Rebuttal to College Board’s Redesigned AP U. S. History Course
“Rebuttal to College Board’s Redesigned AP U. S. History Course”
From CWA, Georgia
Dear Chairmen Coleman and Rogers, and Members of the Georgia House Education Study Committee:
At its meeting on October 21, 2014, the Committee heard a presentation from the College Board’s Senior Vice-President for AP Programs and Instruction, Trevor Packer. Mr. Packer’s testimony relied on an astonishing series of misrepresentations, erroneous statements, and even ad hominem attacks. Since I had no opportunity to respond at the hearing (and didn’t feel it was appropriate in that forum to ask for rebuttal time), and since it is critical that the Committee have accurate information as a basis for its important work, I hope you will review this response to Mr. Packer’s misrepresentations.
This information is based on consultations with several experts who have examined the documents referenced by Mr. Packer (all of which are available on the College Board website, http://apcentral.collegeboard.com/apc/members/exam/exam_information/2089.html). It specifically addresses the following misrepresentations:
- The College Board has revealed the identities of the Framework authors from the beginning – they “are on page v, and have always been on page v.”
- The old Exam contained “anything goes” questions that were not based on documents in American history.
- The redesigned Framework and the Georgia United States History Standards are closely aligned. The Framework “honors” Georgia’s standards.
- The redesigned Framework does not cut out key American leaders because they were never in the old Topic Outline.
- AP Exam questions give teachers the flexibility to select topics from their state standards. For example, teachers can choose to discuss any Founder or World War II battle they wish.
- Packer (and by implication the APUSH drafting team) are committed to the concept of American exceptionalism.
- The redesigned APUSH Framework is a balanced document that presents a positive view of American history.
- APUSH teachers report that the new Framework is saving them an average of 21 instructional days while enabling them to teach topics including Malcolm X, Dr. King, and Ronald Reagan.
- The APUSH Framework and Exam were not influenced by the Common Core Standards: “We did not consider Common Core Standards in any way.”
Detailed Responses to Mr. Packer’s Misrepresentations
Under Mr. Packer’s leadership, the College Board undertook an expensive revision of its AP U.S. History curriculum and Exam. Based on a leftist and revisionist interpretation of American history, the redesigned Framework has sparked sustained criticism that is unprecedented in the history of the AP Program.
Mr. Packer could forthrightly acknowledge the Framework’s biases and pledge to withdraw or revise the document. Instead, he has obstinately refused to change one word of the 53-page Concept Outline and has chosen to defend the Framework with a series of easily refuted talking points.
- PACKER CLAIM: FRAMEWORK AUTHORSHIP
The College Board has revealed the identities of the Framework authors from the beginning – they “are on page v, and have always been on page v.”
When it was originally posted in October 2012, the APUSH Framework did not contain a list of authors. For months, critics pressed the College Board to reveal the names of the Framework’s anonymous authors. Not until August 17, 2014 did a group of four college professors and five high school teachers acknowledge authorship. A few days after that Mr. Packer finally added page v to the online Framework, listing these nine people under the heading “Acknowledgements.”
- PACKER CLAIM: EXAM AUTHORSHIP
Neither Mr. Packer nor his staff has written any APUSH Exam questions.
While Mr. Packer’s claim may be technically true, remember that Mr. Packer bears ultimate responsibility for the APUSH course and Exam, which he has overseen since 2003.
Despite his obvious oversight responsibility, Mr. Packer blames “anything goes” college professors for writing and submitting questions about anything and everything. The result, he says, was an old AP Exam model that “allowed any exam question about any topic under the sun.”
Mr. Packer’s disingenuous statement ignores three crucial facts. First, the College Board has always had a test Development Committee that includes a chair and two Education Testing Service consultants. This committee is responsible for creating each APUSH Exam and presumably served as a check on rogue professors’ seeking to sprinkle the Exam with their personal idiosyncrasies. Second, the AP questions were carefully aligned with specific content guidelines clearly stated in the Course Description booklet. And as the final authority on APUSH, if Mr. Packer objected to a question, he had the authority to delete or modify it.
- PACKER CLAIM: NUMBER OF ESSAY QUESTIONS
The old Exam had just three essay questions, whereas the new Exam has six essay questions.
