This past weekend, the Arkansas Department of Education alerted school districts across the state offering Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies that it would no longer recognize the course, and that students who complete it would not receive high school credit for doing so.
The course is a pilot program, offered to a number of districts across the country at the moment with hopes of expanding it in the next couple of years. Such pilot programs are not uncommon, as they allow College Board, the company that manages AP classes, to fine-tune classes before they’re rolled out nationally. More than 200 colleges and universities have committed to recognizing the high school course for college credit.
Because of its pilot status, however, the state couldn’t approve it, officials claimed, as it supposedly violates a recently passed state law and an executive order from Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders (R) that forbids the teaching of subjects that purportedly push implicit bias.
It’s unclear how the state Department of Education came to the conclusion that the course would push such biases. The LEARNS Act, which became state law in March, also bans the teaching of critical race theory, which conservatives have used in recent years as a boogeyman to wrongly claim that the teaching of U.S. history from nonwhite perspectives is somehow harmful to children. The act also forbids teaching “that would indoctrinate students with ideologies,” which, again, the AP coursework hasn’t been shown to do.
“Arkansas law contains provisions regarding prohibited topics. Without clarity, we cannot approve a pilot that may unintentionally put a teacher at risk of violating Arkansas law,” a statement from Arkansas Department of Education’s Director of Communications Kimberly Mundell read.
AP classes are intended to provide college-level coursework to high school students, giving them both high school as well as college or university credits.
The announcement over the weekend came as classrooms across the state were preparing to begin the AP class on Monday. Little Rock School District announced that, in response to the state’s actions, it is “explor[ing] options that will allow students to fully benefit from [the] course” but is still deciding on what action to take next.
Emails were sent on Saturday morning to districts alerting them that the course wouldn’t be recognized toward students’ high school credit, and indicated that it would be removed from the state’s roster of course offerings.
Jim Ross, a public education watchdog, noted that AP European History would continue to be offered in the state, and described the dropping of the Black American history course “racism pure and simple.”
The action from Arkansas mirrors, in ways, similar actions taken by Florida’s Department of Education, which said that it would not allow the AP African American Studies pilot program to be offered in that state. The course, the department said in January, “is inexplicably contrary to Florida law and significantly lacks educational value.”
In response, College Board adjusted the course so that it could align with Florida’s law restricting the teaching of Black American history. The company later admitted, however, that it was a mistake to appease the DeSantis administration’s demands without pushback.
“There is always debate about the content of a new AP course. That is good and healthy; these courses matter,” College Board said in February. “But the dialogue surrounding AP African American Studies has moved from healthy debate to misinformation.”
“Our failure to raise our voice betrayed Black scholars everywhere and those who have long toiled to build this remarkable field,” College Board added.
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