The latest and final version of the College Board’s African American Studies AP Framework may not fully please its critics — whether the discipline’s academics or the politicians who have tried to legislate against it.
The Advanced Placement curriculum, released Wednesday, leaves out critical race theory and structural racism, which academics say are key concepts. LGBTQ issues remain mostly absent, except to mention that civil rights leader Bayard Rustin was gay. And despite the course’s origins around the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020, studying the movement is optional.
The curriculum mentions “systemic oppression” and “systemic marginalization,” ideas closely tied to critical race theory and structural racism — terms that have been banned from classrooms in many states.
These concepts have their origins in legal theory and refer to the ways in which racism is embedded in the legal system, the education system, and other institutions.
The course framework also reinstates the term “intersectionality,” the study of how race, class, gender, sexuality, and other identities overlap and shape individuals’ experiences of the world. And the course now requires teaching on black feminism and police violence.
The College Board did not respond Wednesday to questions about why certain topics are excluded. But Brandi Waters, lead author of the course framework and chair of the AP African American Studies program, said in a statement, “This is the course I wish I had in high school. I hope that every interested student will have the opportunity to take it.
The course will launch for credit next fall and is currently being taught in a pilot program in 700 schools across 40 states.
Since the College Board officially released a curriculum in February, the course has been sure to cause headaches for the organization. The course was subject to repeated revisions, tense political negotiations, and intense scrutiny from academics.
It didn’t help that the College Board initially hid from academics and the public the extent of its discussions with Florida policymakers regarding course content. The state’s governor, Ron DeSantis, a Republican presidential candidate, has signed several laws against what he considers liberal orthodoxy in public schools.
In emails and meetings with College Board staff, Florida education officials have repeatedly raised concerns about specific elements of the classroom framework, such as intersectionality.
After these discussions, the Board removed some of the disputed content, although Governor DeSantis announced that he would not allow the course to be offered in Florida.
Then, after intense pressure from prominent black studies scholars, the organization declared that it had made mistakes in its dealings with the state and promised to revise the course again and work in close collaboration with academics.
In revising the curriculum, the College Board said it was guided by subject matter experts and feedback from teachers and students. The review, however, took place in a highly politicized environment. Dozens of Republican-led states have passed laws restricting teaching about critical race theory, structural racism and gender. The College Board did not respond to questions about whether it considered these laws in the review process.
The College Board began developing the class in 2020, hoping to capture young people’s interest in contemporary racial issues. The class also aimed to diversify the group of students who enroll in Advanced Placement, a long-standing goal of the school board.
Amid the rapid decline of the SAT, the Advanced Placement program has become the largest revenue generator for the College Board, a nonprofit organization, and African American studies is one of several new courses it has developed in an attempt to attract new students to the program.
The course format also represents a change.
There will be an African American Studies exam, but 10 percent of the final grade will be determined by a research project on a topic chosen by students: in previous versions of the course framework, the project accounted for 20 percent of the final grade.
Traditionally, AP courses end with timed tests, graded 1 to 5, in which students must earn a score of 3 or higher to be eligible to earn college credit, regardless of their performance in class. But given the deep disparities in how low-income, black and Hispanic students perform on these tests, the Council is increasingly experimenting with courses that result in projects or presentations.
The new AP course contains many topics that are typically absent from the American high school curriculum, ranging from the achievements of ancient African civilizations to black women’s resistance to sexual violence under slavery.
The final frame also adds more information about black sports figures, including NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who knelt during the national anthem to protest police killings of black Americans.