Senator: College Board Gave Chinese Influence Op Advanced Placement in U.S. High Schools

Blackburn demands answers from education giant over Confucius Institute ties

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) / Getty Images
October 27, 2020

Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R., Tenn.) is demanding that the College Board explain its decades-long partnership with a Chinese front group that has allowed Beijing to influence thousands of American students.

Blackburn asked the educational nonprofit to explain the nature of its long-standing partnership with the Confucius Institute, also known as Hanban—a Chinese government-backed group that the federal government says is a propaganda arm of the Chinese Communist Party. The Republican senator said the lucrative relationship could unduly influence the College Board, which administers the SAT as well as college-level "Advanced Placement" courses for high school students.

"It is my concern that the Chinese government is manipulating this [College Board] partnership to characterize China in a wholesome light and stifle conversation that might be detrimental to the reputation of the Chinese Communist Party," Blackburn said in a letter obtained by the Washington Free Beacon. "College Board's relationship with Hanban creates momentous security concerns."

An August report from the National Association of Scholars found that the College Board received nearly $700,000 from the Confucius Institute to develop the Chinese curriculum for its Advanced Placement program, shaping the education of thousands of U.S. high school students who take the course each year. The College Board also helped place hundreds of Chinese teachers—vetted by the Confucius Institute—in schools across the country and cohosts the largest conference for Chinese teachers with the regime-backed group. Blackburn asked College Board CEO David Coleman to explain what role institute officials play in teacher selection and test criteria, as well as whether the relationship could give regime figures "undue influence" over American students.

The College Board did not return a request for comment about its dealings with the Confucius Institute.

The senator's letter, which was sent Tuesday, is the latest in the bipartisan push to rein in the activities of the Confucius Institute, which had more than 100 branches in U.S. colleges and K-12 schools across the country at its height in 2017. Congress prohibited American universities from diverting Pentagon funding to support Confucius Institute programming in 2018, and the Senate unanimously passed a bill in June that would require all federally funded universities to exercise "full managerial control" of the China-backed programs.

The Confucius Institute has said its operations are only designed to foster Mandarin literacy and appreciation for Chinese culture. Experts and U.S. officials disagree—several bipartisan government reports found that the Confucius Institute often requires its instructors to follow Chinese laws on U.S. soil and prohibits them from discussing issues related to Tibet, Xinjiang, and other topics deemed sensitive by the Chinese government.

While policymakers have focused on the Confucius Institute's ties with the U.S. higher education system, less attention has been paid to its role in the country's K-12 school system. The National Association of Scholars report was one of the first of its kind to spotlight this under-reported aspect of China's involvement in American education. The education watchdog found that the College Board helped the Confucius Institute place more than 1,650 Chinese government-vetted teachers in dozens of public schools across the country, impacting the learning of tens of thousands of students.

Growing government scrutiny of the Confucius Institute—coupled with student and activist protests against the organization—has helped convince dozens of American universities to shutter the Confucius Institute programs on their campuses. More than 50 colleges and universities have ended their partnerships with the program, according to a Free Beacon tally from August.

The Confucius Institute did not respond to a request for comment.