The old Exam required more student essays than does the new. The old Exam gave students 60 minutes to answer one Document-Based Question (DBQ) and 70 minutes to select and answer two long essays from a set of four essay questions. The old Exam thus contained a total of five essay questions that generated three student essays. The redesigned Exam gives students 55 minutes to answer one DBQ and 35 minutes to select and answer one long essay from a set of two essay questions. The redesigned Exam thus contains a total of three essay questions that generate two student essays.
While Mr. Packer apparently counts four additional short-answer questions on the new Exam as “essay” questions, that is a clear mischaracterization. Sample responses provided by the College Board are all just one paragraph in length. In the real world, one paragraph is not an “essay.” Which better promotes in-depth thinking, a 35-minute essay or four short paragraphs on four different topics? Obviously, the two long essays on the old Exam promoted more critical thinking and in-depth analysis than will the one long essay and four short-answer questions on the redesigned Exam.
- PACKER CLAIM: ALL EXAM QUESTIONS ARE BASED ON DOCUMENTS
The old Exam contained “anything goes” questions that were not based on documents in American history. For purposes of illustration, Mr. Packer referenced the 2006 released APUSH Exam. He then singled out four multiple-choice questions on Kent State, the Congress of Industrial Organizations (CIO), the National Organization for Women (NOW), and the Three Mile Island incident to prove his contention that the old Exam lacked primary-source documents and instead contained idiosyncratic questions written by biased college professors. In contrast, he proudly declared that on the new Exam, “Every exam question must be based upon a document in American history.”
Each of the four questions he chose can be directly linked to a specific point in the Topic Outline. For example, the CIO question tested the “Labor and union recognition” point in Topic 28 on the “Great Depression and the New Deal.” The Three Mile Island question tested the “Environmental issues in a global context” point in Topic 28 on “The United States in the Post-Cold War World.” If Mr. Packer for some reason objected to these questions, then as the person in charge of the College Board’s AP Program, he had the authority to delete or modify them. (One wonders why Mr. Packer would suggest that high school students in Georgia and in America shouldn’t know the importance of Kent State, the CIO, NOW, and the Three Mile Island incident. Could it be that he was pandering to the perceived conservatism of his Georgia audience, incorrectly assuming that they would deny Georgia students even objective information about such topics?)
Contrary to Mr. Packer’s claim, the 2006 APUSH Exam also contained multiple-choice questions that specifically tested primary-source quotes, and a DBQ that included 10 primary-source documents. In addition, the 2006 APUSH Exam asked students to evaluate four historic pictures, one map, and two political cartoons. This distribution of questions is not atypical. The 2012 and 2013 APUSH Exams contained a total of 24 multiple-choice questions focusing on primary-source quotes, maps, historic pictures, graphs, and political cartoons. Both of these Exams also contained DBQ’s with 10 documents.
Nor (contrary to Mr. Packer’s contention) will every question on the new Exam be based on a document in American history. The Sample New Exam released by Mr. Packer contains 55 multiple-choice questions. Only 36 of these are based on written primary-source documents. Two of the four short-answer questions do NOT include any documents. The DBQ contains seven documents, three fewer than the 2006 Exam. And finally, the two long-essay questions are NOT based on any primary-source documents. All told, the questions not based on written primary-source documents account for about 35 percent of the available points on the Sample Exam.
Either Mr. Packer has an astonishing lack of familiarity with his own Exams, both old and new, or he’s assuming that no one will examine the Exams to investigate the truth of his claims.
- PACKER CLAIM: APUSH FRAMEWORK AND GEORGIA STANDARDS
The redesigned Framework and the Georgia United States History Standards are closely aligned. The Framework “honors” Georgia’s standards.
The two documents are in fact fundamentally different. The Georgia Standards celebrate our nation’s Founders, the values embodied in the concept of American exceptionalism, and America’s military achievements including key battles, commanders, and the valor of our nation’s servicemen and women. In contrast, the Framework’s 53-page Concept Outline ignores most of the Founders, totally omits the ideas and seminal documents that express American exceptionalism, and fails to cover most aspects of American military history.
