The legislative APUSH push-back: a teacher’s perspective
I’ve been wanting to write about the APUSH legislation proposed in each of Oklahoma’s legislative houses, but I’ve been tied up with my arm in a sling for the better part of two weeks. Given the lengths of some of my rants, I didn’t want to type it all one-handed. I’m getting back to full-strength, so I’ll be adding my thoughts to the blogosphere soon. In the meantime, I’ve really enjoyed Blue Cereal Education’s compendium of research and snark on the bills and the men behind them:
Since I’ve been sidelined, I have asked a teacher I respect tremendously to give me his thoughts on the bills. David Burton is the Social Studies department chair at Southmoore High School and a long-time APUSH teacher. He was also the Moore Public Schools Teacher of the Year last year. Everything from this point on is what David has written.
Greetings! My name is David Burton. I’m in the 15th year of my teaching career in Moore Public Schools. For 12 of these 15 years I have been a proud teacher of Advanced Placement (or AP) United States History (commonly known as APUSH): five years at Moore High and now in year seven at Southmoore. For those not aware, APUSH is one of the numerous AP courses designed by the College Board which include an end-of-course exam on which high school students have the opportunity to earn college credit prior to ever leaving the high school environment. This June will mark my 10th year of joining 1300+ high school APUSH and college history professors in working for the College Board to score the essays these high school students will compose as part of their APUSH exam.
I am humbled that my friend and colleague Rick Cobb, author of okeducationtruths, has offered me this opportunity to communicate with you.
On Monday, January 26th, I was forwarded an e-mail and opened its attachment. To my utter dismay I read the following:
These words are from Senate Bill 650 as submitted by Senator Josh Brecheen for consideration within the current session of the Oklahoma Legislature. Click here for the full text of SB650.
That Monday became a stressed-filled day with e-mails, phone calls, and meetings with interested leaders within my school, my district, and the state department of education as they could be worked around my teaching duties. Unfortunately, prior to settling into bed that night I found and read the following:
These words are from House Bill 1380 as submitted by Representative Dan Fisher for consideration within the current session of the Oklahoma Legislature. Click here for the full text of HB1380.
This APUSH course, that I teach and love, must have done something horrible to have found itself under the direct attack of two separate bills being considered by the Oklahoma legislature this session. What on earth is all this fuss about?
Beginning this past August, APUSH classrooms throughout the world (yes, the whole WORLD—U.S. Department of Defense, U.S. Department of State, and a host of private schools which draw the children of Americans working within other countries also teach APUSH) began using the College Board’s new APUSH course framework in preparation for the newly redesigned end-of-course exam which students will take this coming May.
The APUSH course redesign now being used is the product of a multi-year endeavor to:
- better align the teaching of the course and the evaluation of its concepts and relevant historical thinking skills with college caliber expectations, and
- better align the historical thinking skills and exam formats among APUSH and AP World History and AP European History; the new APEuro framework/exam goes live in 2015-2016 with APWH to come in another year or so thereafter.
Brecheen’s SB650 and Fisher’s HB1380 each express concerns with the framework. Similar concerns were expressed by the Texas Board of Education and the Republican National Committee in the summer of 2014 as well as the Jefferson County School Board in Colorado in September 2014. The Texas BOE backed off from its threats to suspend the teaching of APUSH state-wide and opted to reiterate that, regardless of the College Board’s framework, the state-curriculum standards for American history which the BOE had previously adopted had to be fully taught within Texas’ schools. The Jefferson County board backed down following two weeks of student-led walk-outs from class in protest of the attacks on their course.
The newly adopted APUSH framework does not provide a comprehensive list of all of the names, dates, events, facts, etc. which APUSH students should learn within this American history course. These bills threaten to prevent the teaching of APUSH in Oklahoma until the College Board retracts the new APUSH framework and returns to the course guide used in 2013-2014 and before.
The genius of the new APUSH framework is its lack of any attempt to create a comprehensive laundry list of the names, dates, events, facts, etc. that the College Board believes are imperative to learn.
- Any laundry list which seeks to be all-inclusive is bound to leave out some name, date, event, fact, etc. This will subsequently ignite the vitriol of some person somewhere in America. “You left my favorite topic out! How dare you!!”
- Nearly every state has its own curriculum format for a high school American history course. Such states, like Oklahoma, often hold lengthy meetings which include a wide-range of interested parties to create laundry lists, or some variation thereof, which seek to pacify these diverse interests. Click here for the Oklahoma Academic Standards for Social Studies. Interestingly enough, I am absolutely positive that there are Oklahomans who will still claim “something is missing.” Further, many school districts have detailed local guides to clarify and/or add to the guidelines set by the respective state.
