Blog: The Educated Reporter

Oklahoma Lawmakers Push Back on Advanced Placement Classes

A statue of Christopher Columbus. The revised Advanced Placement U.S. History curriculum puts a greater emphasis on indigenous peoples and less on explorers. (Flickr/Redjar/Creative Commons)

Things are getting messy in Oklahoma, where a prolonged battle over the Common Core State Standards has widened to include an effort by lawmakers to block students from participating in Advanced Placement classes. 

AP courses are designed by The College Board (a private entity), and any school — public or private – can voluntarily choose whether to offer them. Students who score well on the national exam can potentially earn college credit for their work. The Oklahoma fight is focused on the AP History curriculum, which has been under fire in other states as well, including Colorado. (Washington Post opinion writer Catherine Rampell has a solid overview of the “bizarre war” here.)

From the Tulsa World’s coverage

House Bill 1380, by Rep. Dan Fisher, R-Yukon, would direct the state Board of Education to review … guidelines and bar the use of state funds for AP U.S. history courses.

During discussion and debate, however, it was suggested that AP courses are similar to Common Core, in that they could be construed as an attempt to impose a national curriculum on American schools.

It was also suggested that AP courses violate the legislation approved last year that repealed Common Core, with state Rep. Sally Kern, R-Oklahoma City, saying she has asked the state Attorney General’s Office for a ruling on the matter.

 Last August, the Republican National Committee passed a resolution decrying the AP curriculum as ”radically revisionist view of American history that emphasizes negative aspects of our nation’s history while omitting or minimizing positive aspects.” (My EWA colleague Mikhail Zinshteyn took a closer look at these issues in a recent post looking at Teaching American History Then and Now.)

But as the Los Angeles Times reported in October, many AP teachers are baffled by such assumptions and say it reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of the actual curriculum as well as the role educators play in helping students analyze and understand complex events. Stephanie Rossi — a veteran educator who has taught A.P. U.S. History for more a decade in Jefferson County, Colo. —  told The Times she was stunned by “the assumption that teachers of U.S. history are leading kids astray, teaching them to be un-American and we’re not honoring the history of this country.”

From the Los Angeles Times:

Rossi said critics did not understand the new curriculum. Most students come to the accelerated class already understanding well-known historical characters and events.

Her job, she said, is to challenge them to dig deeper into the role of religion, geography and ideology surrounding history and adding other voices or perspectives that might not be as familiar.

“This notion that we would leave these pivotal figures in American history out is just ludicrous,” Rossi said. “I don’t think of history as positive or negative. I think of it as a story. And within that story there are successes and failures, tragedies and moments of great brilliance,” she said. “I feel very strongly that I have to let my students come to their own understanding, their own conclusions.”