Conservative Victory on AP US History Framework? Not So Fast

Last week, Danniel Henninger, deputy editor of The Wall Street Journal’s editorial page, cited recent changes the College Board made to the Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) framework as a “victory” for conservatives. Experts on the framework, however, think that is quite a stretch.

Henninger asserts in his editorial that the College Board – which is led by its president, David Coleman, known to many as the “architect” of the Common Core Standards – has ditched its left-wing bias in its APUSH framework as a result of conservative backlash, an outcome Henninger describes as “an important political event.”

In May of 2014, Breitbart News contributors Jane Robbins, senior fellow of American Principles Project, and retired APUSH teacher Larry Krieger wrote about the College Board’s replacement of the traditional framework with one in which “George Washington gets one brief mention; other founders, such as Benjamin Franklin and James Madison, none.”

“The Declaration of Independence is referred to in passing in one clause of one sentence,” they continued. “The redesigned Framework inculcates a consistently negative view of American history by highlighting oppressors and exploiters while ignoring the dreamers and innovators who built our country.”

As Henninger aptly describes, the College Board’s APUSH framework “read like a left-wing dream. Obsession with identity, gender, class, crimes against the American Indian and the sins of capitalism suffused the proposed guidelines for teachers of AP American history.”

However, Henninger seems overwhelmed with the changes made this year by Coleman’s team.

“The College Board delivered on its promise,” he writes. “The new guidelines, which convey an understanding of American history to thousands of high-school students, are about as balanced as one could hope for.”

His announcement that the left-wing “tilt” in the guidelines has “vanished,” and that the rewritten framework is now “almost a model of political fair-mindedness,” is very much an overstatement to those who have been warning Americans about the dangers of liberal indoctrination of the nation’s young people and its consequences for the nation itself.

As Henninger notes, Stanley Kurtz, senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center and contributing editor to National Review Online, has pressed for competition to the College Board, which has enjoyed a monopoly on the APUSH. Fears over calls for other testing companies to come up with an APUSH framework likely have led the College Board to make some changes that can be perceived as having responded to the conservative outcry.

Kurtz tells Breitbart News that while he agrees the APUSH battle is one of the few that has put the left on the defensive, the left-wing “tilt” of the framework has not “vanished.”

“I emphatically disagree that the recently revised AP U.S. history framework is a true victory for conservatives,” Kurtz states. “Yes, the College Board has removed the most biased phrases from the framework, and even thrown in a brief good word or two about the free enterprise system. But the changes are largely cosmetic.”

Kurtz continues:

The framework remains focused on trendy leftist themes like gender identity and environmentalism, rather than traditional themes like military or diplomatic history. More important, AP U.S. history textbooks and course syllabi have already been conformed to the controversial 2014 framework. There are no plans to change them again. Even if there were, there are really no significant changes to be made since the new framework simply removes a few controversial statements and does not insert fundamentally new themes. The real intentions of the College Board are revealed by the brand new AP European history framework, which shares all the leftist biases of the original 2014 AP U.S. history framework.

Similarly, Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars (NAS), explains that while he understands some want to declare a “conservative victory,” he views whatever changes the College Board made only as “a battle won in a long war.”

“The College Board played this beautifully,” Wood tells Breitbart News, and continues:

It made lots of conspicuous concessions of the sort that would persuade many smart, observant people that APUSH had been restored to mainstream ideas and good historical judgments. Dan Henninger is not alone in declaring it a conservative victory. There are also liberal and centrist academic historians (e.g. KC Johnson) who are breathing a big sigh of relief. And it is telling that historians who are on the radical left are upset that their 2014 APUSH victory has been snatched back.

Wood said he spoke to Coleman before the College Board released its latest APUSH revision.

“I want to give credit where credit is due,” he said, adding,

The College Board went through the whole 2014 document and attempted to scrub the political tendentious phrases, the silly identity-politics-style posturing, the sneers directed at conservatives and traditionalists, and the wild imbalance between favored progressive themes and disfavored traditional themes.

“But, unfortunately, there is a lot more to fixing the problem than this,” Wood asserts, citing, as Kurtz did, the problem that the standards are part of a larger initiative that includes the AP examinations, the textbooks, and teacher instruction.

“None of those other things have been changed,” Wood emphasizes. “That means the students taking APUSH are going to be tested on the 2014 standards. The new 2015 standards are, at least for the next several years, window-dressing.”

The problem is not much different from what has taken place with the Common Core standards initiative, and the method is likely one that Coleman borrowed from his experience in developing the nationalized reform, one that has grown tremendously unpopular even while it remains ingrained in public school classrooms.

Proponents of the Common Core initiative frequently demean its opponents, arguing Common Core is “just standards” and nothing more. In fact, the Common Core is far more than standards: it includes federally funded tests aligned with the standards, expensive textbooks and instructional materials, teacher training and rigid guidelines, massive student data collection, and teacher evaluation based on student performance on the tests aligned with the standards.

In states where the Common Core “standards” have been “repealed,” replacement standards are often little more than carbon copies or “rebrands” of Common Core. Similarly, some states, like Wisconsin, allow school districts to choose whatever standards they like – except that the required state standardized test is still aligned to the Common Core, making it highly unlikely that school districts would change out their entire curriculum and textbooks for other standards when their students will still be assessed based on the Common Core test.

How can Coleman and the College Board, then, really wipe far-left ideology out of the APUSH when the examinations students take, their textbooks, and the training their teachers receive still are operating under it?

“The only lasting solution to this problem is the creation of a company, advised by top traditionalist scholars, that can compete directly with the College Board,” argues Kurtz. “The College Board is desperately afraid of such competition, and such changes as it has made are only efforts to avoid that threat.”

“If we make the mistake of prematurely declaring victory, we will kill off the chance to restore true intellectual competition and local choice to education,” he adds. “And once the College Board is secure in its monopoly, it will be completely in the control of the leftist professors who already advise it and determine its basic direction.”


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