Wednesday, February 15, 2023

Reversal: College Board Now Attacking Florida, DeSantis in Controversial AP Course Flap

Guy Benson |

AP Photo/Rebecca Blackwell

Earlier this month, we wrote about the College Board's apparent reversal on its proposed African-American History Advanced Placement course.  The state of Florida had rejected the curriculum in its initial form, evidently citing highly political components of the syllabus' fourth and final unit.  The organization offered a few clarifications, abandoned some of the most problematic elements, and introduced a handful of nods toward ideological balance.  

While many conservatives declared victory, the DeSantis administration had not yet approved the updated course materials.  Leftists, meanwhile, descended into a frenzy of outrage over the board's decision to "cave" to 'racists,' 'fascists,' etc.  It's the sort of howling we've grown accustomed to whenever the Left believes its power and influence, especially in realms its adherents feel entitled to control, might be threatened.  Nothing makes them angrier.

With the backlash to the backlash underway, and the organization facing calls for resignations and other forms of fury, the College Board decided to publish a pointed letter over the weekend.  In it, they accuse Florida's government of acting in bad faith, engaging in "misinformation" and "slander," in pursuit of a "political agenda."  Critics would say that such allegations are properly leveled at the College Board.  The timing of the letter, put out on the Saturday evening of Super Bowl weekend, seemed odd.  National Review's Stanley Kurtz -- whose work we have repeatedly cited as we've covered this issue for weeks -- has a very plausible theory about it:

Facing a torrent of criticism from customary allies on the left for having caved to Ron DeSantis on the AP African-American Studies (APAAS) curriculum, the College Board issued an attack on Florida’s governor at the unlikely hour of 8 p.m. Saturday night. What can account for so oddly timed a salvo? Friday’s calls from the National Black Justice Coalition, among others, for the resignation of College Board CEO David Coleman may have had something to do with it.

You think?  The missive reads like, and is, an assault on the Florida Department of Education's credibility, doubling as a reassurance to irate leftists that the College Board is (please don't attack us) still on their side, and had not allowed itself to be pushed around by Florida's conservative government.  

Nevertheless, the letter advances a string of specific claims about Florida's actions and the overall timeline of this controversy.  Kurtz is highly skeptical: "Against all appearances — and against common sense — the College Board continues to claim that several months’ worth of expressions of concern by Florida about CRT-based content had nothing to do with the radical revisions to APAAS announced on February 1. 

These denials continue in the face of the timeline released by the Florida Department of Education (FDOE) detailing its contacts with the College Board," he writes. "The College Board’s Saturday-night missive goes on to claim that Florida’s concerns couldn’t possibly have affected its February APAAS curriculum revisions. After all, Florida’s feedback was 'vague' and 'uninformed.' 

All Florida offered, according to the College Board, were questions such as 'What does the word ‘intersectionality’ mean?' and 'Does this course promote Black Panther thinking?' Actually, 'promoting Black Panther thinking' is an excellent summary of the problems with APAAS." He believes they're playing dumb, on purpose, making FDOE out to be the partisans exploiting the College Board's earnestness and naivety:

The College Board laughably pretends not to have understood what Florida was getting at. How could Florida have influenced APAAS’s curriculum revisions when Florida couldn’t even make its own concerns clear? Come on. The College Board knew exactly what Florida was worried about. It can’t even maintain a consistent pose of naïveté throughout the text of Saturday’s letter. Toward the end of that letter, the College Board actually makes fun of Florida for acting as though it needs to explain the controversy over terms such as “intersectionality” and “systemic” racism. The idea that you have to explain this controversy to us is ridiculous, says the College Board. Exactly. The College Board understood Florida’s concerns perfectly well from the start. It needed no detailed roadmap to curriculum revision from FDOE. The College Board played dumb with Florida for months because it understood perfectly well that FDOE would never approve APAAS if it knew what was actually in it...The College Board backtracked in February, not because it didn’t understand Florida concerns, but because it understood them all too well. The College Board’s real problem was its failed attempts at secrecy and deception. Only when it realized that Florida wouldn’t be fooled by a vague and confusing curriculum framework did the College Board modify APAAS.

