After DeSantis pushback, College Board drops Critical Race Theory from AP course (Update)

AP Photo/Marta Lavandier

You’ve probably heard about Florida Department of Education’s decision earlier this month to reject the curriculum for a proposed AP high school course in African American Studies. Depending on who you asked, this was either entirely appropriate or a sign that Gov. DeSantis wants to block the teaching of history in public schools. Here’s how the decision to reject the course was first reported.


In a January 12 letter to the College Board, the nonprofit organization that oversees AP coursework, the Florida Department of Education’s Office of Articulation said the course is “inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”…

While the letter did not elaborate on what the agency found objectionable in the course content, DeSantis spokesman Bryan Griffin said in a statement to CNN that the course “leaves large, ambiguous gaps that can be filled with additional ideological material, which we will not allow.”

“As the Department of Education has previously stated, if the College Board amends the course to comply, provides a full course curriculum, and incorporates historically accurate content, then the Department will reconsider the course for approval,” Griffin added…

The rejection of an Advanced Placement African American Studies course follows efforts by DeSantis to overhaul Florida’s educational curriculum to limit teaching about critical race theory. In 2021, the state enacted a law that banned teaching the concept, which explores the history of systemic racism in the United States and its continued impacts.

Not long after the Florida DOE decision, DeSantis himself made a statement explaining why he supported it:

DeSantis at his news conference emphasized that Florida requires the teaching of Black history but the state determined this optional Advanced Placement course violated state law.

“We want to do history, and that’s what our standards for Black history are. It’s just cut and dried history,” DeSantis said. “You learn all the basics you learn about the great figures, and you know, I view it as American history. I don’t view it as separate history. You know, we have history in lots of different shapes and sizes, people that have participated to make the country great, people that have stood up when it wasn’t easy and they all deserve to be taught. But abolishing prisons being taught to high school kids as if that’s somehow a fact? No, no, that’s not appropriate.”


Today, the College Board released a revised version of the curriculum with a few notable omissions.

The College Board denied any suggestion that it watered down the course after Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) attacked an earlier draft as progressive “indoctrination.” But the 234-page document now omits mention of certain left-leaning figures who appeared in a previous version. Gone, for instance, are Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, a scholar and writer on civil rights and critical race theory, and Angela Davis, a political activist and academic known for her membership in the Communist and Black Panther parties.

The document also listed some potentially controversial topics that students might explore through independent projects. Examples include affirmative action, reparations, Black Lives Matter, and queer life and expression in Black communities.

While the Washington Post story (above) opens with the College Board’s denial that they reacted to Florida’s criticism, the NY Times version of the story is more strident:

After heavy criticism from Gov. Ron DeSantis, the College Board released on Wednesday an official curriculum for its new Advanced Placement course in African American Studies — stripped of much of the subject matter that had angered the governor and other conservatives…

In light of the politics, the College Board seemed to opt out of the politics. In its revised 234-page curriculum framework, the content on Africa, slavery, reconstruction and the civil rights movement remains largely the same. But the study of contemporary topics — including Black Lives Matter, affirmative action, queer life and the debate over reparations — is downgraded. The subjects are no longer part of the exam, and are simply offered on a list of options for a required research project…

The expunged writers and scholars include Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, a law professor at Columbia, which touts her work as “foundational in critical race theory”; Roderick Ferguson, a Yale professor who has written about queer social movements; and Ta-Nehisi Coates, the author who has made the case for reparations for slavery. Gone, too, is bell hooks, the writer who shaped discussions about race, feminism and class.


All of the changes seem custom made in response to Florida’s criticisms. But eventually the Times does get around to the College Board’s denials and actually allows them to make a plausible case that the changes were made for other reasons.

David Coleman, the head of the College Board, said in an interview that the changes were all made for pedagogical reasons, not to bow to political pressure. “At the College Board, we can’t look to statements of political leaders,” he said. The changes, he said, came from “the input of professors” and “longstanding A.P. principles.”

He said that during the initial test of the course this school year, the board received feedback that the secondary, more theoretical sources were “quite dense” and that students connected more with primary sources, which he said have always been the foundation of A.P. courses.

“We experimented with a lot of things including assigning secondary sources, and we found a lot of issues arose as we did,” Mr. Coleman said. “I think what is most surprising and powerful for most people is looking directly at people’s experience.”

As is so often the case with media coverage of culture war/political topics, it can be difficult to discern what actually happened as opposed to what the various factions involved have decided is the most convenient and beneficial story to tell.

At the bottom of this is the College Board’s revision of the curriculum. I don’t believe for a moment that the changes had nothing to do with the criticism from DeSantis. The Post and the NY Times don’t believe it either. But I do believe that the College Board decided it was a) wise to make the changes in light of the criticism from the right and b) also wise to deny that’s what was happening to avoid criticism from the left. I do believe it’s likely that actual students who were a part of their pilot tests were more interested in reading the first hand account of, say, Frederick Douglass (which really is compelling) than they were in wading through the leftist mindthoughts of Kimberlé W. Crenshaw. So in this case it seems possible the College Board had a good reason for making some of the changes they were under pressure to make anyway. And of course they absolutely can’t admit that DeSantis had a point without setting people’s hair on fire.


All of that gets filtered through another layer of motivated reasoning from the media which has its own concerns. On one hand the Times and the Post want to convey that the College Board definitely seems to have caved to pressure from DeSantis, which everyone knows is bad because DeSantis. On the other hand, they really don’t want to give DeSantis credit because that’s arguably a win for him.

The ideal situation for the media would be to blame the College Board while also allowing plausible deniability to avoid giving DeSantis credit. And that’s pretty much what you see in these stories, albeit with slight differences of emphasis about whether it’s more important to deny DeSantis credit (the Post) or to blame the College Board for caving (the Times). So they headline the changes and the politics but then also highlight the Board’s denials even though, as I said, they clearly don’t seem to believe them.

The bottom line here is that Florida said no and the College Board blinked. The actual changes are mostly to a few sections of the curriculum at the end dealing with current hot topics (intersectionality, BLM, critical race theory). The bulk of the course is unchanged. So we’ll have to wait and see if those changes are enough to pass muster with Florida’s Department of Education. Politically, this might be a good place to declare victory and take the W.


Finally, if you’re interested in some of the details that conservatives objected to, check out this story by Stanley Kurtz at National Review.

Update: Let the progressive backlash begin!

Andrew Sullivan highlights why the last section of the course was biased.

Okay, last update. Remember when we were all told, over and over, that no one was teaching CRT in high schools? Now the newspapers are angry that the College Board is backing away from doing exactly that.

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