Oklahoma could defund AP U.S. History

The newly revised Advanced Placement U.S. History (aka APUSH) framework slights American heroes, say conservative critics. Others say it’s moved left to match college history teaching.

College Board, which runs AP, provided a practice exam in a response to critics.

The APUSH framework focuses on what’s “bad about America,” Dan Fisher, a state legislator in Oklahoma, tells KOSU. There’s little about the Declaration of Independence or the Constitution, he complains. “The founders are hardly even mentioned. In fact, there’s one sentence out of George Washington’s farewell address, and it’s basically spun negatively.”

He’s introduced a bill that could bar state funding for APUSH courses, if the state Board of Education decides it violates state guidelines.

The bill lists primary documents that must be taught in all the state’s U.S. history classrooms, reports Newsweek. These include Patrick Henry’s “give me liberty or give me death” speech, John Winthrop’s “city on a hill” sermon and Jonathan Edwards’ sermon on “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”

The revised APUSH is an “attempt to have teachers stop chasing trivia, teacher Christine Custred told KOSU. Teachers can choose what documents to teach.

Common Core opponents led the charge against APUSH, notes the Tulsa World. During committee discussion of the bill, Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, said she’s asked the state Attorney General to rule on whether AP courses violate last year’s Core repeal law by imposing a national curriculum.

Update: In response to criticism, Fisher will rewrite the “very poorly worded” bill, he told the Oklahoman. His goal is “not to hurt AP,” he said.

Raising AP pass rates for blacks, Latinos

Rachmad Tjachyadi collects homework assignments from his AP chemistry students at W.T. White High School in Dallas ISD.
Rachmad Tjachyadi teaches AP chemistry at White High in Dallas

Black and Latino students in Dallas high schools pass the Advanced Placement exams at the highest rate in the country, reports KERA News.

The National Math and Science Initiative has encouraged students to try AP courses.  The Dallas nonprofit “offers Saturday study sessions, pays the hefty exam fees for students, gathers teachers together for professional development and even gives teachers better books or lesson plans if they need them,” reports KERA.

In 1996, when NMSI started working with Dallas high schools, 75 black and Latino students passed at least one AP exam. Last year, 1,270 students passed.

As more Dallas students take an AP exam, the pass rate has fallen. But the overall number of passing students is higher.

Anyone can take his AP chemistry course, said Rachmad Tjachyadi, who teaches at W.T. White High School. Not everyone will pass. “We’re not going to drop the standard for students who have gaps in their preparation,” he said.

Gregg Fleisher, NMSI’s chief academic officer,  would rather see 20 out of 40 students pass an AP physics exam, for example, than 10 out of 10, reports KERA. “What is better for our country — to have twice as many proficient and 20 more who tried it?” he says. “Quite frankly, I think 12 out of 40 is better than 10 out of 10.”

NMSI gives $100 to each student who passes a math, science or English exam, and $100 to the teacher for each passing student. That means that if all 55 of Tjachyadi’s students pass the chemistry exam, he’ll get a check for $5,500. Last year, he got a nice $2,600 for his passing students—right at Christmas time.

Even students who fail the exam can benefit from the challenge, he says. A former student, Grace Knott got a 1 on the chemistry exam, equivalent to a D. However, when half of her classmates failed college chemistry, she was “able to keep up was because of the backing that I got in Mr. T’s class,” she said. Knott is now a biology teacher at a Dallas high school.

‘You can get smarter’

Evanston is a Chicago suburb with one very large high school. It enrolls the children of doctors, lawyers and Northwestern professors. It enrolls students from low-income and working-class families. Half are white or Asian-American and half are black or Latino. 

When Eric Witherspoon took over as superintendent of the district, he saw a very integrated school with segregated classrooms, reports Sophie Quinton in National Journal. “Our Advanced Placement classes were disproportionately white, and our classes for struggling students were disproportionately nonwhite,” says Witherspoon.

Team ASAP (Access and Success in Advanced Placement) tout AP classes at Evanston High

Team ASAP (Access and Success in Advanced Placement) members encourage Evanston students to choose AP classes.

Evanston High has expanded academic supports, such as AVID, study centers, early morning and Saturday study sessions. In 2010, honors humanities was opened to all ninth graders. Those who do well earn honors credit and prepare for Advanced Placement work. Other students earn credit for a regular class.

