According to a recently leaked letter, the College Board frequently communicated with the Florida government when creating its first Advanced Placement course in African American studies, often debating ideas the government claimed were disagreeable.
Although the College Board declared that political pressure did not influence the changes, many ideas, including intersectionality, mass incarceration, reparations, and the Black Lives Matter movement, had been eliminated or significantly diminished when the final course guidelines were released last week.
Florida declared in January that the curriculum would not be approved. The Florida Department of Education wrote to the College Board on February 7 with specifics regarding the negotiations, which took place over a year.
The Daily Caller, a conservative news outlet, was the first to report on the letter’s existence. The letter was published in its entirety on Scribd. A representative for the Florida Department of Education, which made a copy available on Thursday, confirmed its legitimacy.
The College Board responded to the petition with its letter, stating that instructor feedback had been used to determine the course adjustments rather than Florida’s complaints.
“We provide states and departments of Education across the country with the information they request for inclusion of courses within their systems,” the letter said, adding, “We need to clarify that no topics were removed because they lacked educational value. We believe all the topics in your letter have substantial educational value.” The College Board declined an interview.
Right-wing groups were increasingly targeting school curricula highlighting race and racism in America during the debates between the College Board and the state. As a presidential candidate, Governor DeSantis has made an effort to position himself as the voice of parents who are tired of what he has dubbed “woke to brainwash” by progressive educators.
The conflict between Florida and the College Board will undoubtedly intensify the debate among academics in Black studies, US history, and other subjects about the Advanced Placement program.
Additionally, it has raised questions about the College Board, which has long faced criticism for creating tests that appeared to favor wealthy and white students.
Supporters of the new A.P. course argue that it promotes the study of Black history and culture, which has frequently been underrepresented in high schools and can earn high school students college credit.
Many students’ initial exposure to a more comprehensive understanding of Black history and culture, including ancient African civilizations and African American poetry, art, and music, may come in the Advanced Placement class.
According to supporters who also see another benefit, the class will draw in Black and Hispanic students who haven’t taken A.P. classes as regularly as white kids.
The Florida letter, however, raised questions about inconsistencies in the College Board’s version of events and increased pressure on Trevor Packer, director of the Advanced Placement program, and group CEO David Coleman. They have aggressively defended the creation of the course among academics, teachers, and the media, adamant that there was no political meddling.
Only three weeks before the College Board announced its final guidelines on February 1, the state publicly told the board that it had rejected the AP course. The board claimed this was insufficient time to make politically influenced changes.
However, the Florida letter claims that the state gave the College Board advance notice that it would not add the African American Studies course to the state’s course directory without changes in September 2022.
The Florida letter also describes a crucial meeting on Nov. 16 where disagreements between the state and the College Board about the matter would be discussed. The state asserted during the meeting that the AP African American Studies course broke the rules stating that “teaching on necessary topics must be factual and objective and may not omit or misrepresent major historical events.”
The College Board resisted the state’s request to eliminate terms like “intersectionality” and “systemic marginalization,” which it considered essential to the curriculum, even if it accepted that the course would be revised.
Intersectionality was mentioned in passing as an optional subject for the course’s obligatory final project, in which students can select their area of study. Still, by the time the course’s final framework was announced on Feb. 1, those terms had mainly been dropped.
“We are confident in the historical correctness of every issue included in the pilot framework, as well as those now in the official framework,” the College Board stated in response to the Florida letter. The board has also said that teachers and students can still discuss concepts like intersectionality in optional classes or projects and on the free website A.P. Classroom, which will include critical texts for the course.
The College Board’s research materials state that specific phrases are essential to African American Studies as taught in colleges. However, numerous academics have pointed out that they are missing.
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For instance, Kimberle Crenshaw, a law scholar, introduced the famous theory of intersectionality in 1989. It argues how race, class, gender, sexual orientation, and other types of identification intersect and affect how people perceive the outside world.
Several academic fields, including African American studies, gender studies, and legal studies, value Professor Crenshaw’s contributions. She is also intimately linked to critical race theory, which has drawn the ire of conservative curriculum activists who oppose teaching about racism or white privilege in schools.
Professor Crenshaw told The Times in a written statement that “people ought to pay very close attention to this topic, not just Black studies educators and K–12 instructors, but everyone who fears the rise of authoritarianism is genuine. This is how it takes place.
“A billion-dollar organization like the College Board will communicate that the ideals fundamental to our multiracial democracy are soft and flexible if they don’t stand up against the censoring of individuals who don’t toe their line,” she stated.
The Florida letter requests that the state take another look at the AP course and was addressed to Brian Barnes, a senior director at the College Board who works specifically with the state of Florida. The letter asked for more information regarding the free resources in A.P. Classroom, including on “intersectionality,” and referred to “a full evaluation of your resubmission.”
Some academics have defended the course’s modifications. According to Kerry L. Haynie, a Duke political science professor who worked on the committee that created the system, Florida’s letter and the College Board’s answer.
“I had told you over and over and over again, not once was there any discussion of Ron DeSantis, or any political pressure, when the committee met, not once,” Dr. Haynie said. “I don’t assume that what’s in that letter is accurate.”
However, other academics who were upset by the modifications questioned whether the program could be regarded as authentically studying African Americans.
According to Matthew Guterl, a professor of Africana and American studies at Brown University, “with fundamental concepts and thinkers now sidelined, the new curriculum lacks the intellectual heft and moral urgency that students in Florida — and students everywhere — need and deserve.”
Joshua M. Myers, a professor of Africana studies at Howard University and a member of the 2021 writing team, also questioned the final draft of the course.
“I think these changes are convenient,” Dr. Myers said in a statement last week to The Hilltop, Howard’s student newspaper. “They align with the College Board’s mission to make the course salable. But do they align with the mission of Black studies? I don’t think so.”
Even while those ideas are downplayed in the course’s formal framework, Houston teacher Nelva Williamson said she could still educate her pupils about intersectionality and restitution.
“This is a great opportunity for students to learn, to take a deep dive into the history and culture of the African diaspora,” said Ms. Williamson, who teaches at the Young Women’s College Preparatory Academy, a public school whose students are mainly Black or Hispanic. “It’s something that’s much needed, and much wanted.”