APUSH Controversy: College Framework Catastrophe


Photo by: Rhiannan Ruef

Mr. Doyle teaches his AP U.S. History classes as he attempts to avoid the controversy in the AP curriculum.

Opponents of the revised 2014-2015 AP U.S. History (APUSH) exam have begun a patriotic uproar against the College Board and its released framework for the modified test.

Teachers and politicians have described the curriculum as “liberally biased” and “radically revisionist,” and claim the course unfairly tests students on an inaccurate depiction of United States history, according to a Newsweek article.

Mr. Larry S. Krieger, an APUSH teacher from New Jersey, said, “As I read through the [framework], I saw a consistently negative view of American history that highlights oppressors and exploiters.” He found that “instead of striving to build a city on a hill,” referring to the American sentiment made famous by John Winthrop, the revised framework “portrayed [our nation’s founders] as bigots.”

Neither Winthrop’s support of American exceptionalism nor his name appears in the framework, despite Winthrop being a leading early American colonial figure and founder of the Massachusetts Bay Colony.

Mr. Matthew Doyle, APUSH teacher at Cam High, said that he understood the controversy. “I can very easily see why conservatives have a problem with it, especially when it doesn’t mention George Washington except for one time, and it doesn’t mention [John] Adams or [Thomas] Jefferson.”

This lack of acknowledgement could lead to teachers hard-pressed on time foregoing discussion on some of America’s most important historical figures. “Nothing that is not on the outline is on the test,” said Doyle. “So a teacher might say, ‘Well, if George Washington is never mentioned on the outline, then I’m not going to teach him because he is not going to be on the test.'”

However, the College Board has stated that significant figures and events omitted from the framework are not necessarily excluded from the test altogether. “Just like the previous framework, the new framework does not remove individuals or events that have been taught by AP teachers in prior years,” said CEO David Coleman. “Instead, it is just a framework, requiring teachers to populate it with content required by their local standards and priorities.”

A recently released full-length practice exam features a series of three questions that exemplify the exam’s prejudices, according to conservatives. Opponents of the new curriculum believe that questions 24 through 26, which are based off of an 1880’s image of New York City slums, force the test taker to lean toward a more liberal viewpoint.

College Board's released practice exam includes questions on Jacob Riis's famous piece of photojournalism, titled "How the Other Half Lives." The answer to the questions are 24-B, 25-A, and 26-D.
College Board’s released practice exam includes questions on Jacob Riis’s famous piece of photojournalism, titled “How the Other Half Lives.” The answer to the questions are 24-B, 25-A, and 26-D.

Yet, to some students, the framework does not seem to be biased at all.

“I don’t think the questions are biased because you’re supposed to look at [certain] questions as a person from that time period,” said Brandon Barrosso, a junior currently taking APUSH.

Bella Husted, also a junior taking APUSH, expressed similar sentiments. “I don’t really see [the questions] as that biased, because they’re just going off of the viewpoint of the people from the past.”

The College Board maintains on its Frequently Asked Questions page that the latest reforms to the curriculum were made in accordance to what the majority of the APUSH teacher community wanted.

“I like the way [the new framework] gets away from learning a little bit from every single thing and going more towards learning a lot about fewer topics,” said Doyle. “It makes it feel more like a college class where you’re going in-depth into history.”

Doyle described the previous framework as “a mile wide and an inch deep,” covering minute details of American history from 1491 to the present. Under the revised curriculum, the College Board allows teachers to use their discretion in developing the standards delineated in the 2015 framework. Teachers can choose materials used to explain and analyze broader concepts, such as “economic change caused by the market revolution,” rather than enforce memorization on small details like the “Hawley-Smoot Tariff.”

Politics have also been thrown into the issue. The community of teachers and students against the new framework have taken refuge under the Republican National Committee who, thanks to the work of Jane Robbins, Krieger’s partner, now officially supports the movement.

The question in the end is how this affects students taking an APUSH course. If significant groups of people demand change, like the residents of the state of Texas, the College Board may revise the framework once more. Teachers would then be forced to go over the new revisions of an increasingly dynamic curriculum, disorienting an already complex picture of American history painted by the AP community.

The decisions made by College Board will influence how the United States will be remembered by a new wave of voters. Whether or not the updated APUSH curriculum will prepare students to be “more ready to be citizens,” as Coleman claims, remains uncertain.