NC Board of Education to hear AP US History controversy

Students line a busy intersection and overpass protesting against a Jefferson County School Board proposal to emphasize patriotism and downplay civil unrest in the teaching of U.S. history, in the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo., Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014.
Students line a busy intersection and overpass protesting against a Jefferson County School Board proposal to emphasize patriotism and downplay civil unrest in the teaching of U.S. history, in the Denver suburb of Littleton, Colo., Thursday, Sept. 25, 2014. AP

The national debate over whether a redesigned Advanced Placement U.S. History course is unpatriotic or promotes a balanced view of history goes before North Carolina education leaders next week.

The State Board of Education will hold a conference-call meeting Monday to hear from the College Board, which developed the class for high school students, and from a leading national critic of the revamped course. The course has drawn charges from critics that it focuses too much on topics such as slavery to promote a negative view of American history.

“The theme of ‘white superiority’ and the ‘subjugation of Africans and American Indians’ plays a key role in the College Board Framework,” writes Larry Krieger, a critic of the new course, in a handout for Monday’s meeting.

But state education leaders say there are no plans to eliminate Advanced Placement U.S. History, a popular course taken annually by 11,000 North Carolina students. Before the September board meeting, social studies teachers circulated an email charging that the state was on the verge of eliminating AP U.S. History.

“This is not a prelude to any action,” State Board of Education Chairman Bill Cobey said in an interview Wednesday. “This is an informational meeting open to the public for anyone to listen.”

Conservative groups around the country have lobbied state and local education leaders to oppose the redesign of the course that debuted in classes this fall. Much of the controversy concerns the course’s new guidelines, which the College Board says will promote critical-thinking skills and allows more in-depth coverage of topics. Students can take AP exams to earn college credit.

The Republican National Committee approved a resolution against the new framework in August, asking the College Board to delay it for a year. Soon after, the New Hanover County school board passed a resolution saying the framework “reflects a radically revisionist view of American History that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.”

The Texas Board of Education voted in September that AP U.S. History teachers are to follow the state curriculum in addition to the College Board’s revision. The board also passed a resolution asking that the course be rewritten “to accurately reflect U.S. history without a political bias.”

Many of the critics of the AP U.S. History redesign also oppose the Common Core State Standards in math and language arts, which opponents have also charged as having an anti-American bias.

Opponents challenged

But opposition to the new AP U.S. History class has also stalled in some districts.

In October, the Jefferson County school board in Colorado backed away from changing the AP U.S. History curriculum. The board had said it wanted to promote patriotism and avoid encouragement of “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.” The board scrapped the plan after it sparked two weeks of walkouts by thousands of high school students and the closing of some schools when too many teachers didn’t show up.

On Nov. 12, the South Carolina Board of Education rejected a motion criticizing the redesign and calling for the course to be rewritten. The vote came after hours of public comment, including statements from Krieger and from John Williamson, the College Board’s executive director of AP Curriculum, Instruction and Professional Development. Both men will address North Carolina’s board on Monday.

Cobey said he arranged Monday’s meeting after several board members, including Lt. Gov. Dan Forest, said they wanted to hear more about the issue. Forest was also among the leaders in the state’s efforts to drop the Common Core standards.

“I try as chairman of the board to have our board stay well informed on national and state issues,” Cobey said. “I don’t believe we can do our job well unless we’re well informed.”

Krieger, a former AP U.S. history teacher who began his career in the Charlotte-Mecklenburg school system, has written articles attacking the new course for several national conservative websites.

State law requirements

Krieger wants North Carolina’s board to pass a resolution “admonishing” the College Board for not meeting the requirements of the state’s Founding Principles Act. The 2011 state law requires high school students learn about individual rights, rule of law, equal justice under the law, Creator-endowed inalienable rights, and other principles.

Krieger also wants the State Board to make it a requirement for students to take American History I before taking the AP course.

But Williamson, in his handouts, will argue that the redesigned class does meet the requirements of the state law. He’ll also point out that teachers are happier with the new course.

Cobey said Monday’s meeting will allow people to hear both sides.

“It’s an effort by our board to become more educated on the concerns, and perhaps become more educated about why some of the concerns should not be considered great concerns,” he said.

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