Published February 9, 2023
Although the College Board’s revised AP African-American Studies (APAAS) curriculum is a very real — if incomplete — win for Ron DeSantis, Florida’s governor has not yet declared victory and accepted the restructured APAAS course. On the contrary, as reported by the Daily Caller, DeSantis’s Department of Education (FDOE) has just sent a remarkable — and defiant — letter to the College Board.
That letter does two things. First, it requests further information about a possible end run by the College Board around Florida’s Stop WOKE Act, which bars the promotion of critical race theory (CRT) in Florida’s K–12 classrooms. Unless the College Board replies satisfactorily to FDOE’s inquiry, Florida will likely continue to reject APAAS. Second, the FDOE’s letter provides a detailed timeline of its APAAS-related communications with the College Board over the past year. That timeline calls into question the College Board’s repeated public claims that DeSantis and the Stop WOKE Act had no impact whatever on the recently revised APAAS curriculum.
DeSantis’s tenacity in the face of the huge uproar from the left over his already considerable APAAS victory is plenty consequential. By continuing to expose the College Board’s distortions, along with its interventions in what are by right state and local curricular decisions, DeSantis is shaking America’s education establishment to its foundations. That establishment has dragged control of our schools away from parents and placed it in the hands of academic ideologues instead. Thanks to DeSantis, the power of America’s education establishment is now in doubt.
FDOE’s letter makes note of a recent NPR interview with College Board CEO David Coleman and the director of the College Board’s APAAS program, Brandi Waters. In that interview, Coleman says that the College Board began to craft the revised APAAS curriculum — unveiled on February 1 of this year — in September of 2022, and “largely” completed its curricular changes by December. (Note that ambiguous, “largely.”) Coleman denied to NPR that the College Board had in any way caved to “political pressure” from Governor DeSantis. After all, said Coleman, the College Board announced that the revised APAAS curriculum (created between September and December of 2022) would be publicly released on February 1, “far before the governor spoke up.”
In that same NPR interview, Coleman denies that some of the radical readings DeSantis objects to have been removed from APAAS at all. According to Coleman, the College Board has gone out of its way to get special permission to reprint CRT theorist Kimberlé Crenshaw’s famous piece on intersectionality, as well as poems by the famous radical Audre Lorde. Those resources, and others like them, says Coleman, far from being cut from APAAS, will be “lifted up” and made available in a special free resource called “AP Classroom.”
In its letter, the FDOE rightly asks the College Board to provide it with a complete list of these free resources. And what an interesting list that will be. How much radical and CRT-based material will be in “AP Classroom”? Will any such material be balanced by an equal number of resources from black conservatives? Will AP Classroom include critiques of intersectionality and CRT, or only advocacy? Will the College Board seek permissions to reprint such balancing material? In light of the College Board’s deceptive revisions of its controversial AP U.S. History curriculum in 2015, the FDOE is fully justified in seeking such clarification.
There is much more to the FDOE’s letter than that. Florida’s letter also contains a detailed chronology of communications regarding APAAS between the College Board and the FDOE, going back to January of 2022. That chronology casts considerable doubt on the College Board’s version of events. Florida’s chronology shows that the FDOE had been raising concerns since July of 2022 about APAAS’s compliance with the Stop WOKE Act. (The law went into effect on July 1, 2022.) So, while the College Board may have “largely” completed its APAAS revisions between September and December of 2022, Florida’s DOE had raised serious concerns about the course’s content long before DeSantis’s public remarks in January.
In its initial reply to Florida’s concerns, on July 22, 2022, as the FDOE’s letter makes clear, the College Board “responded (inaccurately) in writing how the course did not conflict with Florida law.” That false denial began to come undone on July 25, when the FDOE began its own official review of the course. The College Board asked for an update on Florida’s course-review process in early August, but was told that the review was still in progress. Following this, the FDOE says that the College Board provided what now seems like inaccurate information on the number of Florida schools piloting the course.
Although it is not in the FDOE’s letter, I should note that my own public critique of the APAAS curriculum appeared here at NRO on September 12, 2022.
