Yes, the New AP Framework Does Distort U.S. History

Published April 9, 2014

Jane Robbins and I welcome Trevor Packer’s response disagreeing with our previous analysis of the College Board’s redesigned Advanced Placement U.S. History Framework. Our goal is to spark a constructive dialogue that will prompt the College Board to address problems in the redesigned Framework.

It is important to note that the new Advanced Placement (AP) U.S. History Framework was published shortly after David Coleman was chosen to become president of the College Board. This gives Coleman an opportunity to objectively evaluate the document and provide much needed leadership in reaching out to parents, teachers, administrators, and students who recognize that the redesigned Framework is a seriously flawed document that can and should be improved.

It is also important to address Packer’s closing statement about my alleged “test-prep” mentality. The AP prep books that I wrote do not reflect my personal philosophy of history. Instead, they reflect the realities of the AP U.S. History (APUSH) test as revealed in a number of released tests. For the record, I personally favor a dynamic approach to American history that uses compelling stories to dramatize the achievements of exemplary leaders.

Key Americans Omitted
Packer provides a very selective response to my analysis of the new APUSH Framework. He begins by denying that “key figures in American history have been sidelined.” Unfortunately, facts are stubborn things. Here is a list of key figures noted in my analysis that have been completely omitted in the redesigned Framework: Roger Williams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, Dorothea Dix, William Lloyd Garrison, Henry Clay, Lucretia Mott, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, W.E.B. Du Bois, Jacob Riis, Jane Addams, Theodore Roosevelt, Lost Generation authors (Fitzgerald, Hemingway, Lewis),  and Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Packer erroneously claims that “most of the dozens of topics or individuals that Krieger finds ‘missing’ from the Framework, such as Sinclair Lewis, Dorothea Dix, or the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution, have never been called out or specified in any document released by the College Board.” In fact, all of the omitted people and events listed above and in my analysis have generated numerous questions on released AP U.S. History exams. For the record, the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution is one of the most frequently tested APUSH items. Instead of resisting an obvious and needed constructive suggestion, Packer should agree that these egregious omissions need to be rectified.

The omissions detailed in my analysis cannot be covered up by claiming that the College Board grants teachers the flexibility “to select which figures to focus on in-depth.” In reality, the College Board’s website clearly and unequivocally states, “The curriculum framework describes required content in a concept outline…On the revised exam, all questions are derived from the course’s stated learning objectives.” Although teachers do have the flexibility to teach in-depth units, the AP exam their students will take will in fact be exclusively focused on the content specified in the Framework.

Seminal Documents, Battles Omitted
Packer then provides a table providing a complete list of 15 required documents. We applaud the College Board for attempting to enrich the redesigned Framework with key historic documents. However, we believe that the current list omits many seminal documents and entirely ignores the commitment of many states to enrich America’s story with works of literature. Omitted works that should be added include Winthrop’s” City on a Hill” sermon, Jefferson’s First Inaugural Address, Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, excerpts from de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, Frederick Jackson Turner’s essay on “The Significance of the Frontier in American History,” excerpts from John Steinbeck’s Grapes of Wrath, excerpts from Dr. King’s writings, and Barbara Jordan’s speech on the constitution before the House Judiciary Committee during the Nixon impeachment hearings.

After discussing his table of key historic documents, Packer misrepresents my point about the Framework’s omission of military history. I do not believe the Framework should list “all possible battles in every U.S. war.” In fact my analysis only noted the omission of Valley Forge, Saratoga, Yorktown, Midway, and D-Day because these battles are typically included in most state frameworks. Packer fails to address my key point that the College Board Framework does not note the heroism and sacrifices of American servicemen and women.

Negative View of U.S. History
Packer then turns to my analysis of the Framework’s decision to devote 5 percent of the AP course to the period from 1491 to 1607. He incorrectly calculates that 5 percent of a 180 day course would equate to just one week of class time. Packer then erroneously claims “AP Exams have long included questions on this period and topic.” In fact, the released 2001, 2006, 2008, and 2012 APUSH exams contain a total of 320 multiple-choice questions, none of which asked students to recall any information contained in the Framework’s unit on the period from 1491 to 1607. As noted in my analysis, the real problem is that the Framework uses this introductory unit to establish its key theme that European exploitation led to native decline and black bondage. This negative view of American history then becomes the dominant theme in the Framework.

My analysis of the redesigned APUSH Framework carefully explains and documents that new curriculum’s biases and negative depiction of American history. Packer charges that “Krieger disparages the type of nuanced language used by historians in assessing complex events.” He further asserts that “college professors endorse the curriculum framework’s careful and balanced treatment of American history.” Rather than repeat what I have already documented,  let me provide a sample of direct quotes from the Framework. I invite readers to evaluate if these Framework assertions are in fact “careful and balanced.” I also ask readers if this is what they want their children to learn about American history.

  • “Many Europeans developed a belief in white superiority to justify their subjugation of Africans and American Indians, using several different rationales.” (Page 25)
  • “Unlike Spanish, French, and Dutch colonies, which accepted intermarriage and cross-racial sexual unions with native peoples, English colonies attracted both males and females who rarely intermarried with either native peoples or Africans, leading to the development of a rigid racial hierarchy.” (Page 27)
  • “Reinforced by a strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority, the British system enslaved black people in perpetuity, altered African gender and kinship relationships in the colonies, and was one factor that led the British colonists into violent confrontations with native peoples.” (Page 28)
  • “The idea of Manifest Destiny, which asserted U.S. power in the Western Hemisphere and supported U.S. expansion westward, was built on a belief in white racial superiority and a sense of American cultural superiority, and helped to shape the era’s political debates.” (Page 44)
  • “Wartime experiences, such as 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.” (Page 59)

In our op-ed piece published by School Reform News, Robbins and I warn parents and educators that the redesigned APUSH Framework is in fact a “curricular coup” that defines, discusses, and interprets what the Framework forthrightly asserts is “the required knowledge of each period.” Robbins and I alert parents and school officials that “the College Board has in effect supplanted local and state curriculum by unilaterally assuming the authority to prioritize historic topics. This inevitably means that some topics will be magnified in importance while others will be minimized or even omitted.”

Not Business as Usual
Packer denies that the redesigned APUSH Framework is “part of a CB ‘takeover’ of history education.” He then claims that the College Board followed “the same process that has been followed for 60 years.” While the College Board may or may not have followed “the same process” it has always used, the finished product is in fact unprecedented. The existing APUSH 5-page topical outline has been replaced by a 98-page document that is longer and more detailed than any existing state-approved U.S. History framework. This is not “business as usual”; rather, it is an imposition of a curriculum and biased interpretation of American history upon the states and local school districts.

Packer’s defense of the redesigned APUSH Framework fails to fully and forthrightly address the document’s biased coverage, poor organization, negative tone and failure to provide teachers with a full set of test items. Robbins and I urge Coleman to carefully scrutinize the new APUSH Framework. He has the opportunity to restore a balanced study of American history that respects state curriculum standards and gives our best students a true picture of their country’s past.

Larry Krieger is a retired AP U.S history teacher and founder of InsiderTestPrep. In 2004 and 2005 the College Board recognized Larry as one of America’s most successful AP teachers. Image by Mike Thomas.