AP African American studies course is watered down after pressure from Gov. Ron Desantis

The College Board has revised its framework for an Advanced Placement African American studies course, cutting material that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’ administration said had a left-wing bias.

The College Board and many of the academic experts consulted on the framework insisted that they would not give in to political pressure and that the revisions were long-planned. But the changes released Wednesday, at the start of Black History Month, make concessions that directly address conservatives’ concerns.

In the revised syllabus for the course, the College Board, a nonprofit that oversees the AP program nationwide, removed the names of several Black authors identified as problematic by Florida officials.

Amirah Riddick and other students in an Advanced Placement African American Studies class at Brooklyn Preparatory High School on Oct. 19, 2022, in Brooklyn, N.Y.Marc J. Franklin / NBC News

Earlier this month, state officials announced it had rejected the course due the six areas of concern — “Black Queer Studies,” “Intersectionality,” “Movement for Black Lives,” “Black Feminist Literary Thought,” “The Reparations Movement” and “Black Struggle in the 21st Century” — and works by Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, bell hooks, Angela Davis and other Black authors.

In the revised syllabus for the course, the College Board made substantial revisions to sections on intersectionality. And gone is a section on the Movement for Black Lives.

Instead, in a section for suggested research project topics — which contains the caveat that they are “not a required part of the course framework that is formally adopted by states” — there are suggestions on reparations, the Black Lives Matter movement and, in a new addition, Black conservatism.

The content of the revised syllabus were described in detail to NBC News by David Blight, a professor of history and African American studies at Yale University. Blight was among the many academics to whom The College Board sent the the revised syllabus.

“I am now disappointed to learn that a major section on the end of this curriculum was removed from an earlier version,” Blight said.

“I support the course as a creation of academic freedom,” he added. “It took a lot of people to create this half-century tradition of African American studies and students in every state. … No legislature, governor, or school board has the right to simply cancel it and stand in the way.”

AP African-American Studies pilot program
Gloria Ansah, 17, takes notes during AP African-American Studies at Overland High School on Nov. 1, 2022, in Aurora, Colo. The course is part of a national pilot class that about 60 schools nationwide are participating in.RJ Sangosti / Denver Post via Getty Images

The New York Times first reported on the revised framework.

Throughout the revised syllabus are other changes made to sections that Florida officials called attention to.

  • In addition to the section on the Movement for Black Lives, a section on the “Black Struggle in the 21st Century” has been eliminated. The central suggested reading on that section — works by the author Robin D.G. Kelley — does not appear at all in the updated version.
  • The previous version included a weekly instructional focus on “The Black Feminist Movement, Womanism, and Intersectionality.” In the revised version, intersectionality is mentioned only in the sample project topics — a list that the framework says is only “for illustrative purposes.”
  • Similarly, the previous version included a dedicated topic section for on the reparations movement, but the revised version mentions “the reparations debate” only as a possible sample project topic. The revised version also removes all mentions to Ta-Nehisi Coates and his book “The Case for Reparations.” The earlier version included that and other works by Coates as “considered reading.”
  • The previous version included a topic titled “Black Queer Studies,” while the updated version does not at all include the word “queer.” It does feature a topic titled “Black Women and Movements in the 20th Century” that includes language that “many Black lesbians, in particular, did not see or feel a space for them in the civil rights movement.” The revised curriculum in this section proposes the reading of Toni Morrison, whereas the earlier version suggested multiple authors, including Cathy Cohen, Roderick Ferguson, and E. Patrick Johnson.
  • The revised section on “Black Feminist Literary Thought” maintains many of the same topic guidance on various women’s movements from the original version, but it removes all the authors objected to by Florida officials and moves the focus of the unit away from modern activists.
  • Also gone from the revised course framework are any mention of the specific authors pointed to by Florida officials in the first version, including Crenshaw and Davis.

In a statement to NBC News, DeSantis spokesperson Bryan Griffin said that the Florida Department of Education was currently reviewing the new course framework “for corrections and compliance with Florida law.”

This month, DeSantis’ administration announced that the new AP course would not be taught in Florida high schools. The state education department claimed the material was not historically accurate and violated the state’s “Stop WOKE Act,” a law DeSantis signed last year that effectively curtails conversations about race in schools.

The College Board subsequently announced it would release a new, updated framework for the course, saying that the revised material had been under development since March 2022. The timing of the College Board’s announcement and response prompted questions whether the organization was bowing to the pressures created by the DeSantis decision; the ordeal elicited an outcry among academics and Democrats, many of whom urged the organization to not appease DeSantis.

The nonprofit organization maintains that the revisions were based wholly on the input of educators and experts in the field, including 300 professors of African American studies across the U.S.

“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 College Board said in a statement Wednesday announcing the revised curriculum.

The organization added that “this process was completed in December 2022” — before DeSantis’ administration announced its actions against the course.

The organization’s statement nonetheless acknowledged “an overall reduction in the breadth of the course.

In interviews with NBC News preceding the release of the revised curriculum, many academic experts responsible for creating the framework stuck to the College Board’s explanation that the changes had been in progress long before Florida’s criticism.

Some, however, are now suggesting that the changes may have been the only way to continue teaching the course at all to students in Florida.

“Do we want a world with African American studies or a world without it?” said Teresa Reed, the dean of the School of Music at the University of Louisville and a member of the development committee for the AP course’s framework.

“I unequivocally think we want a world with it,” added Reed, though she continued to deny that the revisions were at all related to the Florida criticism.

“I understand why it would be effective to draw a cause-and-effect relationship, but I can tell you emphatically that no cause and effect relationship exists,” Reed said.

But when asked for examples of revisions made to the course that were not related to the items of concern expressed by Florida officials, Reed said she was unable to provide any.

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