Then, on September 23, 2022, the FDOE notified the College Board that it would not accept APAAS without revisions. So, by David Coleman’s own account, the College Board’s revision of APAAS began in the very same month that Florida demanded changes to the course. (This is an abbreviated account of the FDOE’s chronology. For the full chronology, see the original letter.)
On November 16, the College Board acknowledged that a revised APAAS would be forthcoming, but added that “systemic” marginalization and “intersectionality” were “integral elements of the course and would not be removed.” On January 12, the FDOE sent a letter to the College Board “indicating that the course could not be approved as written.” (I reported on that letter here.)
The next item in FDOE’s timeline reads as follows: “By no coincidence, we were grateful to see that the College Board’s revised February 1, 2023, framework removed 19 topics, many of which FDOE cited as conflicting with Florida law. . . .” The FDOE’s chronology goes on to list the various topics removed by the College Board from the original APAAS.
In short, FDOE’s chronology explodes the College Board’s claims that its revisions had nothing to do with Florida’s objections to APAAS. Florida began raising private concerns about the content of APAAS with the College Board from the moment the Stop WOKE Act became law, and continued to do so for months thereafter. Florida’s concerns were conveyed to the College Board repeatedly, well before it undertook revisions (and well before my own critique of APAAS was published).
It’s difficult to avoid the impression that Florida is highlighting this chronology because it objects to the College Board’s misleading —a nd apparently downright false — claims that DeSantis’s pushback had nothing to do with the revised APAAS curriculum.
I would add that the entire framing of this issue in the mainstream press is wrongheaded. Not only the NPR piece referenced by the FDOE, but this piece from Vox, and many others, suggest that the College Board should in no way allow “political pressure” to influence its AP course curricula. Apparently, only scholars and teachers should be consulted, as if today’s teachers and scholars were entirely apolitical professionals.
That’s backward. K–12 curricula are supposed to be devised by states and local school districts, as representatives of the voting public. The idea that the College Board is morally obligated to ignore governors — and even state laws — is absurd. The real outrage is the College Board’s use of unelected and openly politicized professors to nullify state and local control of the curriculum.
What’s worse, the College Board positively brags about its apparently quite false claim that the desires of duly elected governors have no influence whatever on its decisions. The message seems to be: “College Board to states: Drop Dead.” This is why I’ve argued that the only way to restore state and local control over the curriculum is to break the College Board’s monopoly through the utilization of organization such as American Achievement Testing.
So, what happens now? Well, it’s at least conceivable that, even if the College Board continues to “lift up” radical and CRT-based content through special APAAS curricular resources, Florida might still approve APAAS. I don’t see that happening, however, unless many additional resources from both moderate and conservative perspectives are also provided. A lot depends on exactly how all this will be done.
At this point, Florida has every right to be suspicious of the College Board’s honesty and intentions. To all appearances, the College Board has not been honest with Florida on a number of counts. It apparently falsely denied that the original APAAS curriculum violated Florida law. And it at least seems to have given misleading information on the number of Florida schools hosting the pilot program. Since February 1, moreover, the College Board, to all appearances, has been telling a dishonest public story about its dealings with Florida. Why, then, should Florida trust the College Board to properly balance this course, even if it were to promise to do so? I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
In any case, DeSantis has exposed the College Board’s apparent dishonesty. More profoundly, the contradiction between the College Board’s de facto AP monopoly and the ability of states and localities to control the curriculum and their own schools has been laid bare. However the College Board tries to climb out of the hole it has dug for itself, the lessons of this sorry episode will not soon be forgotten. We have Ron DeSantis — whose political courage continues to amaze — to thank for that.
Stanley Kurtz is a Senior Fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center. Beyond his work with Education and American Ideals, Mr. Kurtz is a key contributor to American public debates on a wide range of issues from K-12 and higher education reform, to the challenges of democratization abroad, to urban-suburban policies, to the shaping of the American left’s agenda. Mr. Kurtz has written on these and other issues for various journals, particularly National Review Online (where he is a contributing editor).