Social Studies

College Board Releases AP African American Studies Framework, Runs Into Anti-CRT Laws

By Ileana Najarro — February 01, 2023 | Updated: February 01, 2023 6 min read
In this June 23, 1963, file photo, the Rev. Martin Luther King joins Detroit's Freedom March. During the critical era of the 1950s and '60s, King, who led the 250,000-strong March on Washington in 1963, and Malcolm X were colossal 20th century figures, representing two different tracks: mass non-violent protest and getting favorable outcomes "by any means necessary."
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Updated: This story has been updated to include comment from the College Board on New York Times coverage of the framework.

Against the political clash in Florida over its pilot course in Black history, the College Board hasnow released its official framework for its new AP African American Studies course. It will launch nationally in the 2024-25 school year. The unveiling of the new framework comes on the first day of Black History Month.

Theinterdisciplinary course that allows students to earn college credits covers history, literature, and the arts through the study of various required topics and primary sources that span from ancient African societies to the 2020 election of Democrat Kamala Harris as vice president of the United States. The framework published Wednesday was completed in December 2022. It incorporates feedback from students and teachers in pilot courses offered this school year in about 60 schools across the country, and replaces the pilot course framework, College Board officials said.

It also features a capstone research project where students apply the analytical and historical thinking skills learned throughout the course to dive deeper into a topic of choice—so long as it doesn’t defy laws that have in recent years placed restrictions on teaching and learning about race and racism in a number of states. (There are no required topics for this project.)

“No topic of any sort that you might imagine is off base, unless of course, a local state or locality decides that they want to, in some way, say what topics they do or don’t want students exploring in that way,” said David Coleman, CEO of the College Board in an interview. “We have to reserve that right to them, but I see no reason to assume that will be done.”

Required course topics, as listed in the framework’s units one through four, however, must be taught in all schools offering the course, Coleman stressed. Otherwise, schools risk losing their AP license for it, and students would lose their AP college credits, as the organization has stated previously.

Since January 2021, 44 states have introduced bills or taken other steps to limit how topics of race and gender are taught or discussed in K-12 schools. Eighteen have passed bans and restrictions through legislation or policies, including Florida.

The new AP course in African American history itself drew national headlines in recent weeks after the Florida Department of Education issued a letter to the College Board banning the course for lacking “educational value and historical accuracy” and for allegedly defying state law. Last week, the College Board sent a letter to its members stressing that no state would have sway over the final contents of the course.

“I wish people would put aside, for a minute, their political colors and look instead at the contents of the course,” Coleman said. “Anyone who reads the course outline, any student who takes the class will find an unflinching encounter with the facts and evidence of African American history and culture and they’re expected to think for themselves.”

“There’s so much in this that is fresh, surprising, alive and I actually think, there might be a remarkable consensus across the country that it’s worth studying and worth knowing,” he added.

On Wednesday, The New York Times reported that the new framework omitted several scholars and topics from a pilot draft following criticism from Florida education officials and Gov. Ron DeSantis in January.

The Times detailed that the organization “purged the names of many Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, the queer experience and Black feminism. It ushered out some politically fraught topics, like Black Lives Matter, from the formal curriculum.”

In response, the College Board said “The Times argues the revisions were made in response to Florida, despite the fact that the College Board has time-stamped records of revisions from December 22, 2022. The article simply ignored that the core revisions were substantially complete – including the removal of all secondary sources – by December 22, weeks before Florida’s objections were shared.”

The goal of the new course

The new AP offering has been in the works for some time with the first round of pilot courses wrapping up this school year.

“We were able to hear from students how much they loved the art, literature, they loved engaging with primary sources,” said Brandi Waters, senior director and program manager of African American Studies with College Board, about feedback from the pilot courses.

“Sometimes that was more approachable to them, to see an individual person’s life come alive on the page,” she added.

Students also shared how they enjoyed seeing things stretch across history, literature, datasets, political science, and art.

Some educators see the course as a way to expand interest and access to AP courses, especially among Black students. While Black students made up about 14 percent of the nation’s class of 2021 graduates, only about 8 percent of AP exam test takers were Black that year, according to the College Board. Those are similar statistics to the class of 2020.

The AP program consulted more than 300 professors of African American Studies from more than 200 colleges, including dozens of Historically Black Colleges and Universities, for guidance in crafting the course intended to be as inclusive as possible.

“Everyone’s here in the course, whether it’s Black artists and inventors, Black women and men, including gay Americans, who have played pivotal roles in the civil rights movement, the course pays a lot of attention to people of faith from all backgrounds and the profound role of faith within the Black community,” Coleman said.

Waters also emphasized the course’s global scope and the diversity of Black lives it seeks to capture. For example, in unit three, students learn about the “great migration [out of the U.S. South] ... with Afro-Caribbean migration to the U.S. side-by-side and see how these different Black diasporic populations are responding to shared but slightly different pressures and how they are forging a new community within the U.S.”

The pilot framework was cut down in its breadth since teachers and students could see as early as three months into the program they were running out of time to cover contemporary topics, Coleman said.

Even in the reduction, topics were added, though College Board officials did not specify to Education Week which as it did not provide pilot framework for comparison.

“We’re trying to let the official framework read for itself,” Coleman said.

The research project piece, new from the pilot version of the course, is meant to create breathing room rather than racing through contemporary topics toward the end of the largely chronological course.

It requires the use of at least four sources, at least two being “secondary sources that reveal distinct and differentiated perspectives on the topic the student selects,” according to the framework. Example topics provided in the course framework include:

  • Evangelicals and the international movement against the slave trade
  • Black Lives Matter: origins, impacts, critics
  • Reparations debates in the U.S./the Americas
  • The Chicago Black Renaissance: major works, figures, influences
  • African American cultural ties to Africa
  • Queer life and expression in Black communities
  • The AIDS crisis and African American health
  • Intersectionality and the dimensions of Black experience

Some of these topics, including reparations and the academic concept of intersectionality, were among those listed by the Florida commissioner of education, Manny Diaz, Jr. in a tweet as examples of how the pilot course allegedly contained “Critical Race Theory and other obvious violations of Florida law.”

All of these topics and others shared in the course framework are simply recommendations, Coleman stressed. The framework itself notes that the provided list “is a partial one for illustrative purposes, and can be refined by local states and districts.”

“If states or local districts decide in any way to focus those areas or decide there are certain areas they want their young people to be encouraged to look into we have to leave that to them,” he said.

But all the required topics of instruction for the course’s exam are set.

A version of this article appeared in the February 08, 2023 edition of Education Week as College Board Releases AP African American Studies Framework, Runs Into Anti-CRT Laws

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