Social Studies

The Revised AP African American Studies: What’s Been Changed and Why

By Ileana Najarro — December 06, 2023 6 min read
Emmitt Glynn teaches AP African American studies to a group of Baton Rouge Magnet High School students on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023 in Baton Rouge, La. Baton Rouge Magnet High School in Louisiana is one of 60 schools around the country testing the new course, which has gained national attention since it was banned in Florida.
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The College Board, which runs the Advanced Placement course program, has released a revised framework for its AP African American Studies course that restores certain topics previously deemed “optional,” and adds other new required primary and secondary sources.

The framework, which officially launches next fall, was thrust into the national limelight after Florida officials banned the course earlier this year, saying it violated state law constraining how certain topics can be taught.

Nearly 700 schools across 40 states are currently participating in the final pilot round of the course. The 13,000 students involved this year will be eligible to take a year-end course exam that could earn them college credit. Only about 60 schools participated in the first pilot year.

It’s a marquee interdisciplinary course that officials for the nonprofit hope can encourage more students to engage with AP programming and provide access to a discipline rarely offered in high schools.

The new framework, released this morning, responds to a variety of critiques and features new and edited topics and a programming note unique to the course, College Board officials said.

“After we heard clear and principled criticism that the second version of the course framework designated far too much essential content as optional, including some of the foundational concepts, we decided to revise the framework in response to this critique, and also to feedback from students and teachers in the course,” said Brandi Waters, the senior director and program manager of AP African American Studies. “No revisions were made to any versions of the framework at the request or influence of any state.”

In January in Florida, Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis—now a presidential candidate—banned the course. His state commissioner of education claimed the course violated state law restricting how teachers can talk about topics of race in schools. Shortly after the College Board published the preexisting version of the course framework on Feb.1, scholars claimed the nonprofit had edited out key topics to appease Florida officials’ concerns—a charge the College Board denied.

“We were caught off guard, we attempted to protest, to explain what we were doing. We were not especially effective at doing that,” said Trevor Packer, head of the AP program, at the Annual Conference this summer.

On April 24, the nonprofit announced it would revise the framework published in February. Packer said that the experts working on the course would “make further revisions to the framework to restore any of the topics that they would want to restore that we were criticized for cutting.”

What’s new to the course

The revised course framework features various edits that range from adding a whole host of new sources to adding entirely new sections that were previously listed as optional topics for study students could select for a class project—part of the final exam.

New required topics, focusing on African Americans’ contributions to the arts and sports, were some of the ones that students in the pilot program said were most interesting to them, Waters said.

“Part of the pilot process is always to get feedback from scholars, stakeholders, community members, parents, teachers. I actually think the abundance of feedback that we get for this framework is what makes it so special, because we always are in conversation with so many folks about making this course as strong as possible,” she added.

Teachers and students also asked for more options to dig into specific topics. Now, for the first time in an AP course, teachers will get one week for “further explorations.” In that week, they must spend more time exploring a topic of their choosing that is of classroom interest or contemporary relevance.

Examples of topics provided in the framework include the reparations debate, incarceration and abolition, Black foodways and culinary traditions, and local history.

There were also major revisions to some preexisting topics and the addition of new content knowledge. Among the examples: new required information on grassroots organizing, such as the work of the Coordinating Council of Community Organizations to protest school segregation in Chicago; information on the origins and beliefs of the Nation of Islam; and discussion of concepts such as “interlocking systems of oppression” and intersectionality, terms coined by Patricia Hill Collins and Kimberlé Crenshaw, respectively. Crenshaw did not respond to a request for comment.

Interlocking systems of oppression is defined in the course as a concept that describes “how social categories (e.g., race, gender, class, sexuality, ability) are interconnected and considers how their interaction with social systems creates unequal outcomes for individuals.” Intersectionality is defined as “a framework for understanding Black women’s distinct experiences through the interactions of their social, economic, and political identities with systems of inequality and privilege.”

The Florida commissioner of education, Manny Diaz, had listed intersectionality in a January tweet as a topic of concern in the prior version of the course framework. He defined it as “foundational to [critical race theory]” and said it “ranks people based on their race, wealth, gender and sexual orientation.” He also criticized discussion of the reparations movement, claiming that “all points and resources in this study advocate for reparations.”

Florida law bans instruction on critical race theory and “divisive concepts,” such as that “a person, by virtue of his or her race, color, sex, or national origin, bears personal responsibility for and must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress because of actions, in which the person played no part, committed in the past by other members of the same race, color, national origin, or sex.”

The state also drew public scrutiny this summer for publishing its own updated African American history standards which featured instruction on “how slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”

The Florida department of education did not respond to a request for comment.

Arkansas state officials this fall also objected to the new AP course, saying it may not be eligible for high school credit.

What happens now

Asked whether the new framework could complicate states’ adoption of the course, a spokesperson for the College Board said: “Our intent is to try to get this into as many states as possible, but we honestly can’t speculate about what individual states will decide to do.”

In a tweet on Dec. 6, Becky Pringle, president of the National Education Association union wrote: “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.”

In his review of the revised framework, Abul Pitre, chair of the department of Africana Studies at San Francisco State University, said the changes make the framework more robust and well-rounded, especially the additions on the Nation of Islam and Black womanism.

Students currently in the pilot are getting ready for the course’s year-end exam in May. Hundreds of higher education institutions are ready to offer college credit to qualifying scores, the College Board said.

The course will be available nationwide next fall, and the newly revised framework will be the version used, Waters said.

“With this revised framework, we hope that we really struck a nice balance that is faithful to the discipline, while preserving those avenues for students’ continued exploration, particularly into topics of their own interests,” she added.

A version of this article appeared in the January 17, 2024 edition of Education Week as The Revised AP African American Studies: What’s Been Changed and Why

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