My daughter’s ninth-grade English class (aka “Critical Thinking”) was an honors class for students who chose to do extra work and a regular class for others. It worked well — because the spread wasn’t all that great between the two groups.

Honor students’ parents protested, fearing the courses would be watered down, but “earned honors’ has expanded to ninth-grade science.

The school, which is very well funded, has invested in training teachers how to teach mixed-level classes and how to have “constructive conversations” about race. Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck has talked to staff about cultivating a “growth mindset,” the belief that you can improve, if you work hard enough.

The belief that “intelligence is malleable” has taken root, says Witherspoon.

“You can get smarter,” he says, banging his hands on the table for emphasis.

. . . Nine years ago, about 38 percent of juniors and seniors had taken at least one AP exam, and 77 percent of tests earned a passing grade or higher. Last year, 64 percent of juniors and seniors took at least one AP exam, and 71 percent of tests earned a passing grade or higher.

In the class of 2014, 88 percent of white graduates, 82 percent of Asians, 60 percent of Latinos and 44 percent of African-Americans took at least one AP exam.

Push back on APUSH

The new Advanced Placement U.S. History framework, known as APUSH, doesn’t give students the tools to analyze history, writes Robert L. Paquette, a history professor.

The broad appeal of Howard Zinn’s Marxist baby-talk in AP history classes stems not only from the appeal of  the politics of the his best-selling People’s History of the United States to activist teachers, but its service in easing bored and indifferent students through the past by personalizing and simplifying it through trivialization.  The current emphasis on “identities” often boils down in the classroom to the instructor’s attempt to get the students to empathize with the personal feelings of a favored group of historical actors extracted from the ranks of the oppressed.  While these voices may elicit students’ sympathy, perhaps even guilt, they do little to enhance understanding of the proper yardsticks by which the past must be measured so that it does not become vulgarized.

APUSH treatment of race, class, and gender reflects “presentism,” Paquette writes.

Forms of prejudice like ethnocentrism, which can be seen as universal phenomenon, appear to be a debility that largely afflicted persons of European descent. On one page of a unit dealing with European expansion, for example, the authors assert that Spanish and Portuguese explorers had “little experience dealing with people who were different from themselves.”  Compared to whom?  Kongos?  Aztecs?  Catawbas?

For many high achievers, AP U.S. history will be their last American history course, writes Paquette.

Equal access — or punishing achievers?

In pushing for “equal access” to gifted classes, honors tracks and Advanced Placement, the Education Department’s Office of Civil Rights is punishing achievement, charges Checker Finn in Education Next.  Even separating first graders into reading groups may be suspect. What if there are more Asian than Hispanic bluebirds?

 . . . the U.S. is already having huge trouble paying attention to high achievers (some say “gifted and talented”) when we’re preoccupied with low achievers and dire schools. Anything that discourages such attention is bad for American economic growth and competitiveness, not to mention unfair to kids who are ready, willing, and able to soar but have trouble getting the teacher’s attention.

“Old-style tracking led to a lot of dead ends,” Finn concedes. But not every students has the motivation or preparation to succeed in AP courses. Some would prefer “high-quality career and technical education,” if they had the choice.

. . . we want to see more minority kids succeed in AP classes and International Baccalaureate (IB) programs, just as we want to see more boys succeed in English and girls in physics. Insofar as the education system is capable of achieving these goals, however, it needs to strive comprehensively from kindergarten (or preschool) onward. Swatting high schools because elementary schools didn’t send them an ethnically balanced collection of kids ready for AP and IB does not accomplish any educationally desirable end.

Integrated schools could lose their middle-class students, warns Finn. If advanced classes are watered down to accommodate less-prepared students, achievers’ parents will look for challenge elsewhere.

Tracking in Middle School can promote equity by better preparing low-income, black and Latino achievers for AP courses, argues Brookings’ researcher Tom Loveless.

At 19 Baltimore high schools, few AP Bio students pass the AP exam (Photo: Baltimore Sun)

In Baltimore, thousands of low-income students earn A’s and B’s in AP classes, then fail the AP exams and place into remedial courses in college, notes Loveless, citing a Baltimore Sun story. Students have access to AP, but not the preparation they need to succeed.

