Open Letters From David Coleman and His Critics About Changes to U.S. History Curriculum

Published August 12, 2014

Editor’s note: Yesterday, College Board President David Coleman responded to critics of changes to his organization’s advanced U.S. History curriculum and tests, for which students can earn college credit. Following that letter below is an open letter in response from retired AP teacher Larry Krieger and American Principles Project Senior Fellow Jane Robbins, the pair who originally sounded the alarm about the changes to AP U.S. history curriculum and tests, beginning in these pages. The texts of both letters are original and reprinted here unaltered.

From: The College Board [mailto:[email protected]]
Sent: Monday, August 11, 2014 3:14 PM
To: undisclosed-recipients:
Subject: A note from David Coleman about the AP U.S. History course

Dear Colleagues:

It is difficult for me to express the depth of my feelings about the heroic actions of our country during World War II. Our veterans and our allies prevented the extermination of my people.

I often wonder what my life would have been like had I lived in another country or another time; being Jewish, I could have lived a life of horror and helplessness. I am safe and free because of the spirit that moved this country to act. That spirit is best expressed in the founding documents of our nation, an immovable commitment to liberty and human dignity, a willingness to shed our blood when those rights are threatened.

It is with this in mind that I write to address recent concerns regarding the new framework for the College Board’s AP® U.S. History course.

I want to begin by thanking our critics for their vigilance; they are patriots who care deeply about what students learn.

I joined the College Board as president in October 2012, after the new U.S. History framework was developed and released. But that fact does not mean I take any more lightly my responsibility to ensure that this course, and everything we do, prepares students to thrive in our democracy.

Although I did not work on the new AP U.S. History framework, I did help shape the College Board’s recent announcement that, on every SAT®, we will now require that students analyze a founding document or a work from the enduring great conversations on liberty and dignity that those documents inspired. The College Board made this historic decision for a simple reason — to have command of these documents opens worlds of opportunity in college, career, and civic life.

So it is with deep concern that I’ve reviewed the claim that the new AP U.S. History course “will erase the great sacrifices from the minds of America’s children.” That concern has moved the College Board to take an unprecedented action today: We are releasing a full sample exam for the new AP U.S. History course to the American public.

You can view it online here.

People who are worried that AP U.S. History students will not need to study our nation’s founders need only take one look at this exam to see that our founders are resonant throughout. The exam opens with an excerpt from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. On this college-level exam, students will need to not only analyze George Washington’s “Farewell Address” with care, but also articulate the influence of Washington’s words on American foreign policy in the 20th century. Students encounter one of Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s earliest calls to our country to gather itself to combat tyranny abroad. Every question on the new AP U.S. History Exam now requires students to demonstrate an understanding of America’s important historical documents and leaders. Students who pass this exam will not only be more ready for college, they will be more ready to be citizens.

We hope that the release of this exam will address the principled confusion that the new framework produced. The concerns are based on a significant misunderstanding. 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.

We will soon release a clarified version of the course framework to avoid any further confusion. And, for the first time, we commit to releasing the AP U.S. History Exam every year to the teaching community for consideration and deliberation. AP courses and exams are designed not by the College Board but by college professors and K­–12 teachers throughout this country; we are grateful for their work and will do more than ever to share the content with teachers, students, and parents. 


David Coleman
President and CEO
The College Board


An initial esponse from Larry Krieger and Jane Robbins:

One week ago we published an Open Letter to Mr. Coleman. The letter called on him to address the flaws in the redesigned AP U.S. History Framework and Exam.

We welcome Mr. Coleman’s willingness to seriously consider our  recommendations. Like Mr. Coleman we share a deep commitment to liberty and to human dignity.

One of our recommendations concerned the existence of a “Secret Test” that was only available to certified AP U.S. History teachers. The Secret Test prevented an open public debate on the new APUSH Exam and its relationship to the redesigned College Board Framework and to state curriculum standards. We congratulate Mr. Coleman on his decision to release this test for public scrutiny. We will soon post a detailed analysis of the Exam.

We would like to take this opportunity to correct misleading statements in Mr. Coleman’s letter. The Sample Test does open with an excerpt from The Autobiography of Benjamin Franklin. However, the excerpt describes Franklin’s impression of a sermon delivered by George Whitefield. Neither the excerpt nor the three following multiple-choice questions have anything to do with Franklin’s life and achievements. Thus, a student could know the answer to the question without ever having heard of Benjamin Franklin.

The Sample Exam does contain an excerpt from Washington’s Farewell Address that generates four multiple-choice questions. The questions do not require students to articulate the influence of Washington’s words on American foreign in the 20th Century. The multiple-choice question that Mr. Coleman refers to (Question 33) simply asks students to know that World War II marked the time when Washington’s Address ceased to influence American foreign policy. This also marked the only time that World War II appears on the Exam.

Mr. Coleman asserts that, “every question on the new AP U.S. History Exam now requires students to demonstrate an understanding of America’s historical documents and leaders.” This statement is contradicted by the actual Exam questions. For example, Questions 18 – 20 ask students to respond to a passage written by a contemporary historian on the Immigration Act of 1924 – obviously not something that requires knowledge of historical documents and leaders. This is true of many other questions on the Exam.

Mr. Coleman insists that “the new Framework does not remove individuals or events that have been taught by AP teachers in prior years.” Unfortunately, facts are stubborn things. The redesigned Framework omits Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Dorothea Dix, William Lloyd Garrison, Theodore Roosevelt, Jonas Salk, Rosa Parks, Dwight Eisenhower, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and many other notable American heroes. And unlike the previous APUSH five-page Topic Outline, the new Framework does not rely on state history standards to fill in the content. Rather, it makes it clear that students will be required to know ONLY the material contained within the Framework itself. So a student will not have to learn anything about any of these individuals to do well on the AP Exam.

The dramatic expansion of the document governing the APUSH course from five pages to 98 pages makes it even more significant and troubling that so many American heroes have been excluded. We call upon Mr. Coleman to explain why the anonymous authors of the redesigned Framework had space for Chief Little Turtle but not for Dwight Eisenhower, or why they had room for the Black Panthers but not for Dr. King.

Releasing the Sample Test is a positive step. But it is only one test and one step. One year ago, AP teachers had access to 8 released exams and 680 multiple-choice questions. In addition, AP Central provided a trove of information that included 26 Document-Based Questions, 104 essay questions, and almost 400 graded sample essays. These materials are all outdated by the new APUSH Exam. The lack of graded sample essays is a particularly significant problem.

We continue to urge Mr. Coleman to delay the implementation of the new APUSH curriculum. The delay will give the College Board an opportunity to fully address the program’s flaws and create additional preparation materials.

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