AP African American Studies class framework announced, already piloted at Baltimore Polytechnic Institute

The official curriculum of the Advanced Placement African American Studies course, a target of criticism among some conservatives, was announced Wednesday — the first day of Black History Month.

The course, offered by the College Board’s Advanced Placement Program, was offered this year as a pilot in about 60 schools nationwide, including Baltimore City’s Polytechnic Institute.


“This course is an unflinching encounter with the facts and evidence of African American history and culture,” said David Coleman, CEO of the College Board, which runs the AP Program, in a news release. “No one is excluded from this course: the Black artists and inventors whose achievements have come to light; the Black women and men, including gay Americans, who played pivotal roles in the civil rights movement; and people of faith from all backgrounds who contributed to the antislavery and civil rights causes. Everyone is seen.”

But the course gained national attention since Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened to ban it in his state. The rejection stirred a new political debate about how schools teach about race.


The curriculum announced Wednesday will guide the course’s expansion to hundreds of additional high schools in the next academic year. It revises the pilot curriculum currently offered at Polytechnic Institute.

College Board officials said developers consulted with professors from more than 200 colleges, including several historically Black institutions, and took input from teachers piloting the class. The course adjustments include new topics, a focus on primary sources and dedicated time for student research projects.

The official curriculum downplays some components that drew criticism from DeSantis and other conservatives. Topics including Black Lives Matter, slavery reparations and queer life are not part of the exam. Instead, they are included only on a sample list that states and school systems can choose from for student projects.

While news coverage of the curriculum announcement suggested that the College Board caved to complaints, board officials said the course revisions were substantially complete before DeSantis shared his objections.

Brandi Waters, senior director, program manager and lead author of the course, said the class works to “seamlessly connect” what has traditionally been taught as a disconnected history. The course breaks down into four units: the origins of the African diaspora; freedom, enslavement and resistance; the practice of freedom; and movements and debates.

“It both immerses young people in what they’ve only gotten in snippets in very disconnected ways, then broadens it to the world stage,” Coleman said. “At the same time, it wonderfully invites them to think for themselves and gives them the space they need to do that.”

Polytechnic Institute junior Kayla Stanton said during a field trip to the Johns Hopkins University in October that she enjoys the class because it focuses on the achievements of Black people instead of just slavery and segregation.

“A lot of times, you hear of cases like Emmett Till, and it’s down-putting,” said Kayla, referring to the 14-year-old in Mississippi who was tortured and lynched in 1955 after being accused of offending a white woman. “It’s nice to learn about our successes instead of our downfalls.”


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In addition to the pilot of the AP course, Baltimore City Public Schools has worked to make its history curriculum more inclusive. In 2019, the system changed lessons to include more history on Black Baltimore through the rollout of a program called BMore Me.

DeSantis, a possible Republican presidential candidate in 2024, said he was blocking the course in Florida because it pushed a political agenda.

“In the state of Florida, our education standards not only don’t prevent, but they require teaching Black history, all the important things. That’s part of our core curriculum,” DeSantis said at a news conference last week. “We want education and not indoctrination.”

A spokesperson for DeSantis on Wednesday said the state education department is reviewing the revised curriculum for compliance with Florida law.

Despite the College Board’s assurances otherwise, the notion that the course changed because of political controversy generated fresh outrage Wednesday.

“To wake up on the first day of Black History Month to news of white men in positions of privilege horse trading essential and inextricably linked parts of Black History, which is American history, is infuriating,” said David Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition.


The Associated Press contributed to this article.