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Martin Luther King Jr., Benjamin Franklin, George Washington Carver, James Madison and Rosa Parks. If you’ve heard that the new AP U.S. History course description doesn’t mention these legendary Americans, you have not been misled.

But whether the new version of the class skips over key moments in United States history – and even disparages the nation – are still being hotly debated across the country.

Here’s a look at how the controversy began, what’s really different in the new APUSH (a nickname for the class that critics and supporters still agree on), and how the national war over Common Core is influencing the battle.

The controversy

In October 2012, College Board, a nonprofit that develops and distributes not only the AP exams but also the SAT, revamped APUSH to encourage teachers to go more in depth into fewer topics. The class is College Board’s second most popular, after AP English Language and Composition, with 442,890 students taking the exam in 2013. After the changes, the course description for the first time also called for teachers to impart critical thinking skills to their students, ideas in line with the Common Core, a set of guidelines for math and English that most states have adopted. These changes first went into effect this school year.

The new course description raised little notice until July, when some members of the Texas State Board of Education expressed concern that the class would bring Common Core into Texas schools. State law bans Common Core.

Related: Why is this Common Core math problem so hard? Supporters respond to quiz that went viral

In August, the Republican National Committee brought national attention to the controversy when it passed a resolution asserting that the new curriculum “reflects a radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.”

The fight reached a boiling point in September.

On September 19, the Texas State Board of Education passed a resolution asking that the AP U.S. History curriculum be rewritten “in a transparent manner to accurately reflect U. S. history without a political bias.”

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Related: AP and IB courses: Are they truly rigorous?

Around the same time, Julie Williams, a school board member in Jefferson County, Colorado, a district of more than 84,000 students just west of Denver, proposed completely revamping the college-credit-earning course in the local schools because she said the new version had “an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing while simultaneously omitting the most basic structural and philosophical elements considered essential to the understanding of American History for generations.”

In response to the proposal, hundreds of Jefferson County students skipped school in protest, citing concerns that the plans would lead to censorship.

Students protest against a Jefferson County School Board proposal to emphasize patriotism and downplay civil unrest in the teaching of U.S. history, in front of their school, Jefferson High, in the Denver suburb of Edgewater, Monday, Sept. 29, 2014. (AP Photo/Brennan Linsley)

And in South Carolina, a group calling itself S.C. Parents Involved in Education also raised concerns about what isn’t explicitly mentioned in the new course – the founding fathers, civil rights leaders and wartime heroes – and what is – “wartime experiences, such as the internment of Japanese Americans.”

The critics are correct that the class has seen some significant changes, but not all claims about the new APUSH pan out.

What’s new, and why

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Previously, College Board only released a list of suggested topics APUSH teachers should cover, but did not guarantee those would be the only ones covered on the exam. There were concerns that this led to an encyclopedic approach, where teachers tried to teach everything that could possibly appear on the test.

Now, unlike in the previous APUSH course description, there is a curriculum that outlines specific concepts that must be covered. The concepts are broad. For example: “Africans developed both overt and covert means to resist the dehumanizing aspects of slavery.” For this concept, the guide suggests that teachers could use slave rebellions, acts of sabotage or escapes to illustrate this point. So while students would need to understand the concept for an exam question, they could, for example, cite the specific rebellion they were taught.

Related: College Board cashing in on push for more degrees

Critics and supporters alike have linked the changes to the Common Core State Standards, and the AP controversy is in some ways an offshoot of the ongoing political fight over Common Core. Though the shift to Common Core in most American schools doesn’t directly apply to AP U.S. History, the math and English standards were meant to influence the teaching of other subjects, and the College Board has acknowledged that elements of the new course align with the goals of the new standards.

“The redesigned AP U.S. History course emphasizes developing students’ ability to analyze historical texts and to support their written responses using valid reasoning and relevant evidence,” reads a Frequently Asked Questions guide put out by College Board. “This emphasis dovetails with the Common Core State Standards for reading and writing literacy in history.”

