The College Board has refuted claims its Advanced Placement African American Studies course contains the same language as a contested standard in Florida’s new African American history curriculum that says middle schoolers should be taught that “slaves developed skills which, in some instances, could be applied for their personal benefit.”
“We are aware that some in Florida have reviewed the Advanced Placement (AP) African American Studies framework and have suggested that the state’s recently approved middle school African American History standards align with our course requirements,” the College Board said in a statement. “We resolutely disagree with the notion that enslavement was in any way a beneficial, productive, or useful experience for African Americans.”
It added: “Unequivocally, slavery was an atrocity that cannot be justified by examples of African Americans’ agency and resistance during their enslavement.”
Frances Presley Rice, who was among the 13-member work group that devised the state’s new African American history standards that have faced widespread backlash, made the comparison in a statement in which she also defends the state curriculum.
“Significantly, the highly-praised AP African American History course has nearly the exact language and sentiment as is in the text under question,” she wrote on her Facebook account. “The critics who demanded that Florida adopt the AP course months prior are now decrying teaching this fact in Florida’s schools. The hypocrisy is astounding.”
Presley Rice referred to a portion of the AP African American Studies course framework that states: “In addition to agricultural work, enslaved people learned specialized trades and worked as painters, carpenters, tailors, musicians, and healers in the North and South.” It said that once free, African Americans used these skills to provide for themselves and others.
Presley Rice did not immediately return a request for comment. Three members of the work panel previously told NBC News that she and another member, William Allen, advocated for the most criticized language in the curriculum. The members said Allen advocated for including that enslaved people benefited from skills that they learned, and Presley Rice pushed to include that students learn about “violence perpetrated against and by African Americans.”
The College Board, a nonprofit group that administers the SATs and AP courses, said: “Unit two of the current framework includes a discussion about the skills enslaved people brought with them that enslavers exploited as well as other skills developed in America that were valuable to their enslavers. Enslaved Africans and their descendants used those skills to survive, build community, and create culture in resistance to their oppression.”
The College Board has been accused of caving to political pressure from Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis, who is seeking the Republican presidential nomination. In January, DeSantis blocked the AP African American Studies curriculum from being taught in the state, saying it was “historically inaccurate” and violated state law. Less than three months later, the College Board said it would revise the course. DeSantis has defended the new standards while also distancing himself from them. The standards' critics include Vice President Kamala Harris, as well as Black Republicans serving in Congress. Florida’s Board of Education was required to change its standards for African American history education, among other things, to comply with House Bill 7, also known as the Stop WOKE Act, that DeSantis signed into law in April 2022. The College Board said a final framework for its course will be released later this year.
Miami-Dade School Board member Steve Gallon, who has been outspoken in his criticism of the new curriculum, said in an interview Tuesday that there are three major distinctions between the new state standards and the AP African American Studies course, including the language in each and the ages of children who have access to each.
“Young children don’t have the capacity to debate and determine the veracity of some of these notions,” he said. Additionally, he said, AP courses are voluntary.
“The other is not,” he said, referring to the standards for middle school students. “The standards will be for all students. They don’t have a choice.”
Gallon said the bipartisan criticism the new standards have drawn should signal there’s a problem.
“Something has clearly risen above partisanship, where you have people on either side of the political spectrum denouncing this,” he said.
While there are some merits to elements of the state standards, they also attempt, in some parts, to find a silver lining to slavery that needs to be corrected, Gallon said.
“We’re talking about education,” he said. “There’s no margin of error to plant seeds of disinformation and misinformation. There’s no margin of error to plant seeds of believing that in some shape, form or fashion, that one of the most horrific crimes known to mankind that was levied against people based on the color of their skin, brought some silver lining.”