The College Board’s decision to create a new, unprecedentedly detailed, and ideologically-slanted framework for its AP U.S. History (APUSH) Exam has touched off a political and cultural firestorm. I and other critics have charged the College Board with building a strong leftward bias into its revised version of American history. (For details, see here, here, here, here, and here.) Controversies have erupted between the College Board and school boards in Texas and now in Jefferson County, Colorado. The issue is spreading nationally.
While resolving the AP U.S. History controversy will be difficult, the solution is straightforward. We need to break the College Board’s monopoly on Advanced Placement testing.
The College Board’s monopoly hasn’t been a problem up to now because instructions for the various AP courses have traditionally remained brief. Until this year, for example, coverage for the AP U.S. History Exam was detailed in a five-page topical outline. This outline merely listed subjects to be included on the exam, leaving teachers free to present U.S. history from a variety of perspectives.
The new framework is not only more than ten-times longer than the old topical outline, its conceptual structure effectively forces teachers to adopt the College Board’s revisionist tenets. The College Board is also planning to produce detailed frameworks for its other AP tests, including U.S. Government and Politics, European History, and World History. In practice, this will turn the College Board into a national school board. Unless state and local governments knuckle under to the College Board’s curriculum guidelines, their students will be at a substantial disadvantage when applying to college.
The College Board’s AP testing monopoly has survived because of public trust. Implicitly, the College Board has promised to remain non-partisan and non-directive, thereby permitting states, school districts, and teachers with a wide range of educational perspectives to work comfortably within its system. On this presumption, state and federal governments have channeled tens of millions of dollars to the College Board in direct payments and testing fees. In effect, the College Board has become a government-subsidized educational monopoly. Now, however, with the College Board violating public trust by turning itself into a biased and controlling de facto national school board, this government-subsidized educational monopoly must end.
The escalating battle between the College Board and the Jefferson County school board illustrates the impossibility of solving this problem so long as AP testing remains in the hands of a single company. The Jefferson County school board has rightly refused to accept the flawed and overly directive APUSH framework imposed on it by an out-of-state company. The school board has both the right and an obligation to decide on its own curriculum.