The College Board said on Monday that it would revise its Advanced Placement African American studies course, less than three months after releasing it to a barrage of criticism from scholars, who accused the board of omitting key concepts and bending to political pressure from Gov. Ron DeSantis, who had said he would not approve the curriculum for use in Florida.
While written in couched terms, the College Board’s statement appeared to acknowledge that in its quest to offer the course to as many students as possible — including those in conservative states — it watered down key concepts.
“In embarking on this effort, access was our driving principle — both access to a discipline that has not been widely available to high school students, and access for as many of those students as possible,” the College Board wrote on its website. “Regrettably, along the way those dual access goals have come into conflict.”
The board, which did not respond immediately to an interview request, said on its website that a course development committee and experts within the Advanced Placement staff would determine the changes “over the next few months.”
The College Board, a billion-dollar nonprofit that administers the SAT and A.P. courses, ran headlong into a conflict between two sides unlikely to find any room for compromise. Black studies scholars believe that concepts the board de-emphasized — like reparations, Black Lives Matter and intersectionality — are foundational to the college-level discipline of African American studies. Conservatives — politicians, activists and some parents — believe the field is an example of liberal orthodoxy, and they are concerned that schools have focused too much on issues such as racism and systemic oppression.
Some leading scholars in Black studies have signed petitions calling on the College Board to revise the course, and are planning a nationwide day of protest on May 3 around “freedom to teach and to learn.” Civil rights groups and teachers’ union leaders are also set to participate.
The College Board, which relies on state participation to administer its courses and tests, had denied that politics had anything to do with its changes to the curriculum. But over the course of last year, the board repeatedly discussed the content of the class with Florida officials, who objected to specific ideas that were later removed or de-emphasized.
In January, Mr. DeSantis announced that Florida would not allow the course to be offered in its high schools, saying that it was not “historically accurate” and violated state law.
In its written statement, the College Board said an updated course, “shaped by the development committee and subject matter experts from A.P., will ensure that those students who do take this course will get the most holistic possible introduction to African American studies.”
Some experts are wary. Cheryl Harris, a legal scholar at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a leading thinker in the field of critical race theory, has helped organize the May 3 protest. In an interview on Monday, she said she hoped the College Board had learned that it could not appease a political movement that, in her words, was seeking to “censor and suppress” ideas.
An analysis last year by the education publication Chalkbeat found that 36 states had moved toward restricting education on race.
Professor Harris argued that scholars whose ideas had been removed from the Advanced Placement course should be included in the process to revise the curriculum, to re-establish trust within the discipline and “bring some degree of transparency” to the development process.
She named, among others, Kimberlé Crenshaw, the originator of the concept of intersectionality, which refers to the complex ways that overlapping facets of identity, such as race, class, sex and gender, shape individual experiences of the world.
The College Board has had high hopes for the course, introducing it at a glittery reception in February at the National Museum of African American History and Culture, part of the Smithsonian. In its recent statement, the board said that interest in the African American studies class was widespread across the country, with 800 schools and 16,000 students expected to take the pilot course during the next school year, up from 60 schools this year.
Matthew Guterl, a professor of Africana and American studies at Brown, had criticized the curriculum as “lacking the intellectual heft and moral urgency” that students needed. Reacting to the news that the College Board planned to revise the curriculum once again, he said, “They may now realize that they can’t be supplicants to Ron DeSantis any longer.”
Anemona Hartocollis contributed reporting.