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The College Board Changes its Curriculum for AP African American Studies After Criticism From Florida Lawmakers

Feb 24, 2023

At the beginning of February, the College Board released its official AP African American Studies course curriculum. The curriculum, however, had been revised from the pilot program that the College Board launched last August.

This revised curriculum no longer includes topics that were seen as controversial, including reparations, critical race theory, Black feminism, the queer experience, and the Black Lives Matter movement. It now also includes “Black conservatism” as a suggested research topic. 

This revision comes just weeks after Florida Governor Ron DeSantis prohibited the course in Florida public schools. The pilot AP African American Studies curriculum was met with harsh criticism from DeSantis and other conservatives. A letter sent from the Florida Department of Education to the College Board claims that the course is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.” Manny Diaz Jr., the Florida Commissioner of Education, released a chart outlining the concerns that Florida had with the course. According to NPR, the chart alleged that the course “promoted the idea that modern American society oppresses Black people, was inappropriate, and uses articles by critics of capitalism.” 

It has since been revealed that DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education had been in communication with the College Board since January 2022 about the AP course and the state’s refusal to add the course to its curriculum without changes.

The College Board, however, denies that the changes were a result of Florida’s involvement. In a press release, the College Board claims: “Our exchanges with them are actually transactional emails about the filing of paperwork to request a pilot course code and our response to their request that the College Board explain why we believe the course is not in violation of Florida laws.” In College Board’s initial press release on the official course curriculum, the organization claimed: “No states or districts have seen the official framework that is released, much less provided feedback on it. This course has been shaped only by the input of experts and long-standing AP principles and practices.” Moreover, according to Anemona Hartocollis and Eliza Fawcett of The New York Times, “College Board officials said…that they had a time-stamped document showing that the final changes to the curriculum were made in December, before the Florida Department of Education sent its letter informing the College Board that it would not allow the course to be taught.”

Despite these denials, the revisions to the AP course have been met with harsh criticism. According to NPR, “Critics accused the organization of bending to political pressure.” Florida high school students have also claimed that they are prepared to sue DeSantis. According to Giulia Heyward of NPR, “The NAACP also denounced Florida’s decision as ‘whitesplaining.’” Furthermore, organizations such as PEN America, a free speech organization, the National Parents Union, and CFT, a California affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers, all condemned the changes. Additionally, according to Hartocollis and Fawcett of The New York Times, “David Blight, a professor of American history at Yale University, [who had] written an endorsement of the new curriculum, at the College Board’s request,…withdrew his endorsement…after learning that some sections had been cut. ‘I withdrew it because I want to know when and how they made these decisions to excise these people, because that’s also an attack on their academic freedom,’ Dr. Blight said.”

Last week, DeSantis threatened to eliminate AP classes from the state curriculum entirely. In 2021, over one million high school seniors took at least one AP exam, and most four-year colleges and universities granted college credit or accelerated placement for AP exam scores of 3 or higher. AP courses are college-level classes that help students prepare for college rigor while they are still in high school. From an admissions standpoint, universities highly value course rigor, and AP classes are a great way to show this on your transcript. If Florida eliminates AP classes from public schools, other states could follow suit and there could be substantial ramifications for college admissions. 

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