Opinion

The College Board Cronyism Behind The New Progressive AP U.S. History Curriculum

There is rising alarm over radical changes that have been made to the Advanced Placement (AP) American History program –a program heavily supported by federal and state funding. That alarm flushes out another related travesty: The voice of the people has been muted because corporatists and other elites have figured out how to end-run the constitutional structure and are doing so on issue after issue.

To summarize, the private College Board is rewriting its AP courses, starting with AP U.S. History (APUSH). The new APUSH Framework departs radically from the traditional AP course and now reflects a progressive philosophy and leftist bias. Forget the Founding Fathers and the principles of the Declaration of Independence that proclaimed the natural right of freedom and self-government; concentrate instead on the racist cultural imperialism that supposedly built America. Ignore state history standards, all or most of which reflect a fact-based, balanced view of American history.

To objections that students will learn an inaccurate version of American history, the College Board responds that facts aren’t all that important anyway. What’s important are “historical thinking skills” such as “contextualization” and “crafting historical arguments.” This is progressive-education nonsense that will produce historically illiterate students, not informed citizens.

Such changes have escaped scrutiny until now because our system of checks and balances – the system intended to protect our rights and ensure that citizens direct government — is in disrepair. Why haven’t state education officials been riding herd on this and other threats to genuine education? Because they have been compromised through intimidation, exclusion, and institutional conflicts of interest.

The AP program is a case in point. The federal government pays enormous sums of money – over $73 million in direct payments since 2004 — to the College Board (the owner of the AP program as well as the SAT and PSAT tests) for various purposes. In addition, the U.S. Department of Education’s AP Test Fee program makes grants to the states, which in turn transfer money to the College Board to pay the test fees for children from needy families.  And USED’s AP Incentive Program gives money to states to increase the participation of low-income students. Since 2004, the federal government has paid $311 million for these programs, including $93 million for the AP Test Fee Program.

This is not to suggest that the federal executive is calling the shots on APUSH content. However, whenever the federal government funds a particular educational service-provider, it places that provider on an exalted footing. That significantly diminishes the likelihood that the supplicant state executive will have the courage to raise the alarm, or even look into, something like APUSH content. The state executives’ rush to sign onto the national Common Core standards and federally funded standardized tests are cases in point.

The federal executive’s power to signal its winners and losers extends beyond funding. For example, it structured the No Child Left Behind  (NCLB) waiver program to procure the obeisance of the state executives in exchange for relief from federal regulations. Under that program, states must provide “accelerated learning opportunities,” and some states have met this requirement by including the number of students who do well on AP exams as part of the metric used to grade a school’s performance.