Jeffco School Board “Vindicated?” Far From It

Jefferson County school board protests.

Jefferson County school board protesters.

One of the major grievances against the right-wing Jefferson County school board majority driving the recall election now underway was an abortive proposal last fall by board member Julie Williams to set up a board-appointed “review” of recently revised AP U.S. History curriculum. Readers will recall the specific language of Williams’ proposal, which touched off huge student protests in Jefferson County:

Review criteria shall include the following: instructional materials should present the most current factual information accurately and objectively. Theories should be distinguished from fact. Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law. [Pols emphasis] Instructional materials should present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage.

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

Julie Williams of the Jefferson County School Board.

After the protests against Williams’ proposal became literally international news, the Jeffco board quietly shelved the idea, announcing through their contracted public relations staff a few months later that the proposal was dead. Politically, it was a huge disaster for the board and their Republican backers in Jefferson County, dramatically raising the profile of the conflict over the school district’s new direction since conservative board candidates rode opposition to a failed tax increase measure to victory in 2013. Today, the attempt to “censor” Jeffco’s AP History curriculum is perhaps the best-known reason among the public justifying the recall–frequently cited by petition signers as their reason for doing so without any prompting.

Today, however, right-wing defenders of the Jeffco school board majority are claiming “vindication” of Williams after the College Board released another round of revisions to AP U.S. History framework intended to mollify conservative critics. From Newsweek’s latest issue:

The new framework significantly pares down last year’s framework, simplifying and condensing the course’s Thematic Learning Objectives from 50 to 19, according to an official at the College Board, the nonprofit organization that administers AP exams. In the process, a new section on the concept of “American exceptionalism” has been added. Some names that were omitted from last year’s framework, such as Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, Alexander Hamilton and John Adams, have been added—a key sticking point for critics of the prior document, who objected to Founding Fathers being omitted and negative aspects in American history being more emphasized, they claimed, than positive periods. Ben Carson, a GOP presidential candidate, said the curriculum was so anti-American that students who complete it would be “ready to sign up for ISIS.”

…In October, the College Board began accepting comment from teachers and the general public on the standards. In April, Trevor Packer, College Board’s head of AP, announced that revisions would be published in July based on the feedback.

Teachers Newsweek spoke with, who sat on a committee to draft the framework, stressed that the document was never meant to be a description of the totality of what an AP U.S. history teacher must teach, but rather a simplified outline that guides the course toward certain themes. [Pols emphasis] The impetus for the original revision, published last year, was to redirect the course away from rote memorization of facts and more toward “historical thinking skills,” according to Ted Dickson, a teacher at Providence Day School in Charlotte, North Carolina…

“The amount of press it got was entirely ridiculous because I don’t think they understood what it was meant to be. It was a framework that meant to let teachers understand the limits of what would be tested. You add examples, you teach it how you want to teach it, just make sure you teach these important concepts,” Hastings said. But critics saw it as excluding, among other things, favorite Founding Fathers and historical events that contribute to America’s legacy, such as its role in winning World War I and World War II. In the new framework, America’s military achievements are given a greater emphasis than in the last document.

Bottom line: the changes made by the College Board to the AP U.S. History curriculum are not anything like the sweeping and highly politicized review of history Williams sought last year. Making a few changes to specifically invoke certain names and events–the “rote memorization of facts” noted above–do not come close to Williams’ test of a history curriculum that “promotes patriotism, the free enterprise system, and respect for authority,” while avoiding “civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.”

Because Williams’ proposal did tremendous damage to the credibility of the Jefferson County school board’s conservative majority, it makes sense that they would loudly declare any concession on the matter as “vindication.” If anything, these small concessions only cast Williams’ over-the-top proposal for a sweeping and politically slanted review of U.S. History into harsher relief. If throwing empty bromides like “American exceptionalism” and the name Benjamin Franklin into the framework is really enough to placate Williams, her criticisms were baseless to begin with.

But the truth is, Williams wanted much more than that. And this small concession won’t save her from an outraged and tuned-in Jeffco electorate.

7 Community Comments, Facebook Comments

  1. JeffcoBlue says:

    Thanks for this post, it's important that everyone in Jefferson County read it. The board's defenders led by Jon Caldara are declaring victory, and also being really stupid about denigrating the views of the student protesters.

    Julie Williams didn't want better history education, she wanted jingoist propaganda. She still does. Recall them all!

