College Board unveils official framework for new AP African American studies course
The College Board released Wednesday the official framework of a new Advanced Placement course on African American Studies that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis earlier denounced for imposing a “political agenda.”
In recent months, the multidisciplinary course has been praised by academics and historians, all while becoming a target for lawmakers aiming to restrict how topics like racism and history are being taught in public schools.
DeSantis had objected to some of the topics and authors that were initially part of the course; those topics — Black queer studies and Black feminism — are not in the official course released Wednesday but students can take them on as part of a required research project.
The 221-page framework details the required course content and includes an overview of what high school students will encounter on the course’s exam for college credit and placement. The College Board — the non-profit organization that oversees AP coursework — has said the first African American Studies exam would be administered in the Spring of 2025.
College Board CEO David Coleman described the course as an “unflinching encounter with the facts and evidence of African American history and culture.”
“No one is excluded from this course: the Black artists and inventors whose achievements have come to light; the Black women and men, including gay Americans, who played pivotal roles in the Civil Rights movements; and people of faith from all backgrounds who contributed to the antislavery and Civil Rights causes. Everyone is seen,” Coleman said in a statement.
Last month, Florida sent a letter to the College Board rejecting the proposed course. The state’s education department earlier told CNN it had concerns about six topics of study, including the Movement for Black Lives, Black feminism and reparations.
Gov. DeSantis told reporters last week the decision was made because it included the study of “queer theory” and political movements that advocated for “abolishing prisons.”
“That’s a political agenda,” DeSantis said at a news conference in Jacksonville. “That’s the wrong side of the line for Florida standards. We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them when you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”
But the newly released framework does not appear to include this controversial content.
What’s in the course
Designed to be taught over 28 weeks, the course covers 79 topics that range from early African kingdoms to how Jim Crow laws impacted African Americans after Reconstruction as well as the achievements of Black Americans in science, music and art.
The topics are divided in four major units: “Origins of the African Diaspora,” “Freedom, Enslavement and Resistance,” “The Practice of Freedom,” and “Movements and Debates.”
The units include other topics, such as the responses of African American writers and activists to racism and anti-Black violence, the founding of historically Black colleges and universities, Black Caribbean migration to the United States, segregation in the 20th century, redlining and the civil rights movement.
More than 300 professors of African American studies, including faculty from dozens of HBCUs, were consulted during the development of the course framework, which was completed in December, the organization said.
“The course focuses on the topics where professors shared a strong consensus on the essential events, experiences and individuals crucial to a study of African American history and culture,” the College Board said in a news release Wednesday.
A version of the course is being offered in 60 high schools as a pilot and will expand to hundreds more schools in the upcoming school year, the organization has said. The course is expected to be available to all schools in the 2024-25 school year, according to the College Board website.
Unlike the pilot version, the College Board said the official framework includes additional topics, only requires the analysis of “core historical, literary, and artistic works,” does not have a required list of secondary sources and adds a research project that counts as part of the AP exam score.
Robert J. Patterson, a professor of African American Studies at Georgetown University who served as co-chair of the committee of professors and teachers who developed the course, said the course, which offers “an unparalleled breadth of content and depth of skills,” was developed independent from “political pressure.”
“Since its inception, the development of the AP African American Studies course has been an on-going, iterative process that calls upon the expertise of teachers, professors, and experts who understand the key concepts, themes, and methodologies of African American Studies, and this refining process, which is a part of all AP courses, has operated independently from political pressure,” Patterson said in the release.
What’s not in the course
Florida, under DeSantis, banned the teaching of critical race theory and passed new legislation last year barring instruction that suggests anyone is privileged or oppressed based on their race or skin color.
The state’s education department previously told CNN that it had concerns about some topics of study included in an 81-page document that appears to be a preview of the course framework. The document, dated February 2022, was shared with CNN last month by DeSantis spokesperson Bryan Griffin.
The topics that raised the concerns of the DeSantis administration were intersectionality and activism, Black queer studies, Movements for Black Lives, Black feminist literary thought, reparations, and Black study and Black struggle in the 21st century. Many of the objections were tied to the inclusion of texts from modern Black thought leaders and history teachers, whose writings the DeSantis administration believes violate state laws.
Black Lives Matter, the Movement of Black Lives or the case for reparations were not included in the official course framework released on Wednesday. None of the authors listed as concerning by Florida education officials are included in the required readings of the final framework.
The reparations debate, “gay life and expression in Black communities,” and Black Lives Matter are only included in a list of examples of the topics that students can pick for research projects.
“These topics are not a required part of the course framework that is formally adopted by states and that defines the exam. This list is a partial one for illustrative purposes and can be refined by states and districts,” the College Board said in the framework.
The College Board said no states or districts saw the official framework prior to its release on Wednesday, “much less provided feedback on it.”
“This course has been shaped only by the input of experts and long-standing AP principles and practices,” the organization said in a statement.
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