Political fight over U.S. history continues in Georgia

The College Board may have some more competition coming.

The educational nonprofit develops and administers standardized such as the SAT. Some activists say they are organizing a company to offer alternative courses to high-achieving high school students. Their plan comes amid a national battle that’s come to Georgia and other states about the College Board’s Advanced Placement U.S. History class.

Stanley Kurtz, senior fellow for the right-leaning Washington-based Ethics & Public Policy Center, hinted at the plan to Georgia lawmakers during Wednesday’s joint education committee meeting.

“I think you’re going to see the development of a competing company,” Kurtz said during the meeting. Afterward he declined to discuss with The Atlanta Journal-Constitution who’s involved, but he said an effort to create an alternative to the College Board is ongoing and he hopes it is up and running in about two years. He promoted the idea in a recent column for the National Review.

Georgia lawmakers didn’t publicly respond to his idea, but there could be an opening. Wednesday’s meeting was a discussion about Senate Resolution 80, sponsored by state Sen. William Ligon, R-Brunswick, which demands state education officials withdraw the current AP U.S. History course and defund it if there aren’t major changes.

Grassroots conservatives locally and nationally have lined up in recent months against the College Board’s changes made last summer to the content of instructional material for elective course, arguing among other things that it now has a left-leaning bias. The criticism has caught the attention and support of several Republican lawmakers in Georgia and other states.

A top College Board official, Trevor Packer, defended the revision at the state meeting and a Gwinnett County school board work session this week as an effort to make students think more critically about history and to address teacher concerns that the course didn’t allow enough time to delve deep into some areas of American history.

Packer did see some tweaks that can be made and said some changes will be made by this summer. He also noted the public can offer comments about the course until the end of February.

“I come away really inspired by the discussions,” Packer, the College Board’s senior vice president for AP and instruction, told Gwinnett board members.

A College Board spokesman declined to directly address Kurtz’s complaints.

Advanced Placement classes are elective courses taken by high-achieving high school students who want to study college-level classes. The College Board offers 36 AP courses.

There’s big money at stake in these courses. The College Board pulls in between $750 million and $800 million a year, according to federal income tax records. The state of Georgia doesn’t pay the College Board to provide courses, but the organization does profit from students who take AP exams at the end of a semester.

The College Board charges $91 for students to take an AP exam, but offers some students who can prove a financial hardship a discounted rate. Georgia’s graduating class of 2013 took nearly 80,000 AP exams that school year, state records show. That test-fee revenue would amount to $7.1 million if no Georgia students received a discount.

A state education department spokesman said it is unaware of any groups who have pitched alternative AP courses to the board.

Currently, the College Board’s strongest competition comes from the International Baccalaureate program and public schools that choose dual-enrollment programs, in which students can earn college credit in high school.

Kurtz and others argue the nation’s divided political discourse shows the need for an alternative. They argue most of the college professors who create the framework for these courses are left-leaning. Packer says College Board research found many conservatives did not see bias in the revised AP U.S. History framework.

Another fear of Kurtz and others is that the College Board is preparing radical changes to the framework of other courses.

The nonprofit Ethics and Public Policy Center, which started in 1976, describes its mission as “applying the Judeo-Christian moral tradition to critical issues of public policy.” Kurtz has authored two books about President Obama. One is partly titled “Radical-in-chief.” The other is “Spreading the Wealth: How Obama is Robbing the Suburbs to Pay for the Cities.”

Ligon and many of the AP history critics also oppose Common Core, a set of education standards adopted by Georgia and more than 40 states a few years ago. Critics have fought Common Core, arguing it is a veiled federal takeover of education. Common Core supporters counter it’s simply an effort to help students improve academically.

DeKalb School of the Arts teacher Jose Gregory has taught AP U.S. History for 12 years. He said the changes have given him the flexibility to spend more time teaching about various periods in American history.

“I think that normally when you would get to the modern era, let’s say to (former President) Ronald Reagan and beyond, it was maybe one or two days and you really couldn’t do justice or service to any given presidency… it gives me more time at the end and review information and do every single time period some justice,” he said.