning in the Fast Lane traces the story of AP from its mid-twentieth-century origins as a niche benefit for privileged students to its emergence as a springboard to college for high schoolers nationwide, including hundreds of thousands of disadvantaged youth. Today, AP not only opens new intellectual horizons for smart teenagers, but also strengthens school ratings, attracts topflight teachers, and draws support from philanthropists, reformers, and policymakers. At the same time, it faces numerous challenges, including rival programs, curriculum wars, charges of elitism, the misgivings of influential universities, and the difficulty of infusing rigor into schools that lack it. In today's polarized climate, can AP maintain its lofty standards and surmount the problems that have sunk so many other bold education ventures?

    Richly documented and thoroughly accessible, Learning in the Fast Lane is a must-read for anyone with a stake in the American school system.


    224 pages
    13 b/w illus. 7 tables.
    Professional and scholarly;College/higher education;

    More ...

    Chester E. Finn, Jr. is a distinguished senior fellow and president emeritus at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute and a senior fellow at Stanford University's Hoover Institution. He is the author or coauthor of many books, including Exam Schools: Inside America's Most Selective Public High Schools and Troublemaker: A Personal History of School Reform since Sputnik (both Princeton). Andrew E. Scanlan is a research and policy associate at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute.


    "This readable, comprehensive account of the Advanced Placement program will surely become the authoritative source for policymakers and practitioners who seek to understand AP's history, its present-day implementation, and its continued promise. Along with illuminating case studies and research reviews, Finn and Scanlan devote much attention to this central question: Can the democratization of opportunity promised by the spread of AP be accomplished without diluting academic rigor? They are clear-eyed about the tradeoffs and complications involved, but reassuringly—and convincingly—optimistic about the potential for excellence and equity to coexist."—Ben Wildavsky, author of The Great Brain Race: How Global Universities Are Reshaping the World

    "While ample research has sought to understand the benefits of AP participation and success, Learning in the Fast Lane puts that research into context, situating the program amid other education reform efforts and comparing it to alternatives. This is insightful scholarship."—Martin R. West, Harvard Graduate School of Education

    "Learning in the Fast Lane is exceptionally engaging. It deals with many complex issues, such as the main drivers of AP growth, yet it easily brings its point across with a combination of case studies and analysis."—Jonathan A. Plucker, Johns Hopkins University

    "Advanced Placement’s transformation from a narrow program for an advantaged few into one that weaves expansive offerings throughout the fabric of American education today warrants a holistic, clear-eyed accounting of its present state and potential for the future. In Learning in the Fast Lane, Finn and Scanlan provide a comprehensive look at AP programs, deftly balancing candor with optimism, and detail with readability."—Nat Malkus, deputy director of education policy at the American Enterprise Institute

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