In a move that educators have widely (and rightfully) criticized, civil rights activists and students, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ administration recently rejected an Advanced Placement (AP) course on African American studies. This decision was based on the state’s claims that it violates state law and “lacks educational value.”
The College Board announced plans to offer an African American studies course for the first time last year. The course is being piloted in 60 schools across the country during the 2022-23 school year to make the course available to all schools in the 2024-25 school year. The College Board worked with colleges, universities, and secondary schools to develop the course. The interdisciplinary course “reaches into a variety of fields—literature, the arts and humanities, political science, geography, and science—to explore the vital contributions and experiences of African Americans.”
The rejection of this AP course is especially concerning considering Florida’s dismal record when addressing education equity for Black students. While DeSantis’ administration is blocking access to an important African American Studies curriculum, most Black students in the state don’t have any viable pathway to taking other advanced classes.
It is astounding and unacceptable that DeSantis is targeting “Wokeness,” when Black students face discrimination and disparities while attending school in Florida. Data from the U.S. Department of Education Civil Rights Data Collection exposes just how dire this situation is; every single school district in Florida with more than 100,000 students, including Broward, Dade, Duval, Hillsborough, Orange, Palm Beach, Pinellas, and Polk, have excessive equity issues for Black students.
Black students in these districts are relegated to schools without gifted or talented classes in elementary education; they lack access to advanced mathematics such as calculus or physics classes in high schools; they are kept back a year in more significant numbers than other student groups; they suffer disproportionately through suspensions and expulsions; and lastly, too often they are referred to law enforcement rather than receiving appropriate mental health care services.
In the state as a whole, ProPublica findings show that Black students comprise 23 percent of the public school population in Florida, yet are only 10 percent of those enrolled in gifted and talented programs. White students are 2.2 times more likely to be enrolled in at least one AP class when compared to Black students. Florida schools are also enacting practices that punish this same population more severely than any other. The data reveals that Black students are 2.4 times more likely to be suspended than White students.
Broward County Public Schools, the second largest school district in Florida and the district with the highest number of Black students in the state, would be an ideal district for AP African American Studies. Unfortunately, this district has more significant issues such as the lack of access to AP classes generally for Black students. Fewer than 4,400 out of 105,000 Black students in the district are taking at least one AP class. This abysmal number demonstrates a need for more commitment from the state of Florida to prioritize educational equity and honestly give these talented students a fair chance at success. It is a disturbing situation that must be addressed if the next generation of Black leaders will have a shot at reaching their potential.
These systemic inequities impact the students, their families, their communities, the state, and the country. The data reveal what many in the Black community already know—that far too many Black students are denied access to high-quality education and, worse, disproportionately punished more than their White counterparts.
Manufactured problems of students being indoctrinated by “woke” instruction is a fallacy based on propaganda, conjecture, and revisionism.
On the contrary, education equity issues in Florida and nationwide are demonstrable facts supported by data and lived experiences. DeSantis must take immediate steps to put Florida’s educational system on a path of progress and not regress by refusing to provide access for Black students, not only in AP African American Studies but all AP classes and other learning opportunities. To do anything less is an abjection of his oath and responsibilities.
Our children deserve better. Our country deserves better. We can do better together!
Ivory Toldson, professor, Howard University and National Director of Education Innovation and Research at the NAACP, is the former director of the White House Initiative on HBCUs, and David J. Johns, executive director of the National Black Justice Coalition, is the inaugural director of the White House Initiative on Educational Excellence for African Americans.
The views expressed in this article are the writers’ own.