“I believe the only way to be ready for change is to always evaluate products and services and to find ways to innovate in a constantly shifting field.”
Jimi Hendrix once said, “I wish they’d had electric guitars in cotton fields back in the good old days. A whole lot of things would’ve been straightened out.”
Regardless of one’s interpretation of when exactly the good old days occurred, Jimmy is right about one thing. The good old days embody a simpler time. A time free of social media, Xbox games and apparently a time free of electric guitars in cotton fields. And if you ask any uber-motivated high school student today, the good old days represent a time before Advanced Placement (AP) courses.
Created in the mid-1950s, AP is a program that allows high school students to take specific courses that will earn them college credit, without even leaving their high school campus. The AP class culminates with an exam that covers everything the students learned in AP class. The exams are scored on a scale of 1-5, with many universities offering college credit for a qualifying score of 3 or above.
Every year, there are more than 2.4 million students taking AP exams in 38 different subjects. And many of those students are taking multiple AP exams because they are enrolled in more than one AP course.
The Princeton Review lists the benefits of taking AP classes as follows:
- Prep for college
- Rise to the top of the pile
- Strengthen your transcript
- Study what you love
- Get a head start on college reqs (and save some tuition dollars)
Indeed, a lot of weight is put on the AP exams. So much so that the National Association for College Admission Counseling’s annual State of College Admissions survey finds that “student performance in college preparatory classes is the most important factor in the admission decision.”
With so much weight riding on these AP exams, wouldn’t it be nice if students had a way to prepare? You know, their own electric guitar. Oh, but wait. They do. Baylor graduate, Karen Tyler started Propel Education Strategies to offer innovative strategies and solutions that guide teacher instruction and increase student outcomes as they prepare for college or career.
But Propel didn’t happen overnight. It wasn’t even Karen’s career aspiration when she was a student. After Karen received her undergraduate degree in 2006 with a B.A. in English, she moved to Dallas to pursue graduate studies in humanities at The University of Texas at Dallas. It was while Karen was in graduate school that she worked with several non-profit organizations that provided Texas students with a cash incentive for each qualifying score achieved on an AP exam.
While working with the non-profit organizations, Karen realized that the organizations were doing admirable work with AP students, but there was still a larger group of AP students not being serviced. Karen felt that students and teachers in schools outside of the support area for the financial incentive programs also deserve the benefits of superior classroom instruction and exam-prep materials.
Karen launched Propel in 2014 and has since worked with more than 20,000 students across seven states. Propel offers practice tests to prepare students for AP exams in the courses of AP English Language and Composition, AP English Literature and Composition, AP Calculus and AP U.S. History.
Propel currently contracts with more than 100 consultants from across the U.S. who are responsible for writing original, AP-style questions, editing exam and supplemental materials, developing classroom-ready lessons and training AP teachers. The consultants are both current and former classroom teachers who have personally achieved notable successes with AP students.
Karen feels that there are two very specific components of the Propel business model that set Propel apart from other test-prep companies: 1) Propel works directly with classroom teachers in school districts and does not market to parents or students and 2) Propel provides an evaluation of students’ free response or essay portion of the mock exam that is scored and evaluated by national experts.
Admittedly, Karen is not an educator, which is why she relies so heavily on her corps of consultants and she gives credit to the consultants whom she affectionately refers to as the heart of the organization.
Karen manages Propel with what she calls the PIE method: Plan, Implement and Evaluate. Afterall, what’s considered the latest-and-greatest today may very well be old news tomorrow.
The biggest challenge Karen faces is getting the word out and making school districts aware of services Propel can provide. However, she also has to be cognizant of the districts with limited funding. Karen’s ultimate, long-term goal is to expand beyond seven states and to work with students in all 50 states. She also wants to expand the course offerings to include additional disciplines, especially science. These are big goals, but Karen is up for the challenge.
If you think about it, these may be the good old days and Propel may just be the electric guitar in a field of AP tests.
For more information about Free Enterprise at the Baugh Center, please visit our website at baylor.edu/business/freeenterprise/.