A careful analysis of the Georgia Standards and the College Board’s APUSH Framework reveals over 60 elements of the Framework that are NOT in the Georgia Standards. For example, the first unit in the Framework requires teachers to devote five percent of their classroom time, or nine lessons, to the period from 1491 to 1607. Like most states, the Georgia Standards begin with the founding of English settlements in North America during the 17th Century. Other examples of Framework elements that are not in the Georgia Standards include the development of “a rigid racial hierarchy” in the English colonies, the “strong belief in British racial and cultural superiority,” the idea that Manifest Destiny was “built on a belief in white racial superiority,” the assertion that the “American Expeditionary Force played a relatively limited role in World War I,” the insistence that “the decision to drop the atomic bomb raised questions about American values,” and the statement that “[a]ctivists began to question society’s assumptions about gender and to call for social and economic equality for women and for gays and lesbians.”
The misalignment between the College Board Framework and the Georgia Standards is not limited to elements that are not in our state’s standards. The Georgia Standards call for over 130 specific elements that do NOT appear in the Framework. For example, the Georgia Standards call for discussions of Benjamin Franklin “as a symbol of social mobility and individualism,” “George Washington as a military leader,” “the construction of the Erie Canal,” “the importance of Fort Sumter, Antietam, Vicksburg, Gettysburg, and the Battle for Atlanta,” “the inventions of Thomas Edison,” “the lend-lease program, the Battle of Midway, D-Day, and the fall of Berlin,” “the Cuban Revolution, the Bay of Pigs, and the Cuban Missile Crisis,” and the “significance of Martin Luther King’s Letter from a Birmingham Jail and his I Have a Dream speech.”
The misalignment between the two documents will place Georgia teachers in a difficult position. There are not enough days in the school year to combine the Georgia Standards and the College Board Framework into one cohesive course. Their task will be further complicated by the fact that the new APUSH exam is specifically designed to test the topics specified in the Framework’s 53-page Concept Outline (see below).
Even more importantly, the two sets of standards simply cannot be taught together, despite Mr. Packer’s breezy assurances. The Georgia Standards present a history of an exceptional country that, despite certain failures to live up to its founding principles, has been a force for good in the world. The APUSH Framework, by contrast, paints the nation almost exclusively with the colors of oppression, racism, greed. How can APUSH teachers possibly combine these two divergent narratives into a coherent whole?
- PACKER CLAIM: AMERICAN LEADERS
The redesigned Framework does not cut out key American leaders because they were never in the old Topic Outline.
The Topic Outline didn’t include some of these key American leaders because it didn’t have to – by design, the Topic Outline relied on state standards for its detailed content, and almost all state standards included these individuals. By contrast, the new Framework purports to set forth the “required knowledge” for the course so that students needn’t learn content from their state standards. Seen in this light, the Framework’s admitted omission of so many prominent Americans is troubling.
Mr. Packer failed to mention that the new Concept Outline is 53 pages long. As a result, the Framework has ample space to include key figures in American history. Indeed, the Framework contains 91 “Gray Boxes” that contain 43 named people. Mr. Packer has never explained why the Gray Boxes do have room for Chief Little Turtle and Mother Jones but not for Dwight Eisenhower and Rosa Parks.
In any event, if Mr. Packer objected to the content of the previous Topic Outline, he could have changed it. He had full responsibility for the content of the APUSH course and Exam and is thus criticizing his own work.
- PACKER CLAIM: FLEXIBILITY
AP Exam questions give teachers the flexibility to select topics from their state standards. For example, teachers can choose to discuss any Founder or World War II battle they wish.
This argument is central to Mr. Packer’s defense of the Framework as a viable document. His argument contains two fatal flaws. First, he specifically stated that school districts must teach the Framework’s core concepts or face having the AP title removed. Unfortunately, the Framework’s core concepts have been thoroughly shaped by a revisionist perspective of American history. So while there is plenty of flexibility to discuss the Founders as exemplars of “white racial superiority” and creators of “a rigid racial hierarchy,” there is less opportunity to present them as champions of religious freedom and republican values.
The structure of the new APUSH Exam also undermines Mr. Packer’s flexibility doctrine. The APUSH Exam begins with 55 multiple-choice questions that count for 40 percent of a student’s total score. These questions permit no flexibility, since they require specific correct answers. The four short-answer questions count for 20 percent of a student’s total score. Because the short-answer questions are focused on very specific topics, and with just twelve minutes to answer each question, it is highly unlikely that time-pressed students will be able to recall and include outside information in their one-paragraph answers.
