The College Board, which has been under fire from conservatives for revisions it made to the AP U.S. History course, released a new version Thursday that it says responds to “principled feedback” from critics.
“This new edition addresses the legitimate concerns expressed about the 2014 framework,” Zachary Goldberg, a spokesman for the College Board, wrote in an email. “Every statement in the 2015 edition has been examined with great care based on the historical record and the principled feedback the College Board received. The result is a clearer and more balanced approach to the teaching of American history that remains faithful to the requirements that colleges and universities set for academic credit.”
The new version will take effect in the coming school year.
Conservatives, including the Republican National Committee and 2016 GOP presidential hopeful Ben Carson, slammed the 2014 Advanced Placement history course for overemphasizing negative aspects of U.S. history, portraying historical events as “identity politics” – a series of conflicts between groups of people as opposed to explaining historical events through shared ideals – and failing to fully explore the unique and positive values of the U.S. system.
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Carson told a group in September that the framework is so anti-American that “I think most people, when they finish that course, they’d be ready to sign up for ISIS.”
Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, a group of academics created to “confront the rise of campus political correctness,” commended the College Board for the 2015 revisions but said there is room for improvement.
“It’s definitely better than 2014 in a number of ways,” said Wood, who met Wednesday with College Board President David Coleman. “When we started raising criticisms about this in July last year, the pushback from the College Board was arrogant and dismissive. And they stayed in that tone before they began to see that maybe a better way to handle this is to look at the content of the criticism. I think the College Board is taking the position that it has something to learn from its critics.”
The College Board, the nonprofit company that owns the SAT, relies on committees of college professors and high school teachers to write frameworks for AP courses. Many of the people who wrote the 2014 framework also worked on the new version.
The 2014 framework had been endorsed by the American Historical Association, whose chief executive, James Grossman, defended it as a choice between “a more comfortable national history and a more unsettling one.”
But the pushback from conservatives was immediate.
In August 2014, the Republican National Committee accused the College Board of developing a “radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.”
In the fall, conservative school board members in Jefferson County, Colorado, said they wanted to review the course because it wasn’t sufficiently patriotic, triggering protests from students and parents accusing the school board of censorship.Lawmakers in Oklahoma considered banning the class but dropped the effort.
Rick Hess, director of education policy at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, was critical of the 2014 version but said Thursday that the newest edition was “surprisingly good” and free of bias of either a liberal or conservative nature.
“I expected to be disappointed – I thought the last version was horrific,” said Hess, a onetime high school social studies teacher. “But what I see is . . . fair-minded, reasoned, and coherent, and I would be very comfortable teaching U.S. history with this.”
Still, a leading conservative dismissed the changes as more cosmetic than substantive.
“The College Board continues to be under the influence of leftist historians,” Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, wrote in an email.
He has argued that the College Board wields too much influence over American education through its AP courses and tests. “Ultimately, I think the College Board is making superficial changes as a way of stifling competition,” he wrote. “Only competition in AP testing can restore curricular choice to states and school districts.”
More than 460,000 students took the AP U.S. history exam last year, hoping to score high enough to earn college credit.
Wood said conservatives around the country are interested in developing alternatives to the College Board.
“That opposition is not going to go away,” he said. “It’s become self-organizing, with a legislative presence in some states. There’s a will to break the College Board’s monopoly on this.”