Critics have pointed out that David Coleman, who is sometimes called an “architect” of the Common Core, is now the president of the College Board. But Coleman didn’t step into the role until after the AP U.S. History framework was released.

Instead of responding directly to questions, a representative from the College Board pointed to a series of documents and prior statements on the topic. But in response to concerns over anti-American bias, the College Board released a full sample exam for the new AP U.S. History course. The group says the new course is more balanced than previous versions, as it requires “teachers and students to look at multiple sides of an issue.”

And while it’s true the new course framework does not mention Martin Luther King Jr., Benjamin Franklin, George Washington Carver, James Madison or Rosa Parks, neither did the previous course description, in effect from the 2010-2011 school year through the end of the last school year.

“Any United States History course would of course include King as well as other major figures such as Benjamin Franklin and Dwight Eisenhower,” read an open letter penned by the authors of the new AP U.S. History course, a group of current and former high school and college history teachers. “These and many other figures of U.S. history did not appear in the previous AP framework, either, yet teachers have always understood the need to teach them.”

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Emmanuel Felton

Emmanuel Felton is a former staff writer. Prior to joining The Hechinger Report, he covered education, juvenile justice and child services for the New York World. He received a bachelor’s degree from...

Letters to the Editor

10 Letters

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  1. The “crime” in this fiasco is the intrusion of the Federal Government into the business of education, a duty of the States, not the Feds. The effort by national test writers to create a national curriculum is just plain wrong. Vermont should be allowed to emphasize Ethan Allen and the Green Mountain boys and Texas the Alamo and Sam Houston. Both need not be skimmed over to meet some Washington bureaucrats “common core” or any variation thereof, instead critical thinking should be developed by exploring each within the curriculum of each state as appropriate. Early in the 1990s each state succeed in generating “a framework” for each subject that was proper for that state and then the Clinton administration, the Bush admin, and now the Obama administration has tried to standardize the whole country and create cookie cutter students with the result that the drop out rate is soaring because not every student wants to go to college and instead of providing technical/vocational education that might be attractive to these students they are told they must complete four years of math, science, etc, none of which prepares them to be electricians, etc. Education in the country is in serious decline and the first step to making it better is to get the Feds and their lackies at the College Boards out of the business of deciding what should be taught.

  2. Dr. King, Rosa Parks, George Washington Carver, Benjamin Franklin, and James Madison should be mentioned. To exclude them is Un-American. College Board should be ashamed of themselves.

  3. State standards would be fine if, and only if, students in Texas high schools, for example, only attended or sought to attend Texas universities . And I do not mean to disparage state universities. Many of them are dealing with students ill-prepared to think on any subject not covered in state end-of-course tests. It is sad to think that those “experts” who have not set foot in a classroom for years (if ever) imagine that teachers can cover civil rights or the Constitution without mentioning significant figures such as Martin Luther King, Jr. or James Madison. We do not teach to the test!

  4. It is disturbing that the College Board has the power to set the advanced curriculum in schools across the country. This is especially disturbing in a subject like History, about which there is a MASSIVE debate ongoing. However, this has been going on for a long time — we’re just noticing it now. It should come as no surprise that there is a major disconnect between what university professors of history (and the like) believe and what many Americans believe. Just as war is too important to be left to the generals, so history is too important to be left to the historians. At least that’s what many believe.

    This isn’t just a discussion between some right-wing nuts and the academics. This is a fight for the soul of the American people, no less.

  5. The curriculum is more conceptual now. It doesn’t mean we are forsaking important people, events, or issues in our history. The curriculum is actually allowing us, as professional educators, to prepare our students to the best of our ability. The AP provides a “framework” not a completely filled in curriculum. All they really are concerned with is the exam. I am concerned with the whole student. This “debate” is an insult to me as a professional. The only reason it is gaining any traction is that some nut job conservatives need an issue to rally around.

  6. First off, state history, which is required in Texas, covers the Alamo and everything leading up to statehood. U.S. History is something all together different. Most states, in order to graduate from High School require you to have BOTH State AND U.S. History. They are two separate courses. In a lot of colleges, even Government is in two separate classes, STATE and U.S., and it is required to have both as part of the core of your degree. For profit colleges, like the Art Institute, may not require government as part of the degree, but public colleges and universities do.