The third part of the Exam consists of a DBQ that counts for 25 percent of a student’s score. The DBQ requires students to write an essay that analyzes and synthesizes seven historic documents. The old APUSH Exam scored students on a nine-point scale. Students had to bring in outside information to receive a score above a four. In contrast, the new APUSH DBQ scores students on a seven-point scale and grants students only one point for outside information. As a result, students can earn a five – the best score possible — on their DBQ without providing any outside information.
Taken together, the multiple-choice, short answers, and DBQ account for 85 percent of a student’s APUSH Exam score. These questions provide little if any opportunity for the flexibility that Mr. Packer extols as a key to the philosophy of the new course. For example, Mr. Packer devoted considerable attention to giving examples of how teachers have the flexibility to select World War II battles. In reality, the Sample APUSH Exam only mentions World War II as the answer (see Question 33) to a question asking students when Washington’s Farewell Address ceased to influence American foreign policy. The answer is “involvement in the Second World War.” The Sample Exam contains no other mention of World War II.
The final part of the Exam requires students to respond to one of two long-essay questions. Although these questions are anchored in specific Framework key concepts, they do provide some limited opportunity for students to draw upon outside information from their state standards. But these questions count for just 15 percent of a student’s total score.
The goal of APUSH students is to score a five on the Exam. The goal of APUSH teachers is to help their students score a five on the Exam. When the Exam is structured to diminish the importance of content from state standards, and to magnify the importance of adhering to the leftist Framework, how likely is it that students will truly be educated on critical state content that doesn’t appear in the Framework?
- PACKER CLAIM: AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM
Mr. Packer (and by implication the APUSH development team) are committed to the concept of American exceptionalism.
This claim is inconsistent with the reality of the APUSH revision. The old APUSH Course Description booklet specifically included American exceptionalism as an integral part of American identity by defining this central theme as “Views of American national character and ideas about American exceptionalism.” The redesigned APUSH Framework deletes the concept of American exceptionalism, redefining the theme of American identity as follows: “This theme focuses on the formation of both American national identity and group identities in U.S. history…with special attention given to the formation of gender, class, racial, and ethnic identities.” Thus, under Mr. Packer’s supervision, American exceptionalism has been stripped from the course and replaced with the leftist trinity of gender, class, and race.
- PACKER CLAIM: BALANCED AND POSITIVE
The redesigned APUSH Framework is a balanced document that presents a positive view of American history.
Concerned citizens, distinguished historians, respected journalists, and veteran APUSH teachers have all criticized the redesigned Framework for presenting a relentlessly negative portrait of American history. For example, Syracuse history professor Dr. Ralph Ketcham condemns the Framework as “a portrait of America as a dystopian society – one riddled with racism, violence, hypocrisy, greed, imperialism, and injustice. Stories of national triumph, great feats of learning, and the legacies of some of America’s great heroes – men and women who overcame many obstacles to create a better nation – are either ignored or given brief mention.”
But you needn’t take Dr. Ketcham’s word for it. I encourage you to read the Framework and decide for yourselves.
- PACKER CLAIM: TEACHER PACING AND CONTENT COVERAGE
APUSH teachers report that the new Framework is saving them an average of 21 instructional days while enabling them to teach topics including Malcolm X, Dr. King, and Ronald Reagan.
The redesigned Framework made its debut at the beginning of this school year. Mr. Packer’s presentation occurred on October 21st. Mr. Packer failed to explain how teachers can save 21 days in a course that has just started. He also failed to explain how APUSH teachers are presenting lessons on the modern Civil Rights Movement and Ronald Reagan this early in the school year.
- PACKER CLAIM: COMMON CORE
The APUSH Framework and Exam were not influenced by the Common Core Standards: “We did not consider Common Core Standards in any way.”
This disavowal of Common Core is contradicted by Mr. Packer’s own public statements. In a recent AASA conference session, “Advanced Placement in the Common Core Era: Changes and New Developments in the AP Program,” Mr. Packer told superintendents, “We’re really excited that the Common Core Standards ask teachers to do a few things very well. And we’ve been making similar changes in AP through a parallel process, the redesign of AP science and history courses. We do the same thing. We ask teachers to concentrate on a smaller amount of content and in greater depth…So the work that is happening in the Common Core will help students prepare for what they will encounter in their redesigned AP courses.”
