Note: This is the third in Complete Colorado reporter Sherrie Peif’s series of “Know before you go” stories, breaking down the arguments presented by a group of Jefferson County residents seeking to recall three members of the Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education. In this story, we take a look at Advanced Placement curriculum changes. Read part one of the series here and part two here.
Majority members of the Jefferson County Public Schools Board of Education received vindication last week when College Board agreed with their (and others’) concerns over last year’s Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) curriculum framework.
The College board said its new edition took everything into account and now fairly represents America’s timeline of events.
The 2015 version of the framework “is a clearer and more balanced approach to the teaching of American history that remains faithful to the requirements that colleges and universities set for academic credit,” the College Board says on its website.
Board member Julie Williams raised concerns about the framework in a proposal for the district to create a committee to review all its curricula, including the APUSH framework. Though the original proposal was quickly amended by board member John Newkirk and never formally introduced, it prompted students to disrupt meetings and walkout of class while their teachers — with the blessing of the Jefferson County Education Association — organized sickouts last fall, that at least initially was reported to be about opposition to a new compensation.
Protesters claimed the board majority wanted to censor American history, claiming that the 2014 APUSH framework reflected an accurate depiction of the subject matter. Statements against Williams were particularly forceful, with her being accused of wanting to whitewash American history after expressing concerns that the framework focused too heavily on negative aspects of American history while excluding important figures and positive moments.
Yet Williams never asked for any type of censorship, only that the curriculum along with all other curriculum, be reviewed as it had been more than a decade since anyone last looked at it.
“It’s our constitutional obligation to look at what we are teaching our kids,” she said. “The college board owns that framework. I only wanted to review it. It’s important for parents, community members and our stakeholders to see what we are teaching students.”
Board majority opponents have also used the controversy as one of their main messages in a recall attempt against the three. But the College Board appeared to agree — even if grudgingly so — with the Jeffco board and other critics of the 2014 framework when it reworked the guide.
According to the College Board Website: “[T]he 2014 edition of the ‘AP U.S. History Course and Exam Description (CED)’ sparked significant public conversations among students, educators, historians, policymakers, and others about the teaching of U.S. history.”
It now includes “improvements to the language and structure of the course,” a statement on the APUSH Website reads. “Every statement in the 2015 edition has been examined with great care based on the historical record and the principled feedback the College Board received. The result is a clearer and more balanced approach to the teaching of American history.”
Williams’ controversial proposal came after the College Board revised the course in 2014 for the first time since 2006, and in doing so eliminated discussions on the U.S. military and its commanders, the Founding Fathers, and many other individuals from the past such as Albert Einstein, Jonas Salk, George Washington Carver and Rosa Parks. Intense criticism was leveled against the framework by historians and conservatives across the country for its focus on identity politics and contemporary issues not easily applied in historical contexts.
Williams said Friday she was happy there were enough people questioning what was happening to help College Board see it needed to make changes.
“I’m excited about it,” she said. “I’m very pleased that they took a new look at it and made some of those revisions.”
One of the students who was actively involved in last fall’s demonstrations said he hadn’t seen the entire release yet, so he wasn’t sure exactly what the next step might be. He said he plans to contact the College Board to get their take on the changes.
“I will hopefully be reaching out to the College Board at some point to get it directly from the source, because of media bias and all that,” said Dylan Robinson-Ruet, who graduated this spring from Ralston Valley High School in Arvada.
A second student protest organizer, Ashlyn Maher, promised to call with her thoughts, but was out of state and unavailable by press time.
Jefferson County Parent Teacher’s Association President Michelle Patterson did not return a request for comment.
Patterson, along with PTA Vice President Shawna Fritzler and Colorado Education Association President Kerrie Dallman, have led the charge to oust the three board members since shortly after they were elected. The three women were previously linked to a series of disparaging and mean fake Twitter accounts attacking Witt, Newkirk and Williams, as well as Jeffco staff.
The College Board Website said “the following areas received the greatest public comment, and reflect the most significant changes:
- American national identity and unity.
- American ideals of liberty, citizenship, and self-governance, and how those ideals play out in U.S. history.
- American founding political leaders, including George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, James Madison, Alexander Hamilton, and Benjamin Franklin.
- Founding Documents – including the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Federalist Papers – as reflected in a new recommended focus section.
- Productive role of free enterprise, entrepreneurship, and innovation in shaping U.S. history.
- U.S. role in the victories of WWI and WWII, particularly the contributions and sacrifices of American servicemen and women in those wars.
- U.S. leadership in ending the Cold War.
Williams said the changes are exactly what she would hope for.
“It shows what was missing and what needed to be added back,” she said.