Accelerated and enriched classes help high achievers learn even more, his research has shown. Yet high-poverty middle schools typically leave achievers isn the same classes as low-performing students. “It’s an injustice,” said Loveless at Fordham’s Education for Upward Mobility conference.

DoE seeks equality in AP, gifted classes

Tracking students by academic performance creates a separate and unequal school system, according to the U.S. Education Department, reports Sonali Kohli in The Atlantic.

Black students to be afforded equal access to advanced, higher-level learning opportunities,” the DoE’s Office of Civil Rights proclaimed in announcing an agreement with a New Jersey school district, South Orange Maplewood.

Proponents of tracking and of ability-grouping (a milder version that separates students within the same classroom based on ability) say that the practices allow students to learn at their own levels and prevent a difficult situation for teachers: large classes where children with a wide range of different needs and skill levels are mixed together. In many districts, the higher-level instruction in “gifted and talented” or advanced placement (AP) classes is what keeps wealthier families from entirely abandoning the public school system.

But . . . many education researchers have argued that tracking perpetuates class inequality, and is partially to blame for the stubborn achievement gap in the US educational system.

South Orange Maplewood in New Jersey will hire a consultant to examine why more whites than blacks are in advanced courses as part of a resolution agreement with the DoE.

In California’s Elk Grove Unified, 16 percent of students are black, but only 6 percent of gifted and talented (GATE) students are black. The district entered a DoE agreement to make GATE enrollment reflect enrollment.

Notice that Asian-American students are the most over-represented in GATE classes.

Virtual ed works in Florida

“Virtual education” is working for Florida high school students, concludes a Program on Education Policy and Governance working paper.

Florida Virtual School (FLVS) students taking Algebra or English I earn do as well or better on state math and reading tests as those in traditional courses, report Matt Chingos of Brookings and Guido Schwerdt of the University of Konstanz.

FLVS has expanded access to Advanced Placement and other courses, the study found.

Technology can support at-risk students’ learning concludes a report by the Alliance for Excellent Education and the Stanford Center for Opportunity Policy in Education (SCOPE). “Well-designed interactive programs allow students to see and explore concepts from different angles using a variety of representations.”

AP U.S. History: Has it moved left?

Critics of the new AP U.S. history framework have gone overboard, writes Rick Hess, a former history teacher.

Benjamin Franklin and Martin Luther King weren’t removed: The old framework didn’t mention historical figures, except for a few presidents, and the new one follows suit. The Constitution and Declaration of Independence are still there.

But he’s concerned about the lack of “attention to America’s motivating ideals or to the resulting governing institutions.”

In the new framework, the only mention that the American Revolution might have had any historical significance is a clause mentioning that it had “reverberations in France, Haiti, and Latin America.” There is little or no discussion of the intermediary institutions that are so critical to American culture, society, and government.

While the standards talk often about ethnic and gender identity, I don’t see any room for a discussion of whether there emerged any kind of distinct American “identity.”

There’s little about economics that’s not about government efforts to combat injustice. Students are introduced to decade after decade of American depravity, but there’s nothing to offer context for 20th century U.S. international engagements.

Democratic presidents are lauded, while Republicans are criticized.  “Where FDR and LBJ are warriors for justice, Reagan is described as a man of ‘bellicose rhetoric’.”

Social history — “as distilled by professors with a taste for 21st century identity politics” — drives the framework.

Critics should communicate their concerns and give the College Board “a chance to act,” Hess concludes.

Here’s a practice exam.

AP’s version of U.S. history must reflect how it’s taught by university professors, writes Checker Finn on Education Gadfly. If it deviates too much, colleges will deny credit. That means “every philosophical, pedagogical, and political fad to overwhelm the faculties of today’s post-modern campuses will creep into the courses taught to sixteen- and seventeen-year-olds.”  

. . . ask yourself whether the collegiate version of U.S. history—warts and all, with emphasis on the warts—is what you want kids to learn about the nation’s past while in elementary, middle, and high school. Might it not be more important for them to internalize basic chronology, fundamental events, key people, and major accomplishments than to agonize about the injustices and downtrodden of bygone years?

College Board says students learn all that before taking AP U.S. history. But do they?

Critics: New AP U.S. history has no heroes

Washington Crossing the Delaware as painted by Emanuel Gottlieb Leutze.

