New AP U.S. History teaching framework released after controversy

After objections arose to the 2014 AP teaching guide, the College Board solicited help in revising it

Story highlights

  • Conservatives criticized the previous edition for a biased view of U.S. history
  • The College Board writes the framework as a guide for teachers

(CNN)The College Board released its new Advanced Placement U.S. History teaching guidelines Thursday, following a year in which the previous framework was attacked for being anti-American.

The 2015 "AP United States History Course and Exam Description" presents a "clearer and more balanced approach" to U.S. history, according to a statement from the College Board. The organization is responsible for creating curriculum for AP classes, which high school students can take for potential college credit.
    There are notable changes in guidelines for teaching about America's national identity, founding political leaders and documents, as well as its role in ending the Cold War. Other changes include reducing expected learning objectives from 50 to 19 and clarifying content to be "less open to misinterpretation or perceptions of imbalance."
    The changes are a response to the groundswell of criticism after the release of the 2014 framework.
    The College Board began updating the guidelines in 2006 when AP history teachers said there was not enough time to engage students in major topics.
    Conservatives scrutinized the 2014 edition for not being patriotic enough. The Republican National Committee issued a resolution describing the framework as a "biased and inaccurate view of many important events in American history" and calling on Congress to withhold federal funding from the College Board.
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    A main critique was that the framework did not name important historical figures, such as Martin Luther King, Jr., Thomas Jefferson or Benjamin Franklin.
    Texas was one of several states to propose legislation to change the framework. A state board of education member told CNN last year that the omissions constitute a form of censorship and that it "smells of agenda."
    Conservative groups wanted a greater focus on American exceptionalism, stating that the 2014 curriculum framework focused too heavily on the negative aspects of the country.
    The College Board responded in a statement in September, saying critics were presenting their own agenda over the best interests of teachers and students.
    "At the root of current objections to this highly regarded process is a blatant disregard for the facts," the statement said. "The College Board will not compromise the integrity of the Advanced Placement Program."
    In a separate letter, members of the Advanced Placement United States History Curriculum Development and Assessment Committee said the critiques were a result of people interpreting the document as a rigid curriculum, not a guide for educators. History teachers would know to include figures such as King or Jefferson in the appropriate lesson plans, it argued.
    "These and many other figures of U.S. history did not appear in the previous AP framework, either, yet teachers have always understood the need to teach them," said the letter.
    In October, however, the College Board began listening to feedback from teachers, historians, teachers, students and the general public to shape the 2015 edition. The changes have not quelled criticisms, though, as critics now say the College Board gave in to conservative pressures.
    In terms of including U.S. exceptionalism, the new edition has a greater focus on U.S. victories in the two world wars and the sacrifices of its armed service members.
    Frederick Hess, director of education policy studies at the American Enterprise Institute and a former high school social studies teacher, criticized the 2014 framework for being dismissive of American economic success. The revisions correct this, he said.
    "It's hard to read the thing and not come away satisfied that they have done not just a much better job but a more thoughtful job," Hess said. "I think the result is something that is much more comprehensive, much more accurate and much less agenda-driven."
    The College Board's revisions remain a guide for teachers, not a set of lesson plans. Teachers use them to create lesson plans that prepare students for the AP exams, while upholding local standards for teaching history.
    The framework will be effective for the 2015-16 academic year.