POLITICS

After Facing Backlash, AP U.S. History Course Revised To Emphasize American Ideals

Conservatives thought the last update didn't paint a positive enough picture of the country.

07/30/2015 11:18 am ET | Updated Jul 31, 2015

After facing months of intense scrutiny over a new Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) course outline that some conservatives perceived as containing anti-American biases, the College Board released a new framework for the class Thursday morning. This structure places more of an emphasis on concepts surrounding American national identity, the country's founding leaders and documents and the effective role of free enterprise in U.S. history. 

The College Board, the company that created and runs the Advanced Placement program, said the updated course framework reflects feedback it received from educators and historians during a public review period. The changes make it so "statements [in the framework] are clearer and more historically precise, and less open to misinterpretation or perceptions of imbalance" and so that specific important individuals and documents are clearly included, according to the group's website. 

After deciding to redesign the course in 2006, the College Board released a new course outline last year that hit classrooms in the fall. It was designed by a committee of professors and teachers, and generated controversy from critics who said it took an overly critical approach to teaching American history.

In August 2014, the Republican National Committee adopted a resolution criticizing the framework for "radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation's history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects." In October, the framework triggered weeks of protests in Jefferson County, Colorado, after members of the local school board pushed for the creation of a committee to review the course and ensure it presented America positively. In February, the Oklahoma legislature took steps to try to ban the course from state classrooms

The College Board officials and scholars who worked on the 2014 framework update consistently defended the product. The creators noted in an open letter that the course outline didn't require teachers to mention specific historical figures by name because they did not need such specific guidance.

"Many of the comments we have heard about the framework reflect either a misunderstanding of U.S. history or a very limited faith in history teachers’ command of their subject matter," the letter said. "The Curriculum Framework was written by and for AP teachers -- individuals who were already experts in U.S. history and its teaching." 

The 2015 framework released Thursday directly responds to the fears of critics. As opposed to last year's framework, it explicitly mentions the concept of American exceptionalism and emphasizes the names and roles of the founding fathers. Although this year's framework highlights America's positive influence on world, like its role in ending the Cold War, it includes about the same number of references to slavery as last year's.

"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 edition has been embraced by educators, including AP U.S. History teachers who reviewed it at the recent AP Annual Conference," a statement from the College Board reads. 

David Burton, the social studies department chairman at Southmoore High School in Moore, Oklahoma, says the revisions make the course framework even better than it was before. Even though he liked the 2014 course outline, he said he’s pleased the College Board added the words “American exceptionalism” to the new framework.

"They took something I felt was already good and I think they made it great," he said.

He said he would be surprised if there is continued opposition against the framework.

"I enter politics from a more conservative perspective myself, and I didn’t see what they were seeing in the old version," he said. "But I don’t see any reason now why they would think that there’s some conspiracy involved in the curriculum framework. I would think they should be much happier."

Jane Robbins, a senior fellow at the conservative advocacy group American Principles Project who previously advocated against the 2014 standards, said the new framework seems like a “step in the right direction," but that she has only taken a cursory glance at the outline and would need more time to read it before she took a definitive stance.

"College Board did listen to the problem … but it took them a year and a half to do anything about it," she said.

Peter Wood, president of the National Association of Scholars, said a preliminary glance at the new standards suggests this year's version is an improvement on last year's, which the association criticized heavily. Still, Wood said he noticed a few sections he believes still fall short. 

"The bias [in the framework] has been downplayed but not eliminated," he said, citing, for example, the need for course outline to give more attention to the religious motivations of leaders in the American Revolution. 

He also expressed concern that teaching materials, like textbooks, wouldn't be updated to reflect the new APUSH standards. 

"No one should walk away with the impression that just because the standards have changed the controversy is over," he said. 

In response, the College Board said it does not develop textbooks or require specific materials for AP classes. 

"States, districts, and schools make local decisions about which college textbooks to use for AP courses. The framework will guide how existing textbooks are used and inform the development of new textbooks," the company told The Huffington Post.

The 2016 APUSH exam and future professional development materials will be aligned with the new framework. 

"We are confident that classroom instruction will shift accordingly," the College Board said.

This article has been updated to include reactions to the new framework. 

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