  7. The above posters misunderstand the concept of a framework. It doesn’t mention specific historical figures. The framework is broad and very open. In order to accurately cove the topics in the frame work teachers do need to discuss those figures. I assure you my AP students study MLK, Rosa Park, Washington, Franklin and Madison. Students read the writings of MLK, Washington, and Madison in my course. Outside of the emphasis on on writing and critical thinking the framework is not all that different from the old one. AP has always been a national organization but its not a wing of the Fed. This is a manufactured controversy built on individuals lack of knowledge of any AP course framework and cheery picking.

  8. It amazes me that the college board says it is attempting to find “balance” by omitting key figures in American History. From the time of our founding fathers to now, we have had several “revolutionary” Americans who have helped us to truly live out the precepts our founding fathers espoused in the very revolutionary document of the preamble to the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. We should not cave into radical right outliers that insist on resisting reason and balance – if we want to move ahead we must face both the positive and negative sides of our past and present reality as a nation. Omitting such key historical figures is unacceptable.

  9. Larry Krieger, owner and designer of InsiderPrep, and former AP History teacher, is the influence behind Julie Williams in Colorado– who, as she told Breitbart Texas .. the proposal they are trying to pass is to preserve US history from the progressive APUSH and it is similar to actions taken by the Texas SBOE.

    “Texas passed its resolution against AP US History. In Colorado, people are talking about that,” she said. “What does it hurt to look into this? Our students deserve to have the best, appropriate education possible,” she added. “Without looking into this, we could be harming our students,” she said. She indicated that over the past year “APUSH and a new fifth grade Sex Ed curriculum were slipped into the schools with little public knowledge.” — which isn’t correct really, On Sept 10, 2014, the Colorado State Board of Education already discussed the issues that came up with the 2014 AP History program, listened to arguments for over 90 minutes and decided it was still acceptable for the State Schools.

    So, Texas doesn’t have AP right now. Larry Krieger is the man who talked them into this option. Larry has been doing quite a bit of talking and writing.
    News Week
    http://www.newsweek.com/whats-driving-conservatives-mad-about-new-history-course-264592

    By Krieger’s own admission, there is nothing false or misleading or untrue inside the AP material. The College Board has said over and over that this is a Framework design and as such it negates all of these complaints against the AP History program. So let’s pull some sheets shall we? Let’s look at the orchestrator of these complaints.

