AP African American Studies class debuts at 60 high schools

Published: September 1, 2022 11:31 AM EDT
Masked students in a classroom. Credit: WINK News

The College Board has announced it will begin offering an Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies course at 60 unnamed high schools across the U.S. this fall, CBS News has learned.

The AP program, which gives high school students an opportunity to take college-level courses before graduation, currently covers 38 subjects, including English literature and composition, U.S. government and politics, statistics, and art history.

The AP African American Studies course is the College Board’s first new offering since 2014, according to TIME, and will cover over 400 years of African American history. The curriculum will span several topics, including literature, political science and geography.

This summer, teachers involved in the pilot program’s rollout met at Howard University — a historically Black institution — to review the framework of the course and prepare for launch.

Marlon Williams-Clark, a social studies instructor at Florida State University schools, has taught one of the first classes in a state that has banned teaching critical race theory in public K–12 institutions.

“You can tell there is a thirst [students] have to obtain this knowledge,” he said in an interview with CBS News’ Elaine Quijano and Lana Zak. “I think that this course will be the forerunner for other histories on…marginalized people.”

On why AP European history courses have been offered for years with no African American history counterpart, Williams-Clark said, “What we have to understand is that history is told from the perspective of the winner.”

“I’m very proud of the College Board for taking this step and the work that they have put in to create this course. It is really historic, but it is also something that is very much needed,” he added.

Henry-Louis Gates, Jr., one of the country’s foremost experts on African American history, helped develop the AP African American Studies program. He told TIME that the class “is not CRT. It’s not the [New York Times’] 1619 Project. It is a mainstream, rigorously vetted, academic approach to a vibrant field of study, one half a century old in the American academy, and much older, of course, in historically Black colleges and universities.”

In a statement to CBS News, the College Board said it has been working on this course for nearly a decade, and that it is “designed to offer high school students an inspiring, evidence-based introduction to African American Studies.”

The course will be offered in 200 schools next year, before it’s offered to all interested U.S. high schools starting in the 2024-25 school year. The College Board says the phased rollout will give colleges and universities time to establish accreditation policies that allow students to apply these course credits to their higher education requirements.

The new course comes at a contentious time for race-based education in America. A report from PEN Education found that 137 “educational gag order” bills — which the organization defines as “state legislative efforts to restrict teaching about topics such as race, gender, American history, and LGBTQ+ identities in K–12 and higher education” — have been introduced in 36 states this year. That’s more than double the number of bills introduced last year, when 22 states introduced 54 bills. Six of the seven bills passed this year specifically included race as an impacted educational topic.

Last year, dozens of Republican senators, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, wrote a letter to Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona criticizing the Biden administration’s proposed priorities for teaching diverse American history courses in schools, one of which was titled, “Projects That Incorporate Racially, Ethnically, Culturally, and Linguistically Diverse Perspectives into Teaching and Learning.”

According to the senators, the proposed priorities “double down on divisive, radical, and historically-dubious buzzwords and propaganda.”

“Americans never decided our children should be taught that our country is inherently evil,” the letter read.

While the general public cannot yet view the curriculum itself, the College Board plans to post the course framework in its entirety on the AP Program website in spring 2024.

In a statement, Trevor Packer, the senior vice president of AP and Instruction at the College Board, said the class “will introduce a new generation of students to the amazingly rich cultural, artistic, and political contributions of African Americans.”

“We hope it will broaden the invitation to Advanced Placement and inspire students with a fuller appreciation of the American story,” he added.