- The College Board’s new framework for APUSH provides broad yet descriptive Key Concepts which span over the nine defined periods for historic study. Very rarely is there an inclusion of any specific or imperative fact to be learned, but rather does provide overarching concepts for the big-picture. The thought process here was that this provides the perfect opportunity for APUSH teachers to go in-depth on those topics which: (a) are important to the local/regional interests or requirements state law; (b) the individual teacher believes are quality examples of the key concepts; and/or (c)the students in the classroom express interest in exploring.
Example: If the College Board did provide an exhaustive laundry list on the imperative names, dates, events, facts, etc., for the 1940s-1960s Civil Rights era it would most assuredly omit Civil Rights leaders, like Clara Luper, which Oklahomans would prefer to highlight. However, with the key concept framework now in use, I as a teacher in Oklahoma have the opportunity to help my students explore in detail the local/regional examples of the big-picture of Civil Rights. After all, Clara Luper and the Katz Drug Store sit-ins predated the Greensboro, North Carolina sit-ins by two years and yet Greensboro would most assuredly get the coveted laundry list spot.
- Additionally, I find the contention that the College Board return to the previous course guide to be laughable if it is truly the goal of Brecheen and Fisher to have a comprehensive laundry list. The old APUSH Topic Outline was a skeletal outline of concepts which also omitted the vast majority of proper names and events. Thus, as a disclaimer to the Topic Outline the College Board declared:
Further, take a look at these samples from the old and new APUSH frameworks and see which one looks like it serves as the better guide to facilitate student learning:
The Old (click here for full outline)
The New (click here for full framework)
The newly adopted APUSH framework fails to provide a comprehensive listing of primary source documents from American history to which APUSH students must be exposed. To solve this problem, the proposed legislation provides identical and lengthy lists of primary source documents from American history which ALL of Oklahoma’s students within an American history classroom, APUSH or otherwise, must receive instruction (thus, these two bills impact much more than just the teaching of APUSH).
- For the most part, see my comments above about laundry lists. While the lists of documents Brecheen and Fisher provide include a collection of primary source documents that, by-and-large, most APUSH teachers, within Oklahoma or otherwise, actually use and have been using for years, there are still going to be documents that someone else believes to be imperative that are not on this list.
- Something of special note is that each of these document lists are not only identical to each other, but they are also identical to House Bill 588 from North Carolina’s 2011 Legislative Session (I’ll come back to North Carolina in a moment); it’s almost as if Brecheen and Fisher did a copy/paste out of someone else’s work (we call that plagiarism or cheating in my classroom).
- Some of the documents are actually problematic for a realistic study of traditional American history:
a. The Mecklenburg Declaration: There is significant historic scholarship suggesting that this first declaration of independence did not even exist in 1775 as claimed. There are copies of some “Mecklenburg Resolutions” that sought some change in behavior from the British government which date to 1775. However, the earliest copy of anything resembling the incorporation of those resolutions into a formal break with Britain only dates to a news article in 1819. Why is this declaration included in SB650 or HB1380?—because there was coping/pasting from the North Carolina bill!! Why is it in the NC bill?—because the alleged declaration was made in North Carolina!—see another ideal example of a local issue that can/should be incorporated into an APUSH within that local area but is Mecklenburg really relevant to Oklahomans?—NO!
b. I can see the direct connection of the Magna Carta to the early creation of rights/liberties within British identity. I do use Magna Carta along with the Petition of Right and the English Bill of Rights to show the legacy of British rights the American colonists believe were being violated. There is a direct legal identity/rights/liberty correlation. While I do love the Ten Commandments, I cannot see a clear justification for the development of this legal identity/rights/liberty correlation. Of course I’m sure that the Justinian Code is simply thrown in there to prevent claims that the Ten Commandments’ inclusion was purely for religious agenda purposes. Any other relevance of the Justinian Code to American history?
c. Both Brecheen and Fisher have the Constitution, the Amendments, and the Bill of Rights listed distinctly. Once an amendment is ratified it is now is part of the Constitution. Further, those first ten amendments are the Bill of Rights. Basically the listing process has simply become a case of governmental/legislative redundancy.
