Conservatives push back against AP U.S. History rewrite

August 5, 2014

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WASHINGTON, D.C.  – American Principles in Action and Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee (CWALAC)  held a conference call with hundreds of activists last night to discuss recent changes made by the College Board of the Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History curriculum standards that will take effect this Fall.

history rewriteLarry Kreiger, one of the panelists, is a history teacher living in Pennsylvania who has taught SAT prep classes for 20 years and AP classes for over 35 years specializing in A.P. U.S. History (APUSH).  He said he became alarmed when he looked at the new course and exam description that includes the curriculum framework he was alarmed by the length.  A framework that was five pages is now 98 pages.

Jane Robbins, a senior fellow with American Principles in Action, is concerned that this represents an end around state history standards.  “The redesigned Framework is best described as a curricular coup that sets a number of dangerous precedents. By providing a detailed course of study that defines, discusses, and interprets ‘the required knowledge of each period,’ the College Board has in effect supplanted local and state curriculum by unilaterally assuming the authority to prioritize historic topics,” Robbins said.

“When I first read the new APUSH Framework, I didn’t even recognize it as American history standards. From this Framework, I didn’t recognize it as my country,” Tanya Ditty stated.  Ditty is the Georgia State Director for CWALAC and is a former AP U.S. History teacher.  She also moderated the conference call.

Krieger noted topics and historical figures that the framework omitted like Ben Franklin and Thomas Jefferson.  He said it did devote some attention to George Washington – just his farewell address.  “It would be like South Africa only devoting attention to Nelson Mandela’s final speech in office,” Krieger noted.

Krieger noted that the College Board offers one sample test for teachers which can’t be shared, and since it can’t be shared it can’t be scrutinized either.  Also there is no information on who wrote the framework which is also concerning.

Robbins noted that the College Board’s AP project is funded by private donations, exam fees, and they have received $72 million from the U.S. Department of Education over recent years.  They have also received funding from the Gates Foundation which has been the primary financial backer of the Common Core State Standards.

She called the College Board a “member of good standing within the education establishment.”

Ken Mercer, a member of the Texas State Board of Education, has been working to delay the rollout of the new APUSH framework.  He noted that in the “grey boxes” in the concept outline includes topics that are optional for teachers to use, but will not appear on any APUSH exam starting in 2015.

Examples of items that are optional: Great Awakening (pg. 40), republicanism (pg. 40), Stamp Act (pg. 42), John Locke (pg. 41), Adam Smith (pg. 41).  The Second Great Awakening is listed however… “The Second Great Awakening, liberal social ideas from abroad, and Romantic beliefs in human perfectibility fostered the rise of voluntary organizations to promote religious and secular reforms including abolition and women’s rights,” (pg. 49).

Charles Finney is listed as an optional topic for this section however.  How Finney could be an optional topic in discussing the Second Great Awakening is unclear.  Frederick Douglass is another optional topic in this section of the concept outline. The Monroe Doctrine is considered optional (pg. 52) among other topics.

Some highlights of additional problems within the APUSH framework includes:

  • A relentlessly negative view of American history, which emphasizes every problem and failing of our ancestors while ignoring or minimizing their achievements.
  • Almost total silence about the Founding Fathers, including no mention of Jefferson, Franklin, Madison, and Adams, and almost none of the Declaration of Independence.
  • Omission of military history, battles, commanders, and heroes.
  • A biased and inaccurate view of many important facets of American history, including the motivations and actions of 17th-19th-century settlers, American involvement in World War II, and the conduct of and victory in the Cold War.

Krieger provides an indepth analysis of the APUSH framework here.

Krieger stated during the call that the College Board should delay the framework for a year.  Those listening in were encouraged to sign an open letter to David Coleman who is the President and CEO of the College Board.  The text of the letter states:

Dear Mr. Coleman:

As you know, there is a rising tide of opposition to the AP U.S. History Framework. Concerned citizens and elected officials are increasingly alarmed at the direction it will take our schools, our teachers, and our high school students.

Here is a very brief summary of the problems with the APUSH History Framework:

Flaws in the Framework

The new 98-page AP U.S. History curriculum is a dramatic departure from the five-page Topic Outline previously used by the College Board to guide the curriculum.

The new Framework inculcates a consistently negative view of American history by highlighting oppressors and exploiters while ignoring the dreamers and innovators who built our country. Instead of striving to build a “City upon a Hill,” as generations of students have been taught, the colonists are portrayed as bigots who developed “a rigid racial hierarchy” that was in turn derived from “a strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority.” The Framework ignores the rise of democratic institutions such as the House of Burgesses and New England town meetings.  It also omits the colonists’ growing commitment to religious freedom and the emergence of a pluralistic society that lacked an entrenched aristocracy.

