College Board releases revised AP African American Studies curriculum

The College Board has released an updated framework for its new Advanced Placement African American Studies course.The course gained national attention when Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis said he would ban the course in his state because it pushed a political agenda.The new 294-page overview of the course, project and exam framework — due to launch in the fall of 2024 — relegates Black Lives Matter to an optional subject for further exploration in a week set aside for teachers to tackle a “topic of contemporary relevance.” .That is also where U.S. reparations is mentioned.The framework omits any mention of the queer experience or critical race theory.In the initial pilot year, 60 high schools nationwide, including Maynard H. Jackson High School in Atlanta, offered the course.The pilot expanded this year to 700 high schools, including 29 across 13 Georgia districts.The College Board offers AP courses across the academic spectrum, including in math, science, social studies, foreign languages and fine arts.The courses are optional and taught at a college level. Students who score high enough on the final exam usually can earn course credit at their university

With the release today of revised standards for a controversial Advanced Placement African American Studies course, Atlanta teacher Rashad Brown hopes the College Board heeded teachers like himself, college professors and students rather than Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Introduced as a pilot in 2022, the AP class rankled DeSantis who condemned it as radical indoctrination and outlawed it in his state’s high schools. That led GOP leaders in other states to question the course’s value and scope. In February, the College Board released an official curriculum that jettisoned or downplayed Black Lives Matter, critical race theory and the African American queer experience, decisions that critics felt represented a capitulation to DeSantis, who’s now running for president.

The new 294-page overview of the course, project and exam framework — due to launch in the fall of 2024 — relegates Black Lives Matter to an optional subject for further exploration in a week set aside for teachers to tackle a “topic of contemporary relevance.” That is also where U.S. reparations is mentioned. The framework omits any mention of the queer experience or critical race theory, both incendiary topics among conservatives.

“The question for the College Board: Are you bowing down to political pressure or are you doing the normal institutional steps necessary in a review of a pilot program?” said Brown, in his second year teaching the class at Maynard Jackson High School as part of the two-year pilot.

Still, Brown, who participated in AP feedback sessions on the class, said, “Not everyone might agree with reparations but there is at least a template in the revisions to discuss it. There is a template to talk about Black Lives Matter. It is not preaching. It is presenting information and letting students draw conclusions based on information and facts — the same way we teach U.S. history. Some people like Christopher Columbus. Some don’t.”

“The College Board is more aware of the political climate,” Brown said. “Now they have the footing under them to be a little more unapologetic about the course and more forceful in trying to make it really align with college standards.”

Rashad Brown teaches Advanced Placement African American Studies at Maynard Jackson High School on Friday, Feb. 17, 2023.  Students participate in dialogue and debate, present projects and consider why restrictions are being put on the course in other states.  (Jenni Girtman for The Atlanta Journal-Constitution)

Credit: Jenni Girtman

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Credit: Jenni Girtman

The College Board maintains the revisions better reflect college courses in African American studies, which is the point of AP classes, to give ambitious high schoolers an opportunity to take on college-level material and challenges. The revisions in the AP course, which opens with the origins of the African diaspora and concludes with Black studies and Black futures, include more primary sources for students. There is an added focus on the arts and sports. Also added were sections on the Nation of Islam and Black womanism.

“The revised AP African American Studies curriculum is a big step in the right direction, ensuring all students have access to advanced courses that reflect the diversity that is America—because African-American American history is American history,” said Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association, in a statement. “As some politicians are trying to whitewash history, I am heartened to see this important course continue, and to affirm our educators’ expertise as they teach inclusive, accurate content.”

In the initial pilot year, 60 high schools nationwide, including Maynard Jackson, offered the course. The pilot expanded this year to 700 high schools, including 29 across 13 Georgia districts. Demand this year was so great that Brown is now teaching three sections at his school, each with more than 30 students.

To develop and fine-tune the course, the College Board consulted with African American scholars, high school teachers and experts within its AP program. “It is rigorous. It will challenge students’ thinking,” said former chancellor of District of Columbia Public Schools Kaya Henderson in a statement. “It reflects the world that our students see today. Every student should have the opportunity to take this class.”

After she sat in on Brown’s class at Jackson High last spring, then-APS Superintendent Lisa Herring said, “This was the class I wanted when I was a student at Southwest High School in Macon in 1990.”

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