The newly adopted APUSH framework was created by the College Board, a non-profit company, which does not have to abide by the same levels of “transparency” which would be required by the legal framework in most states which includes the oversight of a legislature and/or state-wide school board accountable to the people. Further evidence of the College Board’s lack of transparency is evidenced by the fact that the sample test in the new format was hidden behind a secure-access portion of the College Board website. If the College Board is hiding the sample test it must be because they have created something shady and don’t want the general public to see it.
- The test redesign committee used by the College Board was comprised of college history professors and high school APUSH teachers. I personally know one of these APUSH teachers and he is held in high regard among the nation-wide community of APUSH teachers. Further, throughout the process of the redesign consultants from the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians, the National Coalition for History, and the National Council for History Education were called on to provide their insight.
- Throughout the redesign process the College Board sent out surveys to APUSH teachers and college professors with samples of the framework’s Key Concepts and sample test questions for evaluation. I personally participated in three of these surveys offering my insight into the design of the conceptual framework and the merit of the proposed test questions in balancing the evaluation of course concepts and historical thinking skills.
- The new version of the test is NEW!!! There are not, as of yet, large stockpiles of sample questions created by the College Board which teachers can use within their classrooms so as to assess student progress. Of course the ONLY full-length practice test was in a secured location so that only audit-approved APUSH teachers could access it. If the general public could access this sample test then our students could access it since they are also part of the general public. If all of our students can readily access the one and only one full-length practice test then what type of valid results can a classroom teacher expect to see when using such test for evaluative purposes? This quite simply is a no brainer!!
- By the mid-Fall 2014 the College Board had completed another full-length practice test and was able to release the original sample test to the general public. Guess what? That test truly evaluates a well-rounded course in American history as well as legitimate ways for students to use their content knowledge within the scope of using appropriate historical thinking skills to complete each the multiple choice, the short answer, and the essay portions of the exam. Click here to see the full-length sample test.
The newly adopted APUSH framework is a far-leftist liberally biased attempt to force students to solely be exposed to a revisionist and negative view of America, thus limiting or preventing the development of a nationalistic patriotism. SB650 and HB1380 simply seek to prevent the hijacking of traditional American history from the clutches of those evil, commie, über liberal teachers.
- This is actually the primary rationale for the walk-out protests by the Colorado students. They didn’t want some sanitized American history course for APUSH or otherwise. They want a class that lets them see America in all of its glory and mire. After all, it’s more often than not the story of how we as a people grappled with the mire and learned to overcome such that has helped us to become progressively a better people overtime.
- Anyone who knows me personally knows that I am probably the furthest thing from an evil, commie, über liberal. In the grand scheme of the totality of political topics (especially those topics non-related to APUSH or education), I am probably more in agreement with the politics of each Senator Brecheen and Representative Fisher and the majorities within Oklahoma’s two legislative chambers than I am with my friend and colleague who has provided me with this forum on this blog. As such, I have yet to see anything within the APUSH framework which seeks to force a biased study of American history upon APUSH students.
- Rather than make outlandish claims, or rely upon such made by others, I implore Brecheen and Fisher to actually read the framework and tell me where you see evidence of such claims. Seriously! Read the APUSH framework that you seek to circumvent with this legislation.
Ultimately, I see no clear convincing need for either of these pieces of legislation. Brecheen and Fisher seek to save Oklahoma’s children from a fabricated enemy. The reality is that if one of these bills successfully becomes law we will see a significant negative economic impact upon Oklahoma’s families. Consider this:
- If the teaching of APUSH is banished then students will not receive the required instructional strategies necessary for success on the APUSH exam.
- If students are not prepared for success on the APUSH exam they won’t earn a score which qualifies them for college credit.
- If students aren’t able to qualify for college credit then they and/or their families will be responsible to pay for taking U.S. History in college.
- Currently at each OU and OSU, the tuition and fees for one credit hour of course work is $248.05. Most students will be required to take one 3-hour U.S. History credit in order to graduate while many others will be required to take two 3-hour U.S. History credits. As such, the economic impact on Oklahoma’s families is $744.15 to $1488.30.
- Which seems more reasonable: approximately $90 to take the APUSH exam or hundreds of dollars in college?
In conclusion, simply imagine what would have happened to the education of the students represented in the chart below if either SB650 or HB1380 had been enacted five years ago. This chart represents the numbers of students who earned a qualifying college credit score on the APUSH exam since 2010.
AP exams are scored on a scale of 1-5; a 3 or higher is considered to be qualified, or passing, for college credit.