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On Saturday the College Board, which designs Advanced Placement courses and assessments, released a long letter aiming to “clear the air and set the record straight” about its new AP African American Studies course, which has been much in the news after because Florida Governor Ron DeSantis decried “woke indoctrination” and barred state schools from teaching it. According to the New York Times and many other news outlets, the College Board then “purged the names of many Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, the queer experience and Black feminism” and “ushered out some politically fraught topics, like Black Lives Matter.” In this letter, College Board Communications says the charge that it negotiated with Florida about course content is “a false and politically motivated charge” and it should have “immediately denounce[d] the Florida Department of Education’s slander.”
Here is the full letter:
Our commitment to AP African American Studies is unwavering. This will be the most rigorous, cohesive immersion that high school students have ever had in this discipline. Many more students than ever before will go on to deepen their knowledge in African American Studies programs in college.
Teachers and students piloting this course are everywhere voicing their enthusiasm for the discoveries they are making. They are thriving in the openness and respect of the classroom environments they have built.
There is always debate about the content of a new AP course. That is good and healthy; these courses matter. But the dialogue surrounding AP African American Studies has moved from healthy debate to misinformation.
We are proud of this course. But we have made mistakes in the rollout that are being exploited.
We need to clear the air and set the record straight.
- We deeply regret not immediately denouncing the Florida Department of Education’s slander, magnified by the DeSantis administration’s subsequent comments, that African American Studies “lacks educational value.” Our failure to raise our voice betrayed Black scholars everywhere and those who have long toiled to build this remarkable field.
- We should have made clear that the framework is only the outline of the course, still to be populated by the scholarly articles, video lectures, and practice questions that we assemble and make available to all AP teachers in the summer for free and easy assignment to their students. This error triggered a conversation about erasing or eliminating Black thinkers. The vitriol aimed at these scholars is repulsive and must stop.Rather, scholars are essential to this course, and each AP teacher must select works by scholars to include in the syllabus they submit for AP course authorization, as they do in a range of other AP courses that require secondary sources in the syllabus. We are requesting copyright permission to include works on our AP Classroom digital platform by every author mentioned in any iteration of the framework, bringing these readings to students worldwide by enabling AP teachers to assign them with one click.
- We should have made clear that contemporary events like the Black Lives Matter movement, reparations, and mass incarceration were optional topics in the pilot course. Our lack of clarity allowed the narrative to arise that political forces had “downgraded” the role of these contemporary movements and debates in the AP class. The actual pilot course materials teachers used were completed on April 29, 2022—far prior to any pushback. In these pilot materials, teachers were told to pick only one such topic. This topic could be assigned after the exam since it didn’t count and would have no impact on the student’s AP score.The official framework is a significant improvement, rather than a watering down: three weeks are now dedicated to a research project of the student’s choice, which counts as 20% of the student’s AP Exam score for college credit. This model better aligns with the flexibility colleges themselves often provide students to do an extended paper on a topic of their choice. We encourage students to focus their projects on contemporary issues and debates to ensure their application of knowledge to the present.
- We have not succeeded in focusing the conversation on the remarkable work and flexibility of the pilot teachers in different states. The fact is that pilot teachers everywhere are introducing the core concepts of this discipline with skill and care. Sadly, in some states teachers have more room to maneuver than others. We recognize that in some states teachers and students will be able to draw more widely on Black Studies scholarship than in others. But we must resist the narrative that teachers in states with restrictions are not doing exceptional work with their students, introducing them to so much and preparing them for so much more.By filling the course with concrete examples of the foundational concepts in this discipline, we have given teachers the flexibility to teach the essential content without putting their livelihoods at risk. The committee will continue to evaluate this approach, making further changes to the framework if they decide to do so.
- While it has been claimed that the College Board was in frequent dialogue with Florida about the content of AP African American Studies, this is a false and politically motivated charge. 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.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.
We were naive not to announce Florida’s rejection of the course when FDOE first notified us on September 23, 2022, in a letter entitled “CB Letter AP Africain [sic] Studies.” 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.
We made those calls, as we would to any state that says they have unstated concerns about an AP course. These phone calls with FDOE were absent of substance, despite the audacious claims of influence FDOE is now making. In the discussion, they did not offer feedback but instead asked vague, uninformed questions like, “What does the word ‘intersectionality’ mean?” and “Does the course promote Black Panther thinking?” FDOE did not bring any African American Studies scholars or teachers to their call with us, despite the presence in their state of so many renowned experts in this discipline.
Since FDOE did not make any requests or suggestions during the calls, we asked them if they could share specific concerns in writing. They said they had to check with their supervisors and get permission. They never sent us any feedback, but instead sent a second letter to us on January 12, 2023, as a PR stunt which repeated the same rejection but now with inflated rhetoric and posturing, saying the course lacked “educational value.”
On the day after Florida sent us that second letter, the AP executive overseeing the process of developing this course—the only AP leader who participated in the telephone calls with FDOE—followed up with the College Board’s FDOE liaison to ask whether we should ever expect any actual feedback from Florida. This is the response:
“I don’t think they [FDOE] intend to provide any notes. My guess is that [the FDOE staff member] shared his notes with leadership (as he told us he would) and they shut it down. He might have even been instructed not to share notes.”
We have made the mistake of treating FDOE with the courtesy we always accord to an education agency, but they have instead exploited this courtesy for their political agenda. After each written or verbal exchange with them, as a matter of professional protocol, we politely thanked them for their feedback and contributions, although they had given none.
In Florida’s effort to engineer a political win, they have claimed credit for the specific changes we made to the official framework. In their February 7, 2023, letter to us, which they leaked to the media within hours of sending, Florida expresses gratitude for the removal of 19 topics, none of which they ever asked us to remove, and most of which remain in the official framework.
They also claimed that we removed terms like “systemic marginalization” and “intersectionality” at their behest. This is not true. The notion that we needed Florida to enlighten us that these terms are politicized in several states is ridiculous. We took a hard look at these terms because they often are misunderstood, misrepresented, and co-opted as political weapons. Instead we focused throughout the framework on providing concrete examples of these important concepts. Florida is attempting to claim a political victory by taking credit retroactively for changes we ourselves made but that they never suggested to us.
FDOE’s most recent letter continues to deride the field of African American Studies by describing key topics as “historically fictional.” We have asked them what they meant by that accusation, and they have failed to answer. The College Board condemns this uninformed caricature of African American Studies and the harm it does to scholars and students.
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. We hope our future efforts will unmistakably and unequivocally honor their work.