Arkansas education officials have announced that an Advanced Placement course on African American studies will not count toward a student’s graduation credit, sparking criticism from Black lawmakers and educators. The course, which is offered by the College Board, is a pilot program that explores the history, culture, and politics of African Americans in the United States.
Course not recognized by state standards
The Arkansas Department of Education said in a statement on Monday that the course could not be part of the state’s advanced placement course offerings since it was still a pilot program and had not been vetted by the state yet. The department cited a state law enacted this year that places restrictions on how race is taught in school but did not say the course violated those prohibitions.
The department said the class, which is offered at a handful of schools in Arkansas, could still count toward students’ grade point averages. However, it would not be recognized as a graduation requirement or weighted the same as other AP courses offered in the state.
The department also said that the course may not articulate into college credit, since the College Board had not offered an exam for students during the 2022-23 school year. The department said it encouraged the teaching of all American history and supported rigorous courses not based on opinions or indoctrination.
College Board defends course as rigorous and relevant
The College Board, which administers the AP program, said it rejected the notion that its course was indoctrination. The College Board said it had revised its course framework following feedback from educators and experts, and that it was committed to providing a balanced and comprehensive curriculum that reflected the diversity and complexity of the African American experience.
The College Board website describes the course as interdisciplinary, touching on literature, arts, humanities, political science, geography and science. The pilot program debuted last school year at 60 schools across the country, and was set to expand to more this year. Six schools were slated to offer the course in Arkansas this year, according to the College Board. They include Little Rock Central High School, known for the 1957 desegregation crisis.
The College Board said it shared in the surprise, confusion, and disappointment of students and teachers who had planned to take or teach the course this year. The College Board said it had heard countless stories from the classroom about how the course opened minds, changed lives, and provided a much richer understanding of the country.
Black lawmakers and educators condemn decision as discriminatory
The Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus said the decision by the education department sent a message that African American studies were not important or valued in Arkansas. The caucus said the decision was discriminatory and violated the civil rights of students who wanted to learn about their heritage and history.
The caucus also said the decision was inconsistent with the state’s standards for other AP courses, which did not require state approval or exams to be offered for credit. The caucus said it would work with legislators, educators, parents, and students to reverse the decision and ensure that African American studies were taught in Arkansas schools.
Several educators who had planned to teach or take the course also expressed their frustration and disappointment with the decision. They said the course was relevant, rigorous, and respectful of different perspectives. They said they hoped the decision would be reconsidered and that they would continue to advocate for more inclusive and diverse education in Arkansas.