College Board’s new framework for Advanced Placement U.S. History “inculcates a consistently negative view of American history by highlighting oppressors and exploiters while ignoring the dreamers and innovators who built our country,” charge conservatives.

Instead of striving to build a “City upon a Hill,” as generations of students have been taught, the colonists are portrayed as bigots who developed “a rigid racial hierarchy” that was in turn derived from “a strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority.” The Framework . . . omits the colonists’ growing commitment to religious freedom and the emergence of a pluralistic society that lacked an entrenched aristocracy.

. . .  the Framework makes no mention of the sacrifices America’s Greatest Generation made to rescue much of the world from a long night of Nazi and Japanese tyranny. Instead, the Framework focuses solely on the negative aspects of America’s involvement in the war:  “the internment of Japanese Americans, challenges to civil liberties, debates over race and segregation, and the decision to drop the atomic bomb raised questions about American values.”

Heroes such as Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Dwight Eisenhower, Jackie Robinson, Jonas Salk, Neil Armstrong, and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. are not mentioned in the document, charge critics. But it has “space for Chief Little Turtle, the Students for a Democratic Society, and the Black Panthers.”

In response to the criticism, the College Board released a practice exam — to everyone, not just certified AP teachers — and promised to “clarify” the framework.

“Our founders are resonant throughout” the exam, wrote College Board President David Coleman wrote. “Just like the previous framework, the new framework does not remove individuals or events that have been taught by AP teachers in prior years. Instead, it is just a framework, requiring teachers to populate it with content required by their local standards and priorities.”

The practice exam is here.

The First Vote by A.R. Waud

The First Vote by A.R. Waud

Questions ask students to interpret quotes by George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Paine and Thomas Jefferson. Other questions deal with immigration, women’s rights and urban poverty.

One question asks students to analyze an image:

a) Briefly explain the point of view expressed through the image about ONE of the following.
• Emancipation
• Citizenship
• Political participation

b) Briefly explain ONE outcome of the Civil War that led to the historical change depicted in the image.

c) Briefly explain ONE way in which the historical change you explained in part b was challenged in the period between 1866 and 1896.

AP claims to create ‘apprentice historians’

The New AP History course promises to turn high school students into “apprentice historians,” writes Peter Wood on the National Association of Scholars blog. Don’t hold your breath.

The newly designed course “distorts U.S. history, argue Jane Robbins, senior fellow at the American Principles Project, and Larry Krieger, a retired AP U.S. history teacher. Krieger followed up here.

The new framework — which is much more detailed than earlier versions — “relentlessly advances a negative view of America,” writes Wood. There’s lots about racism, but little about the Declaration of Independence or George Washington.

The College Board explains the course:

. . . focuses on the development of historical thinking skills (chronological reasoning, comparing and contextualizing, crafting historical arguments using historical evidence, and interpreting and synthesizing historical narrative) and an understanding of content learning objectives organized around seven themes, such as identity, peopling, and America in the world.

. . . the course is designed to encourage students to become apprentice historians.”

That’s flattering, writes Wood. Eleventh graders “are no longer merely students striving to get a foundation in facts and understanding, but rather young professionals in a learned academic discipline ready to develop their command of sophisticated analytic and synthetic skills.”

This very much falls within the zone of contemporary education where colleges and universities—and schools—trip over themselves to assure students that they possess such insight and blazing intelligence that they can skip the learn-how-to-swim courses and go straight to the Olympic relay team.

To be sure, really bright high school students should indeed begin to work on chronological reasoning, comparing and contextualizing, crafting historical arguments using historical evidence, and interpreting and synthesizing historical narrative.  But they aren’t going to get very far on these sophisticated skills if they are not also acquiring a well-landscaped understanding of the big picture, a richly detailed recall of historical sequence, and a genuine familiarity with key people and key documents.

The assumption seems to be that ignorant students can look up what they don’t know, writes Wood. But what if they don’t know what they don’t know?

Here are Wood’s updates.

An Australian writes about teaching World History at a U.S. university.  His students couldn’t “write like a historian” because they couldn’t write grammatically, he complains.

In addition, “their knowledge of events, places, ideas, and people outside the United States was sometimes startlingly limited. Ho Chi Minh may as well have been the local Asian takeaway place,” writes Jamie Miller, who taught at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut. “Some students seemed scarily unfamiliar with a world map.”