This was not an isolated statement. When Mr. Packer first posted the new APUSH Framework, the College Board’s AP Central page contained a series of frequently asked questions. One of the questions asked, “How does the AP U.S. History course and exam align with the Common Core State Standards?”
Mr. Packer answered, “The redesigned AP U.S. History course emphasizes developing students’ ability to analyze historical texts and to support their written responses using valid reasoning and relevant evidence. This emphasis dovetails with the Common Core State Standards for reading and writing literacy in history.”
Mr. Trevor’s words speak for themselves. When Common Core was widely adopted but not yet understood, Mr. Packer underscored the connections between it and the APUSH curriculum and Exam. Now that Common Core has become a political hot potato, Mr. Packer is conveniently distancing himself from these controversial standards.
- PACKER CLAIM: FEDERAL FUNDING
The College Board receives a miniscule amount of funding from the federal government.
Mr. Packer was obviously referring to the smaller stream of direct funding from the federal government. He neglected to mention that the College Board has received over $300 million over the last 10 years in federal funding that is first laundered through the states (through the AP Test Fee program and the AP Incentive program). The undeniable truth is that hundreds of millions of federal taxpayer dollars end up in the coffers of the College Board.
- THE FIRST INACCURATE AD HOMINEM ATTACK
Apparently recognizing that the College Board is losing the debate over the Framework’s negative portrayal of American history, Mr. Packer has resorted to a time-honored leftist debating tactic: Smear your opponents. That he chose a public forum in which to engage in such unprofessional behavior is quite remarkable.
Mr. Packer not only targeted Larry Krieger’s test-prep book, AP US History: The Essential Content, as the reason he decided to radically revise the APUSH course, but he also engaged in an ignorant ad hominem attack on Mr. Krieger as well. Here are the facts:
The College Board’s 2003 survey of APUSH teachers revealed that 72 percent felt that the course put pressure on them to buy Mr. Krieger’s prep book – a book he repeatedly and scornfully displayed to the committee.
Mr. Krieger’s book was not published until March 8, 2012, a fact prominently listed by Amazon.
The new Framework posed a significant threat to Mr. Krieger’s livelihood, and that is the only reason he has criticized the Framework.
Mr. Krieger first called attention to the flaws in the redesigned APUSH Framework in the fall of 2013. He was surprised by the new Framework’s length and by its omission of key people, events, documents, and traditional themes such as American exceptionalism. He was also shocked by the document’s relentlessly negative portrayal of the American story as a narrative of greed, racism, and imperialism.
Mr. Krieger’s decision to speak out was not based on his economic self-interests; it was based on his principles. In fact, by publicly opposing the APUSH revision he is actually working against his financial interests. Those who understand free enterprise (or “Big Business” as the Framework deems it), know that the best thing that can happen to an author of a test-prep book is that the test changes. Then he can rewrite his book and sell the new one to the same families and schools who bought the first one. A change in the test thus creates a financial windfall.
This windfall opportunity was offered to Mr. Krieger in the form of a contract for a second edition of his more profitable AP US History Crash Course book published by REA. But Mr. Krieger refused the offer because his didn’t want to profit from something so out of alignment with his principles and so damaging to APUSH students. Mr. Packer either failed to investigate these facts before he engaged in the personal smear against Mr. Krieger, or (even worse) he knew the facts but ignored them. Either way, Mr. Packer’s behavior on this relatively minor issue colors the credibility of his entire presentation.
- THE SECOND INACCURATE AD HOMINEM ATTACK
At the end of his presentation, a committee member asked Mr. Packer to respond to the decision of the Texas State Board of Education to pass a Resolution calling for changes in the APUSH Framework. Mr. Packer evaded the question, responding instead with a series of grossly inaccurate statements and allegations directed at Ms. Barbara Cargill, the Chairperson of the Texas State Board of Education.
Ms. Cargill is an elected official who has served the people of Texas with great distinction and integrity. Ms. Cargill has written Mr. Packer a forceful letter refuting all of his erroneous statements and demanding that he correct the record before the Committee. We can only hope that Mr. Packer responds appropriately.
The question of what our best and brightest history students will be taught about their country is critical to the preservation of our heritage. Deliberate misrepresentations are never appropriate in a debate, and particularly in a debate of this importance. Thank you for letting me correct the record.
Concerned Women for America of Georgia