    Larry Krieger owns InsiderPrep, which is a business that creates and sells books and materials to help a student prep for the AP classes and tests. — Well, it did help up until this year. See, Larry’s Prep course is based on the old study methods, where memorizing is more important than critical thinking. The AP History program has changed drastically, in that it is only a Framework now, not a full course like it was in the past. So, there is no …”series of chronological chapters that match the sequence of topics in the College Board’s official APUSH Course Description booklet.” … Which is how Larry Krieger’s program is developed. No. Now AP is a comprehensive, adaptable Framework.
    Quote right off the AP Web site :
    A new Curriculum Framework Evidence Planner helps teachers customize the framework by specifying the historical content selected for student focus. It can also be provided to students to track the historical evidence examined for each concept and as review for the AP Exam.
    Schools and teachers develop their own curriculum for AP courses. Submitting a syllabus to the AP Course Audit ensures teachers have a thorough understanding of AP U.S. History course requirements and are authorized to teach AP.
    — end quote —
    See that one line? “Schools and teachers develop their own curriculum…” Meaning that the frame work Can Be fully Right Wing Conservative, going over each of the founding fathers in detail and focusing on the deeds of courageous people…or… it could be middle of the road, focusing on the growth of the nation, or it could be both, or neither.
    There are simply too many areas of history to cover them all and importance and values change from state to state and district to district. So, AP created this Framework, stepping away from the static text design and allowing the teachers and districts to create a program suitable for their own use. So this Whole idea that it is missing something is silly. It isn’t missing ANYTHING. If it has a Left or Right or Conservative or Liberal bend, then it was put there by the school, not AP. — Think of it as Object Programming if you know something about that.
    Except now there is a problem.. a problem for Larry, anyway. See Larry’s Prep and Study course no long fit the AP History program, because there is no way of telling what the district is going to focus on ahead of time. So there is no Chapter to Chapter.. so basically his Prep courses are useless and no one is going to buy them. So… Larry is out of a job. Apparently he’s not that happy about it either (and I have to admit I wouldn’t be happy myself… but I wouldn’t go around doing what he is doing).
    Since Every school, indeed every teacher can create her own syllabi, paying attention to areas and focuses of history which are most in line with the state and local focus– Larry has nothing to sell and his publications are no longer marketable. — Unless he talks you into believing that the new AP Framework design is somehow bad. This is very difficult to do, because there is nothing false, misleading or wrong with the facts or the framework. So, he has to go after something with a lot of emotion behind it, something that will cut through logic and the extra cost of putting together your own AP classes.
    Thus begins Larry’s impassioned campaign against AP History, where he takes out bits from the examples of the New AP, twists some things up, reads a little too much into what is not really there — since none of it has to be there, it is all up to the teacher and the school what to build with the Framework — and begins screaming Leftist Democrats!
    He screams this over and over, and he finds people like Jane Robbins who is screaming Common Core, and he meets a few people through her who are also working to stop Common Core and he bands up with them, and comes to your Education meeting and tells you all the things every one knows you are not going to like — never telling you that the AP History program can be exactly what you want it to be.
    Again.. from the AP History area of the Web Site where you put together your State’s AP Curriculum.
    The AP® Program unequivocally supports the principle that each individual school must develop its own curriculum for courses labeled “AP.” Rather than mandating any one curriculum for AP courses, the AP Course Audit instead provides each AP teacher with a set of expectations that college and secondary school faculty nationwide have established for college-level courses.
    AP teachers are encouraged to develop or maintain their own curriculum that either includes or exceeds each of these expectations; such courses will be authorized to use the “AP” designation. Credit for the success of AP courses belongs to the individual schools and teachers that create powerful, locally designed AP curricula.

    The AP U.S. History course should be designed by your school to provide students with a learning experience equivalent to that of an introductory college course sequence in United States history. Your course should provide students with the analytic skills and factual knowledge necessary to deal critically with the topics and materials in U.S. history.

    There are no specific curricular prerequisites for students taking AP U.S. History.

    All students who are willing and academically prepared to accept the challenge of a rigorous academic curriculum should be considered for admission to AP courses. The College Board encourages the elimination of barriers that restrict access to AP courses for students from ethnic, racial and socioeconomic groups that have been traditionally underrepresented in the AP Program. Schools should make every effort to ensure that their AP classes reflect the diversity of their student population.

    High schools offering this exam must provide the exam administration resources described in the AP Coordinator’s Manual.

    http://www.collegeboard.com/html/apcourseaudit/courses/us_history.html

    I hope this helps you to avoid all of the confusion and fabricated controversy so that you don’t wind up like Texas.

  10. Am I misunderstanding something? I thought the Common Core was started by the states and was voluntary in adoption. I’m seeing a lot of comments (here and elsewhere) about it being a “Washington” or “Federal Government” intrusion on states’ rights.
    As a matter of fact, a Georgia educator just mentioned that it was their conservative governor who help initiate the Common Core project (contrary to the liberal overstepping that I’m hearing from some corners).
    Additionally, the College Board is only ONE way to “influence” awarding credit. (NOTE: The CB doesn’t award credit. Colleges determine whether and how much credit to award. The test just provides a measure that colleges can use.) Many students take dual credit courses (administered in partnerships with numerous individual colleges) while in high school. ACT and SAT tests also can be used, as well as any other criteria that a college deems to use (e.g., review of h.s. courses, state or college entrance exams). So again, unless I’m missing something, I don’t read this as being a “Big Brother” move. Yes, the CB has massive influence/control in their arena, but they’re not the only voice.

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