AP African American Studies: Latest Updates on Florida’s Feud With the College Board

Gov. Ron DeSantis rejected the course for its inclusion of woke ideology. The College Board fought back against DeSantis' slander, and now Florida might block all AP courses. Here's what you need to know.
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  • The Florida Department of Education rejected the AP course and said it significantly lacked educational value.
  • The College Board adjusted the framework for the course. The board claims the changes were made due to teacher and professor feedback, not political pressure.
  • The College Board denounced the FDOE's actions and its lack of communication.
  • DeSantis said Florida is reevaluating its relationship with the College Board.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis' war on woke ideology continues to reach deeper and deeper into the state's classrooms as his feud with the College Board over the curriculum for its new Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies course extends into 2023.

The opening salvo was DeSantis' April 2022 signing of the Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees (Stop WOKE) Act, which limits topics like race, gender, and sexuality in K-12 and higher education classrooms.

Since then, DeSantis and the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) have used the law to have books banned from classrooms and block the AP African American Studies course.

Among the administration's criticisms of the course are its teachings on intersectionality, Black Queer Studies, the Black Lives Matter movement, Black Feminist Literary Thought, the Reparations Movement, and Black Study and Black Struggle in the 21st Century.

The College Board has been developing AP African American Studies for more than a decade and hopes to make it available to all schools in the 2024-25 school year. The first exams will be administered in the spring of 2025.

According to the College Board, AP African American Studies reaches into various fields — literature, the arts and humanities, political science, geography, and science — to explore African Americans' vital contributions and experiences.

While the DeSantis administration has sought in the last year to restrict how educators can teach topics such as race, Florida also has a law requiring schools to teach African American history.

But the governor's view of African American history is clearly at odds with that of the College Board's experts. And the disagreements have spiraled to the point that DeSantis is threatening to block Florida public schools from teaching all AP courses.

Here's what you need to know about Florida's feud with the College Board over its AP African American Studies course.

Jan. 12: FDOE Rejects AP African American Studies Course

The FDOE sent a brief letter to the College Board saying it rejects the AP African American Studies course because it violates Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.

Jan. 23: DeSantis Defends the Decision

At a press conference at a charter school in Jacksonville, Florida, DeSantis was most critical of the curriculum's inclusion of queer theory and intersectionality.

Who would say that an important part of Black history is queer theory? he asked. That is somebody pushing an agenda on our kids. So when you look to see they have stuff about intersectionality, abolishing prisons, that's a political agenda.

Feb. 1: College Board Announces Revisions to AP African American Studies Course

The New York Times reported that the College Board revised parts of the curriculum from the pilot course. Trevor Packer, leader of the Advanced Placement program, told The New York Times that the board made changes after teacher and college professor feedback, not because of political pressure.

Here are the changes, according to The New York Times:

Scholarly Concepts

The College Board has removed terms that are typically politically targeted. Intersectionality is now only mentioned once in an example for an optional final project that accounts for 20% of the AP score.

Terms now mostly removed from the course:

  • Intersectionality
  • Womanism
  • Queer Studies
  • Reparations

Women and Feminism

The College Board changed the The Black Feminist Movement and Womanism unit name to Black Women and Movements in the 20th Century.

The term intersectionality has been avoided, but its concepts still live under a new heading, Overlapping Dimensions of Black Life.

Writers now excluded:

  • bell hooks
  • Audre Lorde
  • Angela Davis
  • Alice Walker
  • Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham
  • Henry Louis Gates Jr.

Black Lives Matter and Criminal Justice

The College Board removed the The origins, mission, and global influence of the Black Lives Matter movement, and the Movement for Black Lives unit.

According to The New York Times, the revised curriculum suggests crime, criminal justice, and incarceration as optional project topics.

Writers now excluded:

  • Michelle Alexander: for her work included in the unit, incarceration and abolition.

Black Queer Studies

The board removed the topic, which is now briefly referenced while discussing the civil rights and women's movements.

Reparations

The original draft highlighted reparations for slavery and focused on congressional bill HR 40 and Ta-Nehisi Coates' essay, The Case for Reparations.

Coates' name has been removed from the curriculum, and reparations is only mentioned as an optional project topic.

Feb. 7: FDOE Applauds Revisions to AP African American Studies Course

The FDOE sent a letter to the College Board thanking them for the revisions to the AP African American Studies curriculum. The FDOE said it looks forward to the Board's resubmission of the course for the 2023-2024 year.

That FDOE and the College Board have been communicating since January 2022 regarding the proposed course is remarkable, said the FDOE. We do appreciate the regular, two-way verbal and written dialogue on this important topic.

The letter outlined the communications the FDOE says it had with the College Board.

After the board revised the curriculum, the FDOE expressed thanks that the board removed 19 topics that the FDOE said violated Florida law, including discriminatory and historically fictional topics.

The FDOE concluded the letter by asking that the board include additional information referenced in an NPR interview in the resubmission.

