AP African American Studies Controversy: Will Coleman Resign?

Written by Amy Blitchok
Published on February 14, 2023 · Updated on March 23, 2023

AP African American Studies Controversy: Will Coleman Resign?

Written by Amy Blitchok
Published on February 14, 2023 · Updated on March 23, 2023

In Florida, Governor Ron DeSantis has been fighting to change the curriculum in the state’s AP African American Studies course, claiming that the current material is what he calls “woke indoctrination.” 

The College Board, which oversees not only the Advanced Placement program but also the SAT college admission program recently released a revised framework that diminishes topics like Black Lives Matter and reparations while also eliminating important black voices including Angela Davies and Kimberlé Crenshaw. New documents show that the state and the College Board were collaborating before the new guidelines were released.

As a result of these revelations, the National Black Coalition is just one organization that is demanding that the College Board CEO, David Coleman resign from his position. 

The College Board is claiming that “contemporary events like the Black Lives Matter movement, reparations, and mass incarceration were optional topics in the pilot course. Our lack of clarity allowed the narrative to arise that political forces had 'downgraded' the role of these contemporary movements and debates in the AP class." 

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) is celebrating the new course outline saying that the 19 topics that were removed from the curriculum, represent topics that are contradictory to Florida law and are considered “discriminatory and historically fictional.”

Several major news organizations, including the Daily Caller and USA Today, have reported that documents show that the FDOE and the College Board were in talks about the course revisions in early 2022, giving the impression that the changes were politically influenced and motivated. 

The College Board denies that it made changes based on pressure from Florida and its governor. In an exchange between NPR reporter Mary Louise Kelly and Colemen, he had this to say "As is always the case in AP, our selection of topics for this course has been guided by feedback from educators, disciplinary experts, and principles that have long shaped AP courses. Your letter claims that we removed 19 topics that were present in the pilot framework at the behest of FDOE. We need to clarify that no topics were removed because they lacked educational value.”

Perhaps to help mitigate the situation, the College Board has also said that while they are proud of the new course, they did make some mistakes. “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."

The College Board continues to deny that it was influenced by Florida or any other state; David Johns, director of the National Black Coalition has called the unfolding events “deeply disturbing.”

In a statement, Johns went on to say, “It is now clear, to the public, that the College Board’s leadership cared more about political approval from radical anti-Black, anti-LGBTQ, anti-truth extremists than making sure our children’s education prepares them for the future, and teaches them, in an age-appropriate way, the uncensored, and full history of the United States. The fact that the College Board not only catered to, coordinated with, and then capitulated to the DeSantis administration, but then also attempted to cover it up with collusion makes matters worse."   

Educators and activists are joining the call for Coleman’s resignation. In fact, many claim that changes to the AP African American Studies course is just yet another example of Coleman falling short of the organization’s mission and leaving minorities to pay the price. 

In 2018, after the mass shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland Florida, the College Board and Coleman in particular received harsh criticism after they appeared to try to capitalize on the event to highlight the Advanced Placement program.

At the time, Coleman released a letter referring to a speech made by shooting survivor X Gonzalez (previously Emma Gonzalez), saying "One of the things that makes Emma's speech so striking is that it is infused with references to her AP Government class. At a time of utmost passion, she insists that she has been trained in evidence."    

The College Board later apologized, but there was more controversy to come. In 2019, several advocacy groups raised challenges to the use of the SAT and ACT as part of the University of California’s admissions process. They eventually sued, claiming that the tests were inherently biased when it came to English as Second Language students, those with disabilities, and students from low-income families. While the College Board strongly disagreed with the premise of the suit, the university system did agree to not use the scores in the admissions process through 2025.

Before becoming CEO of the College Board, Coleman was the co-founder of the group that developed the controversial Common Core State Standards. While the standards were meant to make math and reading classes more rigorous, many educators found them problematic and discriminatory.

While it remains to be seen whether Coleman will step down, people like Akil Bello, a senior director at FairTest, a group that works to limit the use of standardized testing will continue to call for him to be fired. "[Coleman] is more focused on trying to promote his product" than "offering equity solutions and addressing historic wrongs. This is not an educational leader," stated Bello. 

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