  2. BlueCat says:

    This is not vindicated:

    Materials should promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system, respect for authority and respect for individual rights. Materials should not encourage or condone civil disorder, social strife or disregard of the law.

    The new framework does not suggest that it's government's job to indoctrinate students in patriotism, following orders or refraining from civil disobedience on matters of principle. It doesn't urge whitewashing of history. That's still how totalitarian governments view the role of history education. That's what Jeffco students and parents object to, not to including positives or the study of our founding father's. 

    I would suggest that the best way to teach our students about the best aspects of their heritage as Americans is to reinstate good old fashioned civics as a requirement. In my Jr High (7th and 8th grades) you couldn't graduate without passing a test on the constitution. Obviously we weren't required to memorize everything but we had to know the basics such as the bill of rights, how our three branch government of checks and balances works, requirements for serving in the House, Senate, as President, how we elect our Congress and President, our rights as voters, terms of office for those positions, how legislation is passed, presidential veto power, how vetoes can be overridden, the role of the Supreme Court in reviewing legislation and determining whether it is consistent with our constitutional rights, our trial by jury system in which a person is assumed innocent until proven guilty, etc.  No student's education should be considered sufficient without a working knowledge of the way our government of by and for the people works. As the people, we need to know so we can meet our self governing responsibilities. Such an education should promote pride in a damn good system without overt indoctrination into jingoism.

  3. mamajama55 says:

    So disingenuous. So desperate. No, there is plenty of reason to recall Julie Williams, and her colleagues Ken Witt and John Newkirk. They are extremists who do not reflect mainstream educational views in Jefferson County.

    Julie Williams is still calling for the AP curriculum to be discarded – these revisions are not enough. "Vindication" is not sufficient – she wants to toss the entire APUSH framework, in favor of one Michelle Malkin, Fox commentator, would approve.

    Says Malkin:

    So-called "reforms" by the College Board, which holds a virtual monopoly on A.P. testing across the country, "abandon a rigorous insistence on content" in favor of downplaying "American citizenship and American world leadership in favor of a more global and transnational perspective."

    God forbid we should think globally in the age of mutual assured nuclear destruction and global climate change. All problems can be contained within national borders, right?


    She wants Common Core standards, which are now an integral part of the official state education standards, to not be used, and even calls them "Pornography".

    She wants the ESEA – the act which provides special education services to students all over her district, all over the state – not to be renewed.

    She is against No Child Left Behind- not just the testing provisions, which she could find some bipartisan agreement on – but the whole freaking act, by which every teacher in the district is measured to be considered "highly qualified" to teach kids.  She compares it to a "disaster" like the aftermath of a tornado. Yeah, making sure teachers are qualified in their subject areas is just like a tornado flattening your town.

    She portrays students, teachers, and parents who disagree with her as bullies, terrorists, anti-social, etc., whose viewpoints do not matter and should not be listened to.

    She will not be content until /unless her Tea Party views are written into Jeffco School Board policy.

  4. All of the horrible policy positions are great reasons to want a different school board, but IMHO it’s all the stuff they do without following proper procedure – all of the acts they take that violate their duties to the students and to the public they represent – that justify the recall.

  5. mamajama55 says:


    The secret meetings, backstabbing negotiations, not allowing students to speak, bizarro pay structure, hiring of unqualified political appointees for media work, yes…those are reasons for recall.

    My point is that Williams, by advocating that her district should not implement NCLB, Common Core, ESEA which are state and federally mandated laws which also involve huge block grants to her district- undermines the mission of Jeffco public schools, which she took an oath to uphold.

    She's not proposing any alternatives to educate students with special needs, hire qualified teachers, have common standards and curriculum so that Colorado's highly mobile students can move from school to school and still get essentially the same education and graduate on time. 

    She has freedom of speech – as a private citizen, she can advocate for any and all of these positions – but as a school board member, her responsibility is to "provide a quality education that prepares all children for a successful future." In order to accomplish that goal, she must stop undermining the laws and programs that help her district to accomplish it.


  6. mamajama55 says:

    When public school becomes "Christian"- when public money is sucked out to fund private religious schools and for-profit charters.

    You have 7 year olds punished for being atheists. You go back to the old days of pretending that if we don't teach high school kids about birth control, they won't ever have sex.

    Welcome to WNW world. If they are not recalled, this is where Jeffco is headed.

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