College Board Weighs in on Colorado Protest Over AP History Curriculum

By Denisa R. Superville — September 26, 2014 4 min read
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The College Board— which administers the Advanced Placement program—issued a statement on Friday supporting student protests in Colorado’s second-largest school district, Jefferson County public schools, where students have been rallying against a proposal by a school board member to change the Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum.

Here is the statement in full:

The College Board’s Advanced Placement Program® supports the actions taken by students in Jefferson County, Colo., to protest a school board member’s request to censor aspects of the AP U.S. History course. The board member claims that some historical content in the course “encouraged or condoned civil disorder, social strife, or disregard for the law.”

These students recognize that the social order can—and sometimes must—be disrupted in the pursuit of liberty and justice. Civil disorder and social strife are at the patriotic heart of American history—from the Boston Tea Party to the American Revolution to the Civil Rights Movement. And these events and ideas are essential within the study of a college-level AP U.S. History course.

The College Board will always listen to principled concerns based on evidence—and in fact has announced a public-review process for the AP U.S. History course framework. But in light of current events, an important policy reminder is in order:

College faculty and AP teachers collaborate to develop, deliver, and evaluate AP courses and exams. Their partnership ensures that these courses align with the content and rigor of college-level learning, while still providing teachers with the flexibility to examine topics of local interest in greater depth.

To offer a course labeled “AP” or “Advanced Placement,” a school must agree to meet the expectations set for such courses by the more than 3,300 colleges and universities across the globe that use AP Exam scores for credit, placement, or consideration in the admission process.

As vital context for the courageous voices of the students in Colorado, the AP community, our member institutions and the American people can rest assured: If a school or district censors essential concepts from an Advanced Placement course, that course can no longer bear the “AP” designation.”

Parents also joined in the protests on Friday, according to The Denver Post, which reports that about two dozen parents came out with signs at an intersection near one of the district’s high schools on Friday— the fifth consecutive day of protests— to voice their opposition to a proposal to review the AP U.S. History curriculum with the goal of promoting the positive aspects of American history and heritage and avoiding “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

The protests—over the curriculum and a new teacher compensation system—have catapulted the district into the national news. Hundreds of students walked out of classes each day this week to register their objection to the proposed changes to AP U.S. History.

The president of the Jefferson County School Board—or Jeffco, as the district is commonly called—told the Associated Press this week that the students were being used as “pawns” in a dispute between the teachers and the district over the teacher compensation package with which the teachers disagree, and that the students were misinformed about what the curriculum changes would entail.

Ken Witt, the president of the five-member school board, told the wire service that students erroneously believed that things like slavery would be taken out of the curriculum.

“It’s never OK to use kids as pawns,” Witt told the Associated Press.

According to the proposal that was unveiled at the board’s meeting last Thursday, curriculum materials should not “encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife, or disregard of the law.” The proposal also says that content related to political and social movements in history “should present balanced and factual treatment of the positions.”

Students and parents say the proposed changes amount to censorship.

The teacher compensation package was put forward on the same day as the possible revision to AP U.S. History and the elementary health curriculum.

Classes were cancelled at two high schools because of a high number of teacher absences the following day, Friday. Students started protesting the following Monday.

The Denver Post reports that students intend to continue protesting next week, with a district-wide walkout. To date, no action has been taken on the curriculum proposal, and the next board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 2.

The curriculum proposal was in response to changes to the AP. U.S. History curriculum made by the College Board. The new curriculum pays more attention to minorities and American history before Christopher Columbus.

Jefferson County—which last year elected three conservative members to the board—is not the only place where there is pushback against the new changes to AP U.S. History. Conservatives, including the Republican National Committee, have denounced the changes for allegedly distorting and editing important historical events.

Students disagreed that they are being used, according to the AP. Vanessa Ridge, a 16-year-old, told the Associated Press that she was standing up for her beliefs.

“My mom is very proud of me,” Ridge said, “that I’m standing up for what I believe.”

“People think because we are teenagers, we don’t know things, but we are going home and looking things up,” Savanna Barron, a senior at Lakewood High School, told The Denver Post on Thursday. “If they don’t teach us civil disobedience, we will teach ourselves.”

Students have been using the hashtag on Twitter #JeffcoSchoolBoardHistory to organize and protest.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the District Dossier blog.