Is Florida Really Forbidding African-American Studies?

For the last several days I’ve been seeing breathless articles describing the “racist” actions of Ron DeSantis, governor of Florida. DeSantis announced that African-American studies classes will not be taught in public schools. Of course, the left went absolutely ballistic over this announcement. But what, exactly, did DeSantis do? Let’s look at this latest kerfuffle.

First off – full disclosure: I scored the AP US Government & Politics (USGoPo) exam for eleven years (2007-2017). There is a lot of collusion and corruption in the teaching of the courses and the administration of the exam in this multi-million dollar “non-profit” industry. I’ll cover that in a later post. Okay, on with the show.

The AP exam folks (a.k.a. Educational Testing Services – ETS) announced a couple of years ago that they are going to run an experimental AP exam for African-American studies. The exam was/is piloted in sixty high schools across the country for the 2022-23 school year. That’s sixty, 6-0, high schools in the entire country. They will add a few hundred schools in the 2023-24 school year, and then, offer it to all high schools in the 2024-25 school year. Bear in mind there are almost 27,000 public and private high schools in the country. So, in 2022-23 school year, 0.2% of all high schools in the U.S. were offering the African-American AP class. This coming year, if we assume say, 500 schools (AP website says “hundreds of schools”) that will bring it up to 1.9% of schools offering this course. And I can guaran-damn-tee that those schools will be/are in suburban, upper-middle class, white neighborhoods. Because it costs a school district money to offer AP classes. Check out this to-do list for schools wanting to offer AP classes. Bear in mind, these requirements will have to be met for each subject and each teacher.

In order to offer AP classes, a school district has to send its teachers to AP seminars run by ETS. And ETS charges money for those seminars. The teachers have to be certified by ETS before they can teach an AP class. The school has to purchase AP approved textbooks and materials for each AP course and each section of each course. And AP will audit the school, the classes, and the test-taking versus test-passing rates. This all costs money for the schools, which is why you find many more AP classes offered in suburban schools over rural and urban schools. Some schools in poorer areas are stretched to the max to offer one AP course. Suburban schools tend to have a wealthier and higher tax base and can afford to offer AP classes.

AP classes are intended to be a means by which high school students can get college credits for classes, prior to getting to college. The idea is that the AP classes stand in for the introductory level courses, thus allowing students to skip that class, thus freeing up their schedule for other, presumably higher level courses. They are also a means by which students can arrive at their university with some of their required general education classes under their belts. This is an admirable goal, given the costs of attending college. The average AP exam cost is $97 per exam in the U.S., Canada, and U.S. territories versus roughly a few hundred dollars per class if a student attends a state school… a couple thousand or more for a private school. So, yeah. Definitely saving money by taking and passing the AP exam.

Oh, did I forget to mention that? Yeah, the class is a part of the curriculum (assuming your student qualifies) but taking the exam costs extra. Simply taking the class does not provide any college credit (never mind that some of my students seemed to think that). In some cases, states pay the cost of the exam for every student, regardless of socio-economic level, to take the exam. Oh, and you don’t have to have taken the class to take the exam. Obviously a student’s chances of passing the exam (a score of 3 or higher; exams are scored 0-5, 3 is the minimum most universities accept as a passing score) is greater if they take the class, but it’s not a requirement. Arkansas, a state with a higher percentage of low-income students tried paying for everybody to take the exam for a few years. See, ETS gives states a $9/exam kickback for every exam taken. This backfired when the average passing rate dropped and ETS noticed. They audited and removed Arkansas’ ability to offer AP classes in some districts.

One other problem with offering AP classes and getting a good pass rate on the exam is that all AP exams are taken in the spring (usually early May). Many AP classes are offered in the fall (these are one semester classes, not year-long classes; remember, they are supposed to mimic college classes). Therefore, you have students who are taking an exam five months after they finished the class. Kinda hard on the ol’ pass rate.

The DeSantis administration told ETS that the course “contradicted Florida law” and “lacked educational value.” ETS has, as is its practice, revised the course based on feedback like that, and from the sixty pilot programs. The new course framework will be release February 1 (not coincidentally the first day of Black History Month), and before the test is put into nationwide use, it will likely be tweaked once again. So, essentially DeSantis has refused to have Florida high schools participate in the first pilot of the AP exam. That is not “prohibiting” the African-American studies in Florida. This is saying “show us what you propose and we’ll get back to you.”

I am a huge fan of free speech and the civil exchange of ideas… all ideas. But I also recognize that since we have public schools funded by taxpayers, that the state government is, of necessity (it’s own created necessity, yes) involved in education. That means that a state government is going to push for subjects it wants to see taught at all levels. If you object to DeSantis’ actions here, as the actions of an overbearing state government, then you should have objected when Democratic governors and state governments mandated DEI-type courses and programs like Critical Race Theory (yes, it’s been mandated in a lot of blue states and cities, sweetheart. Go look for yourself).

You cannot advocate for state interference only on behalf of your own beliefs and against beliefs contrary to yours. That’s not how it works.

Think about why you want the state government involved in education, think about the collateral damage from that, think about your assumptions that your ideas are best, and think about why you think the state should support only your ideas. How totalitarian are you willing to go to get your way?

In the meantime, go look at how much money the “non-profit” ETS makes off of the AP exams (one year when I was still scoring exams several of us did back-of-the-envelope calculations and figured that ETS was making something like $80 million off of the USGoPo exam alone. We (USGoPo) were one of the largest exams with something like 800k exams. Yes, it’s a bit staggering.) and think about how useful those exams really are. Here’s a hint: I’ve had kids in my advanced classes who passed the AP US Government and Politics exam with a 3. They retained nothing. And they wanted to be Political Science majors.

In the end, don’t get your knickers in a twist about an experimental AP class, and if you really want an inexpensive way for your kid to get general education credits out of the way, send them to community college for a couple of years before they head off to get a Bachelor’s degree.

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3 Replies to “Is Florida Really Forbidding African-American Studies?”

  1. I took an AP exam without an attached course when I was in high school—the English Composition exam. I scored a 5.

    Which, at my college of choice, would *not* have exempted me from taking English 101 (actual course description included “shows how to construct sentences and paragraphs”) and gave me 3 generic credits. (Thankfully, I got into the Honors Program, the ONLY group exempted from English 101, because if I’d had to take that course, somebody would have had to die. Could have been another student. Could have been a teacher. Somebody.)

    Incidentally, my AB Calculus 3 would have enabled me to skip the first semester of calculus. Who knows.

    1. Oh, yeah. You don’t have to take a class to take the exam… but in most subjects, (e.g. biology, chemistry, calc, etc.) it makes it hella easier to pass the exam. And each university gets to decide for itself whether and how to record AP credits.

  2. I took AP calculus back in 1967 and then the exam. I never got my test results back.

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