The new Framework continues its theme of oppression and conflict by reinterpreting Manifest Destiny from a belief that America had a mission to spread democracy and new technologies across the continent to something that “was built on a belief in white racial superiority and a sense of American cultural superiority.”

The new Framework repeatedly ignores the heroism and sacrifices of America’s servicemen and women. For example, the Framework makes no mention of the sacrifices America’s Greatest Generation made to rescue much of the world from a long night of Nazi and Japanese tyranny. Instead, the Framework focuses solely on the negative aspects of America’s involvement in the war:  “the internment of Japanese Americans, challenges to civil liberties, debates over race and segregation, and the decision to drop the atomic bomb raised questions about American values.”

Framework apologists have argued that the document is not intended to provide a comprehensive list of people and topics. But the expansion of the Framework from five to 98 pages makes it even more significant and troubling that American heroes such as Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Dwight Eisenhower, Jackie Robinson, Jonas Salk, Neil Armstrong, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., have been excluded. While the document does not have room for these heroes it does have space for Chief Little Turtle, the Students for a Democratic Society, and the Black Panthers.

Lack of Alignment With State Standards

The redesigned Framework sets a number of dangerous precedents. By providing a detailed course of study that defines, discusses, and interprets “the required knowledge of each period” the College Board has in effect supplanted local and state curriculum by unilaterally assuming the authority to prioritize historic topics.

State US History standards and the College Board’s new Framework are like oil and water – they will not mix. The old five-page Topic Outline provided a traditional baseline that did not conflict with state standards and in fact relied on the state standards for much of its content. The new 98-page document establishes a baseline so far to the left that it conflicts with virtually all state standards.

A correlation commissioned by the College Board revealed 181 post-Civil War items required by the Texas Standards that are not covered in the College Board’s new Framework. An analysis of the Georgia US History Standards revealed 132 Georgia elements that are not in the Framework. In addition, the College Board Framework contains at least 60 elements that are not covered in the Georgia Standards.

If overburdened APUSH teachers cover the missing material from state standards at all, they will necessarily do so quickly and superficially. The reason is that the Framework itself makes clear that nothing outside the Framework will appear on the APUSH Exam. Because their first responsibility is to prepare their students for that Exam, the teachers will focus on the often radical concepts of the Framework rather than on their state standards.

Lack of Instructional Resources

One year ago, APUSH teachers could count on using a wealth of high-quality materials to help them prepare lessons and evaluate student performance. The preparation materials included eight released tests with 680 multiple-choice questions. In addition, the College Board’s AP Central website provided a trove of valuable materials that included 26 Document-Based questions, 104 essay questions, and almost 400 graded student-produced sample essays. The materials are now all outdated by the new exam format.

The College Board has replaced these materials with just one Sample Test and no graded sample essays. This will not provide teachers with an adequate amount of preparation materials for a full-year course. The lack of a full complement of tests and sample essays will particularly handicap the growing number of new AP U.S. History teachers. And because access to this Sample Test is restricted to certified APUSH teachers, other educators such as homeschoolers will not have even this paltry resource for preparation.

Restore the Topic Outline and Revise the Framework

We recognize that the Framework was created before you assumed the College presidency. We still know very little about the process that was used to write the Framework. For example, its author or authors remain anonymous.

Many concerned APUSH teachers have raised questions about the Framework’s negative content and tone. They wonder how they can reconcile the twin goals of preparing their students to score well on the APUSH exam with the traditional goal of preparing their students to be well-educated citizens.

Our APUSH teachers should not be placed in this unprecedented predicament. We urge you to delay the implementation of the new AP U.S. History Framework for at least a year and reinstate the time-honored Topic Outline. The time can be used to form a new and more transparent committee to write a balanced study of American history that respects state curriculum standards and gives our students an unbiased picture of their country’s past.

Activists were also encouraged to contact the College Board directly about their concerns.  Ditty also encouraged activists to contact their state school board members to pass a resolution concerning APUSH, and offered a model resolution she wrote for Georgia.  They also encouraged activists to meet with their state legislators and to ask them to initial legislation to defund APUSH.

Robbins noted that ultimately it is time to break the College Board’s monopoly over advanced classes.  She said things will change if people “stop bowing to their expectations.”

You can listen to an interview with Jane Robbins on Caffeinated Thoughts Radio here.

Authored by Shane Vander Hart

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