Kurtz notes that the board offers various expressions of regret over its own lack of clarity and communication on a number of points. He rejects this as disingenuous, since he believes the organization's entire game plan entailed hiding the curriculum for as long as possible. Secrecy and lack of transparency weren't mistakes, Kurtz argues; it was the strategy from the start:

The College Board could have publicly released every single version of the pilot APAAS curriculum in real time. Instead, it suppressed information and squelched public-records requests with the absurd claim that it was protecting “trade secrets” — although the College Board has no competition. The College Board cleverly constructed an APAAS curriculum that was impossible to evaluate without extensive study of unnamed articles by a cavalcade of obscure authors. Then it orchestrated an APAAS publicity campaign in the mainstream press, allowing its allies to offer false assurances that the course contained no political agenda and no CRT. Evidently, the goal was to deceive red states such as Florida into approving the course without disclosing enough information for public writers to warn about all the neo-Marxist advocacy and CRT. It was trying to avoid a rerun of the 2014 controversy over the leftist AP U.S. History curriculum, by keeping the new curriculum a secret. Once it became evident that Florida would not be fooled, the College Board backtracked.

 Click through and read why Kurtz has concluded that the real timeline of events supports his belief that "the [board's] February revision was very evidently a response to Florida’s decision on September 23 to reject the course, and very possibly a response as well to my September 12 public exposure of the curriculum. Once the College Board saw that states couldn’t be tricked into approving the course prior to a national debate over the curriculum, it knew it would have to reduce the course’s radicalism or resort to backdoor strategies."  In his bottom-line summation, Kurtz sees a showdown coming:

The College Board appears to have calculated that it has no further political leeway either to reduce the radical readings that will now be made available in its AP Classroom portal, or to balance them with more moderate and conservative voices. Knowing that DeSantis is therefore unlikely to greenlight APAAS, the College Board has gone to war with Florida. Attacking DeSantis is the College Board’s best hope for downsizing the tsunami of outrage threatening to engulf it from the left. Yet the College Board’s attack on Florida’s governor risks driving away the red states, particularly states that have laws barring the promotion of Critical Race Theory (CRT) in K–12...Having given up on Florida, the College Board is now doing everything in its power to reverse its February retreat. Saturday’s letter emphasizes that “every author mentioned in any iteration of the framework” will be made available in the digital platform, facilitated by special copyright permissions when possible. In other words, all the Marxism and CRT is back.

Not fully and explicitly back, he argues, but once again available 'through the back door.'  

It’s tough to see how DeSantis can approve of this course. On top of making unpersuasive and downright insulting attacks on FDOE and the governor, the College Board is promising to include as many radical and CRT-based readings in the AP Classroom portal as possible. Notwithstanding the optional nature of any particular reading, the College Board is clearly doing everything in its power to mandate a paper assignment that will, in the majority of cases, encompass CRT. It’s also setting up individual teachers — via syllabi that they will design and that the College Board will approve — to circumvent state CRT laws, while adding a virtual promise of more tricks to come. If DeSantis were to approve the course as it is now being described, he would be undermining his own Stop WOKE Act. The larger question is what will happen in other red states, particularly those with CRT laws of their own. If they knuckle under and approve APAAS, they will be effectively nullifying such laws. If, on the other hand, other red states reject APAAS, the College Board’s status as a de facto unelected national school board may begin to give way. 

 I cannot say with certainty whether the board was acting in this deliberately manipulative way, rooted in bad faith and an ideological agenda.  It's clear that they have been bothered by the anger directed at them by the professional and activist Left in recent days, channeling that frustration into assailing Florida with all sorts of accusations.  It looks like both 'sides' in this are now crying bad faith.  The College Board has updated its claims and timeline; Florida's Department of Education has already put out its own extensive chronology on this matter, pieces of which the College Board claims are inaccurate or misleading.

If the College Board's new explanation is entirely truthful, they'd be owed an apology.  But my suspicion is that this salvo is at least partially tendentious and self-serving, at best.  Gov. DeSantis was asked a question about this latest twist in the AP/CRT saga at an event on state policies combating 'ESG' banking on Monday.  Here's his response (starting around the 24-minute mark of this longer video):


Listening to his answer, it very much sounded as though DeSantis might be entertaining a bigger break from the College Board, in general: "This college board -- nobody elected them to anything. They're just kind of there, providing service.  You can either utilize those services or not, and so they've provided these AP courses for a long time. But you know, there are probably some other vendors who may be able to do that job as good, or maybe even a lot better," he said.  "The legislature is going to look to revaluate kind of how Florida is doing that...we're going to evaluate how all that process goes."  This seems far from over.  DeSantis' Press Secretary retweeted this, surely not by accident:  


Florida’s Voice

JUST IN: Gov. Ron DeSantis says he and the legislature will look into reevaluating Florida's relationship with the College Board, including standardized testing and colleges accepting AP courses for college credit.

It will interesting to see how this might escalate, and how other Republican-led states might respond if the College Board and the state of Florida go to war over politicized curricula.