Black leaders blast College Board’s changes to AP African American Studies course

Topics that Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration raised concerns about are seemingly absent from the final course curriculum.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has previously objected to some of the topics and suggested readings in a new AP African American studies course. The College Board on Wednesday released an official outline for the course, which had differences from the pilot curriculum.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has previously objected to some of the topics and suggested readings in a new AP African American studies course. The College Board on Wednesday released an official outline for the course, which had differences from the pilot curriculum.
Published Feb. 1|Updated Feb. 2

The College Board released the final curriculum of its new Advanced Placement African American Studies course on Wednesday, seemingly leaving out any references to topics or works Gov. Ron DeSantis criticized and drawing rebukes from Black leaders over ‘watering down’ the course to placate politicians.

The final framework, which the College Board released in a 234-page course outline, omits any reference to Black Queer Studies, the Black Lives Matter movement, Black Feminist Literary Thought and slavery reparations. The curriculum also does not include any works or thoughts of study associated with well-known Black scholars and authors such as Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, Angela Davis and bell hooks, such as critical race theory — all topics the governor raised concerns about, according to a review of the document.

“This is a monumental moment for education as we recognize the incredible contributions African Americans have made to our country’s story,” Florida Sen. Shevrin Jones, a Democrat who represents northwest Miami-Dade and southwest Broward, said in a statement following the release. Nevertheless, he said DeSantis’ “systematic attack on public education is far bigger than AP classes. This is part of a larger war on our very ability to think, question, and engage in our democracy. It is a national attempt to redirect how students learn.”

The curriculum comes two weeks after the governor announced the state had rejected the course that was set to be taught in Florida’s public high schools in the upcoming school year and sparked a national political firestorm. It also follows DeSantis’ announcement Tuesday to overhaul higher education in the state, which includes a recommendation to eliminate diversity, equity and inclusion “bureaucracies” on college and university campuses.

Initially, the administration claimed the course violated state law and “lack[ed] educational value,” without citing any evidence. Last year, the Florida Legislature passed a series of bills — now laws — that limit or bar discussions about race and LGBTQ+ issues in higher education and for students younger than third grade, respectively.

But after facing criticism from Florida’s Black leaders, national organizations and the White House, the Florida Department of Education curated a graphic that broadly outlined the topics it objected to, including the work of Black scholars and writers, such as Crenshaw, Davis and hooks.

Crenshaw is a professor at Columbia Law School whose writing focuses on civil rights, critical race theory, Black feminist legal theory, and race, racism and the law; Davis is a political activist, professor, and author; and hooks is a writer who has influenced discussions about race, feminism and class.

Related: DeSantis says AP African American history class pushes political agenda

College Board says politicians did not direct course

It remains unclear how much of what was included — or excluded — from the final curriculum came as the result of DeSantis and his administration’s critiques. The College Board said in a statement that no states or districts saw the official framework before its unveiling, “much less provided feedback on it.”

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After Florida rejected the course, the College Board said it would not cave to pressures from governors or district leaders and routinely said that pilot programs often undergo multiple and continuous changes in the development of a new AP course. This is the first time the College Board has developed an AP course on African American history.

The College Board CEO David Coleman said in a news release Wednesday the course is an “unflinching encounter with the facts and evidence of African American history and culture. No one is excluded from this course…Everyone is seen.”

Robert J. Patterson, a professor of African American Studies at Georgetown University who co-chaired a committee that developed the course, said in a statement Wednesday that the course offers “an unparalleled breadth of content and depth of skill that surpass what many introductory college-level African American Studies courses can accomplish within a semester or quarter.”

As of Wednesday evening, the governor nor his administration issued a statement on the release.

DeSantis’ influence

The DeSantis administration did not release the pilot course framework, nor was it published by the College Board, making it difficult to decipher what content was changed — or when. Nevertheless, some people are questioning why the College Board removed these topics. (The Herald obtained a copy of a version of the pilot course after the rejection.)

Daniella Pierre, president of the Miami-Dade branch of the NAACP, understands that changes to the pilot program would be made, but was concerned about the College Board removing certain topics and the governor’s perceived influence in the decision, especially when the Board had the backing of national civil rights organizations. Though she has yet to fully review the published framework, she believes the College Board should have stood strong on what they presented as factual history.

“While the College Board might say [the changes] are due to pedagogy, I’m not so certain,” Pierre told the Herald. “Because I see that [the topics removed] were questioned by the administration.”

At Miami-Dade County’s Black Affairs Advisory Board meeting Wednesday, members discussed the College Board’s framework and voted unanimously to have a staff member write a letter voicing opposition to the DeSantis policies.

“We are the voice of the Black community in Miami-Dade County,” said Pierre Rutledge, the board’s chair and an administrator at Miami-Dade’s school system. “If you sit there and be quiet, silence sometimes can be seen as consent.”

Related: Miami AP African American studies students say Florida rejection of class ‘shocking’

And on Tuesday, more than 200 faculty members in African American studies condemned DeSantis’ perceived interference in the course in a letter published on Medium.

Craig Whisenhunt, a Pinellas Park attorney, however, was less willing to attribute the changes to the governor and called into question the timing of his critiques.

The College Board has routinely said pilot courses undergo continuous changes during development and the governor’s rejection, he argued, is akin to a teacher lashing out at a student’s draft report on the eve of its submission.

Whisenhunt, who indicated last month he would join a lawsuit against the Florida Department of Education if the state agency rejected the course, said he suspects the pilot’s framework at the time the governor rejected it “looked very similar to what we’re seeing now and probably would’ve looked this way” with or without the governor’s input.

He agrees with some critics that claim the final version is a “watering down” of more recent issues, but said he believes the emphasis of the course is “more about how we got to where we are instead of the now.”

In that regard, he said, the curriculum does seem to adhere to that objective.

Final framework differs from pilot, College Board says

Though issues raised by DeSantis’ administration are seemingly missing from the final framework, the College Board, in a statement, provided examples of how the framework differs from the preliminary pilot coursework.

According to the news release, the curriculum includes new topics that were not well represented in the pilot course, including a course titled “Black conservatism,” which is now offered as an idea for a research project.

The course — pegged as an “interdisciplinary course that draws from a variety of fields to explore the vital contributions and experiences of African Americans” — has been in development for nearly a year and involved more than 300 professors of African American Studies from “more than 200 colleges nationwide,” including Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Notably, any topics eliminated will not appear on the final AP exam, which is what colleges and universities use in deciding whether to give a student credit for the course. A student has to get a certain grade on the AP Exam in order to get college credit for the high school class.

This school year, the College Board piloted the course in 60 classrooms across the country, including at least one in Miami-Dade County Public Schools. Students at Robert Morgan Educational Center in Southwest Miami-Dade were enrolled in the pilot course and were upset when Miami-Dade Schools canceled their class halfway through the school year and had the students finish the year in an African American History honors course.

“If this is a change they’re going to make [and] take away from me learning simple history, what else can they take away from my education?” said Chyna Lee Hunter, 17, one of the students in the class, told the Herald. “If history only focuses on one culture, “we won’t know the full story. Everyone is always going to feel uncomfortable and misplaced.”

The district said it removed the materials after the Florida Department of Education indicated the lessons were “contrary to Florida law,” a school district spokesperson said. It’s unclear how many other Florida schools participated in the pilot program or if those classes also were canceled after the governor’s announcement.

Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau reporter Ana Ceballos contributed to this report.