Specifically, the NPR interview references 'a free resource called AP Classroom, and every teacher and student in AP African American studies is going to have access to it,' said the FDOE. Since these are free resources included with the revised AP course, please include these free resources, including Mr. (College Board CEO David) Coleman's highlighted resources on 'intersectionality,' with your submission.

Feb. 9: The National Black Justice Coalition Calls for Ouster of College Board CEO

Days after Florida's letter to the College Board, the National Black Justice Coalition sent an open letter to Coleman and the board of trustees calling for Coleman's removal.

The letter represented 30 organizations, including human rights, educational equity, and gender organizations.

The public rollout of the College Board’s long-awaited Advanced Placement Black Studies Course has been a public relations and brand disaster for your institution causing pain, division, and turmoil for the community it sought to celebrate, said the letter. Several lies and a belated campaign to tell the truth from your President, David Coleman, regarding the pilot and revision process of the curriculum played a role in the growing mistrust the public, students, and educators have for your institution and the content of the class.

The letter said that new leadership is required if the board lacks the courage to stand up for academic freedom and against DeSantis' regime. If not, then the board will continue to be a pawn in the political games of governors and other elected officials advancing a white nationalist, anti-democratic agenda.

Feb. 11: The College Board Clears the Air

Four days after the FDOE's letter, the College Board released a statement to clear the air and set the record straight on the AP African American Studies course.

The Board's 5 Clarifications

  1. The board regretted not immediately denouncing the DeSantis administration's comments that African American Studies lacks educational value and apologized to Black scholars everywhere.
  2. The College Board did not remove writers and scholars from the course. The secondary sources will be available to AP teachers to include in their curriculum upon AP course authorization, similar to other AP courses.

    The College Board is requesting copyright permission to include every work in every iteration of the course framework for teacher access.
  3. Contemporary events like the Black Lives Matter movement, reparations, and mass incarceration were optional topics in the pilot. After the pilot course ended on April 29, the College Board received feedback from teachers. The feedback led them to change these topics into options for research projects that count for 20% of the AP grade.

    The board said that its lack of clarity on why these changes were made led to a false narrative that politics pressured the changes.

    This model better aligns with the flexibility colleges themselves often provide students to do an extended paper on a topic of their choice, the board wrote. We encourage students to focus their projects on contemporary issues and debates to ensure their application of knowledge to the present.
  4. The board commended the pilot teachers. It said it filled the course with concrete examples of foundational concepts in the discipline while giving teachers the flexibility to teach essential content without risk to their livelihoods.
  5. The board said it was not in frequent dialogue with Florida despite Florida's claims.

    … this is a false and politically motivated charge, the board said. We had no negotiations about the content of this course with Florida or any other state, nor did we receive any requests, suggestions, or feedback.

The Board's Claim Against Florida

We were naive not to announce Florida's rejection of the course when FDOE first notified us on Sept. 23, 2022, in a letter entitled 'CB Letter AP Africain [sic] Studies,' the board said. This letter, like all written communications we received from Florida, contained no explanation of the rejection. Instead, Florida invited us to call them if we had any questions.

The board reached out to the FDOE for specific feedback after the letter but said it only received vague, uninformed questions during phone calls. After requesting a written response, the board received a second letter on Jan. 12 that did not specify feedback but said that the course lacked educational value.

The board said that the DeSantis administration leaked the Feb. 7 letter thanking it for removing 19 topics from the course. The board said Florida did not ask it to remove the topics, and most remain.

The board also challenged Florida's claim that it removed systemic marginalization and intersectionality because of the state's backlash.

The notion that we needed Florida to enlighten us that these terms are politicized in several states is ridiculous, the board said. We took a hard look at these terms because they often are misunderstood, misrepresented, and co-opted as political weapons.

The board said it had asked Florida what it meant by calling specific topics historically fictional but have received no response.

This new AP course can be historic — what makes history are the lived experiences of millions of African Americans, and the long work of scholars who have built this field, said the board. We hope our future efforts will unmistakably and unequivocally honor their work.

Feb. 13: DeSantis Threatens to Ban AP Courses from Florida Public Schools

In a press conference in Naples, Florida, DeSantis responded to the College Board's open letter. DeSantis defended the FDOE's decision to reject the course, claiming that other people agreed with Florida, but only they had the backbone to stand up and do it.

I'm so sick of people not doing what's right because they're worried people are going to call them names; we're doing what's right, said DeSantis. Across the political spectrum, people were saying that, 'You know, this really is junk, why don't we just do and teach the things that matter.'

DeSantis said that the administration is reevaluating its relationship with the College Board and looking into other types of college credit for Florida's universities.

So this College Board, nobody elected them to anything, DeSantis said. They're just kind of there, and they're providing service. They've provided these AP courses for a long time, but you know, there are probably some other vendors that may be able to do that job as good or maybe even a lot better.