The AP U.S. History War Comes to Georgia

I posted my opinion on Charter Confidential about the battle to rid Georgia of Advanced Placement U. S. History, or at least cleanse it sufficiently to satisfy the GOP overlords in the state legislature. Reprinting here for your reading enjoyment.

There has been quite the hue and cry raised across the Bible Belt and beyond about the content of Advanced Placement U. S. History (APUSH), Georgia being no exception. Essentially, the effort appears designed to ban APUSH from the state curriculum. An Oklahoma committee of legislators voted in favor of a bill to prevent state funds from being used to provide APUSH, and instead offer students a “homegrown” curriculum. The bill has been withdrawn after the story gained national notoriety, but the controversy continues to rage, centered primarily in the South but also surfacing in Colorado.

Much of the focus seems to be on whether the APUSH content is sufficiently patriotic to suit members on the right of the Republican party (are there any that are not on the right?), although there is also a strain of paranoia that “the feds” are attempting to usurp control of curriculum from the states. In Georgia, SR 80 would require that APUSH be withdrawn in its current form by the state, and defunded if changes aren’t made to the satisfaction of GOP Sen. William Ligon (Brunswick) & company (Millar-Dunwoody, Hill-Marietta, Jeffares-McDonough, Watson-Savannah, “and others”). As Sen. Ligon led the charge last session against Common Core, it’s no surprise that he would be similarly offended by the College Board, although neither Common Core nor Advanced Placement is a federal initiative.

It is a surprise to me that Fran Millar is part of this effort, and that’s what makes me suspect that, at least here in Georgia, opposition to APUSH is a party-line situation more than anything else. Fran is what I like to call a common sense conservative, not one given to hysteria, and to be fair, I haven’t spoken to him yet about why he is co-sponsoring the bill. What doesn’t surprise me is that once again, a well-meaning bunch of legislators are getting too far into the weeds of what state-agency licensed teachers are doing, i.e., deciding what specific curriculum will be used in classrooms.

What makes the most sense to me, as an administrator responsible for my district’s curriculum offerings, is to compare the new APUSH manual to the Georgia Performance Standards for U.S. History — the proposed legislation states that the APUSH framework “differs radically” from GPSUSH. I have read both documents cover-to-cover, and I don’t buy the argument being made by the legislators. With all due respect to the senators, I’m pretty sure I know more about curriculum analysis than they do. I speak from experience not only as an administrator but also as a former National Board Certified Teacher of English, history, and French. In my teaching days, I taught AP Language and Composition and co-taught it with a social studies teacher who taught APUSH.

The Advanced Placement standards do not dictate the specific reading selections or classroom activities for AP teachers — and they never have. The classroom teacher has the freedom to teach APUSH incorporating the state standards within the broad curriculum framework established by the College Board and outlined in the Course and Exam Description for each subject. The AP exam administered at the end of the course determines whether students have attained the standards, which for APUSH include the following:

  1. Historical thinking skills (chronological reasoning, comparison and contextualization, crafting historical arguments from historical evidence, and historical interpretation and synthesis);
  2. Thematic learning objectives, which describe what colleges expect AP students to know and be able to do by the end of a college-level survey course in American history;
  3. The concept outline, a series of nine historical periods from the pre-colonial era to the present; and
  4. The APUSH exam itself, an essay-based assessment.

As the College Board’s own APUSH manual for teachers emphasizes, “the concept outline does not attempt to provide a list of groups, individuals, dates, or historical details, because it is each teacher’s responsibility to select relevant historical evidence of his or her own choosing to explore the key concepts of each period in depth” [emphasis mine]. The GPSUSH does in fact provide a list of groups, individuals, dates, and historical details. Advanced Placement Teachers of are required to develop their own syllabus for each AP course, which is submitted by the school to the College Board for approval. There is nothing preventing a Georgia APUSH teacher from taking the GPSUSH groups, individuals, dates, and historical details and incorporating them into the APUSH syllabus for the school’s and the College Board’s approval.

If the Georgia senators don’t want to take this old maid schoolteacher’s word for it, they might inquire of one of the state’s best authorities on curriculum and instruction, Dr. Martha Reichrath. As Deputy Superintendent of Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment at the Georgia Department of Education, she is one of the smartest educational leaders this state has ever produced. At the Common Core listening sessions last year, which descended into near-freak show hilarity during public comment, Dr. Reichrath was a voice of reason. The discussion on APUSH needs to be led by public school administrators and teachers. With all due respect to our elected representatives, it’s not your place to tell education professionals what to teach, or how to teach it — that’s our job. After all, theGeorgia Professional Standards Commission (an agency that is Georgia-grown and Georgia-owned) has certified us, and the GaPSC is charged with “protecting Georgia’s higher standard of learning.”

Dr. Monica Henson is superintendent and chief executive officer of Provost Academy Georgia.

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