JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – As a feud over an African American studies course continues between Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration and the College Board, the governor said Monday that Florida will “look to re-evaluate” its relationship with the organization.
“This College Board, like, nobody elected them to anything. They’re just kind of there, and they’re providing service. So you can either utilize those services or not. And they’ve provided these AP (Advanced Placement) courses for a long time. But, you know, there are probably some other vendors who may be able to do that job as good, or maybe even a lot better,” DeSantis said during a news conference in Naples.
Tension between Florida education officials and the College Board became public last month after the state objected to several topics that were proposed for inclusion in an Advanced Placement African American studies course that was being developed.
The Florida Department of Education sent a letter to the College Board citing topics that were initially planned for the course, including “Black queer studies” and the “reparations movement,” and essentially saying the state would not offer the course unless changes were made. The College Board develops Advanced Placement courses, which are college-level classes offered to high-school students.
The College Board on Feb. 1 released an updated framework for the course that scrubbed the topics that the department took issue with, as well as works of various authors — also called into question by the department — that would have been required in the course. It also sought to dispel that it was making the changes because of Florida’s objections.
“No states or districts have seen the official framework that is released, much less provided feedback on it. This course has been shaped only by the input of experts and long-standing AP principles and practices,” the organization said in a statement that accompanied the framework.
The Florida education department responded to the updated framework in a Feb. 7 letter. The department’s Office of Articulation highlighted a series of communications that it said had taken place with the College Board since early last year.
“That FDOE and The College Board have been communicating since January 2022 regarding the proposed course is remarkable. We do appreciate the regular, two-way verbal and written dialogue on this important topic,” the department’s letter said.
Without accepting the revised course framework, the department said it is looking forward to “reviewing your complete and official resubmission of the course” for next school year.
But in a statement posted to its website Saturday, the College Board expressed regret at not pushing back against the DeSantis administration.
“We deeply regret not immediately denouncing the Florida Department of Education’s slander, magnified by the DeSantis administration’s subsequent comments, that African American Studies ‘lacks educational value.’ Our failure to raise our voice betrayed Black scholars everywhere and those who have long toiled to build this remarkable field,” the statement said.
Khalil Muhammad, a professor of History, Race, and Public Policy at Harvard Kennedy School said the College Board has ultimately found itself in a controversy of its own making.
“It has attempted to explain away correspondence between the Florida Department of Education and members of the College Board around the question of what is the content of the African American Studies curriculum,” Muhammad said.
Muhammad is one of more than 800 professors who signed an open letter in defense of the AP African American studies course. He said educators want the original material restored to reflect the true content of African American studies.
“The democracy that we are actually proud of, the one that has birthright citizenship for the children of immigrants, is one that Black people fought hard for, not because it was granted to them, but because they demanded it. And that’s a true lesson for what it means to be an American patriot, to fight for the very principles that we’ve often struggled to live up to. And to me, that is the greatest lesson of all from African American studies, or African American history, and it’d be a shame that much of the rest of the country will be able to appreciate that lesson, and students there in Florida will not,” he said.
Asked about the College Board’s statement Monday, DeSantis again took shots at what he called “indoctrination” in education.
“The College Board was the one that, in a Black studies course, put queer theory in. Not us, they did that. They were the ones that put in intersectionality. They put in other types of neo-Marxism into the proposed syllabus,” the governor said.
Flanked by state legislative leaders, DeSantis said he has “already talked” with House Speaker Paul Renner, R-Palm Coast, about re-evaluating the state’s use of the College Board’s products.
In addition to Advanced Placement courses, the College Board also creates the SAT test that evaluates prospective college students on reading, math, writing and language and is factored into higher-education admissions.
“I think the Legislature is going to look to re-evaluate kind of how Florida’s doing that. Of course, our universities can or can’t accept College Board courses for credit. Maybe they’ll do others. And then also just whether our universities do the SAT versus the ACT. I think they do both. But we’re going to evaluate kind of how that process goes,” DeSantis said.
The 2023 legislative session is slated to start March 7, and various proposals targeting what DeSantis calls “trendy ideology” have been floated for consideration.
Meanwhile, the DeSantis administration’s rejection of the African American studies course has drawn ire from Black state lawmakers and religious leaders. Prominent civil-rights attorney Ben Crump also has threatened to file a lawsuit against the administration because of the move.
Sen. Shevrin Jones, D-Miami Gardens, accused DeSantis of potentially threatening educational access for Florida students if the state severs ties with the College Board.
“Imagine this, the Gov is willing to sink the entire ship, denying students of educational access, all for what? ‘Wokeness’, which is really anti-Blackness, racism, and the epitome of TRUE indoctrination,” Jones said in a Twitter post Monday.