Colorado school board vote doesn't appease critics

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Posted: Oct 03, 2014 8:39 PM
Colorado school board vote doesn't appease critics

GOLDEN, Colo. (AP) — Students, parents and teachers in suburban Denver vow to continue demonstrating against a school board's new conservative majority after it refused to back off plans to review Advanced Placement U.S. history courses for what some see as anti-American content.

The Jefferson County Board of Education voted Thursday night to lay the groundwork for a review of curriculum, with the AP history course likely the first to get a deeper look. Board member Julie Williams, who proposed the history review, said she wants to make sure the class is balanced.

The elective course has been criticized by the Republican National Committee and the Texas State Board of Education, which has told teachers not to teach according to the course's new framework. Being taught for the first time this year, it gives greater attention to the history of North America and its native people before colonization and their clashes with Europeans, but critics say it downplays the settlers' success in establishing a new nation.

The Colorado board didn't vote on its original proposal to review the history course with an eye toward promoting patriotism and downplaying social disorder — language students have blasted in school-time protests across the district. However, students and other activists say the board's new approach to include students on existing curriculum review committees doesn't satisfy them because they believe board members will ultimately try to change the history course to suit their views.

"This isn't over," said Ashlyn Maher, 18, a Chatfield High School senior who has been helping organize protests over the past two weeks. "We are going to fight until we see some results."

Students and parents — along with Jefferson County teachers who are in their own fight with the board over evaluations and merit pay — demonstrated along a busy boulevard during Friday's afternoon rush hour as passing cars honked their horns.

Toni Johnson Boschee held a sign calling for a recall against the conservative board members as she carried her youngest child on her back, a Starbucks cup in one hand and fliers in the other. She said she's frustrated that the board did not listen to or engage in conversation with those who turned out against the history proposal.

"This is tyranny in slow motion. This is how it happens. We all need to stand up and raise our voices," she said.

The College Board administers the course and other AP classes, which are meant to prepare students for college and give them a chance at earning college credit. It says the framework — an outline of the course built around themes like "politics and power" and "environment and geography" — isn't meant to be an exhaustive list of everything to be studied, and teachers are always free to add material required by their states.

For example, Martin Luther King Jr. isn't mentioned in the framework, but the Black Panthers are. The College Board's instructions about the new framework say teachers know to include King but asked for help with less obvious examples of people and events to discuss around some of the themes.

But besides who is mentioned and who isn't, veteran history teacher Larry Krieger, of Montgomery, New Jersey, faults the framework for having a global, revisionist view. He said it depicts the U.S. as going from conquering Native Americans to becoming an imperial power, while downplaying examples of cooperation and unity.

"Native Americans were defeated, wrongs were done, African-Americans were enslaved. However, at the same time this was going on, democratic institutions were being established, there was religious toleration and a new society was being created," he said.

The College Board says students need to be familiar with concepts taught in college classes but the exam for college credit will often give students a chance to demonstrate multiple points of view.

Joan Bertin, executive director of the National Coalition Against Censorship, which opposed the Colorado proposal, said it's likely the issue could come up before school boards elsewhere at a time when some are also upset about Common Core, a new set of educational standards for reading and math adopted by 45 states and the District of Columbia.

"People who are not in any ideological camp are going to say: 'Wait a minute. We just want our kids to get a good education. We don't want them to be indoctrinated into anything,'" she said.

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Associated Press writer Sadie Gurman contributed to this report.