The College Board is revamping its Advanced Placement African American studies course again, vowing to give students an “unflinching encounter with the facts” following criticism that it watered down curriculum on slavery reparations and the Black Lives Matter movement after pressure from conservative politicians.
The company did not say what the changes will be or when they will be made public. In a statement Monday, it said a development committee and experts charged with developing the course will “determine the details of those changes” over the next few months.
“We are committed to providing an unflinching encounter with the facts and evidence of African American history and culture,” the company said.
The optional course gained national attention this winter when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2024, said he would ban the curriculum in his state because he believed it pushed a political agenda.
“In the state of Florida, our education standards not only don’t prevent, but they require teaching Black history, all the important things. That’s part of our core curriculum,” DeSantis previously said. “We want education and not indoctrination.”
But the official curriculum for the course, released after DeSantis’ administration rejected it, downplayed some components that had drawn objections from the governor and other conservatives. The College Board faced an onslaught of criticism from activists and African American scholars who were outraged that the course changed because of political controversy.
Critics said the College Board bowed to political pressure by removing topics including reparations and Black queer studies.
David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, said he interpreted the College Board’s announcement Monday as an admission that it had watered down the course.
“We must remain vigilant to ensure that all students have access to an education that prepares them for the future by teaching them the uncensored and full history of the United States,” Johns said. “We cannot, and will not, let the politics of fear and division dictate what our children are taught.”
Johns said that ultimately, only a relatively small number of students will have access to the class of the wide swath of students who “need access” to the topics covered.
In the 2022-2023 school year, the course was launched in 60 schools. This upcoming school year, it will expand to reach 800 schools with 16,000 students.
David Canton, a history professor and the director of the University of Florida’s African American Studies program, said the College Board does the best they can to synthesize syllabi from around the country into a unified curriculum.
“This course is not required so (high school) students make the choice,” he said of the AP class. “If students are interested and have a passion, why don’t we allow students to decide if they want to take the course — and not the Department of Education?”
If Florida high schools don’t allow students to take the AP class, Canton pointed out that there are fears that other GOP-led states such as Tennessee and Texas might follow suit.
Canton said that this is an introductory class that could prepare students for college-level classes. “When you come into my courses, you should be familiar with the Rosewood massacre, lynching, Ida B. Wells and other figures,” he said, about one of his classes on African American history.
The nonprofit testing company previously said revisions to the course were substantially complete and not shaped by political influence before DeSantis shared his objections. College Board officials said developers consulted with professors from more than 200 colleges, including several historically Black institutions, and took input from teachers piloting the class.
The company said Monday that the creation of the course had given access to a discipline not widely available to high schoolers and brought that content to as many students as possible — a possible reference to students in states run by conservatives. “Regrettably,” the nonprofit testing company said, those two goals “came into conflict.”
The College Board offers AP courses across the academic spectrum, including in math, science, social studies, foreign languages and fine arts. The courses are optional and taught at a college level. Students who score high enough on the final exam usually earn course credit at their university.
Mumphrey reported from Phoenix.
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