Materials on AP African American studies classes in state sent, firm says

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Ahead of Friday’s deadline for the six schools offering an Advanced Placement African American studies course to submit all class materials to the state Department of Education, the organization that produced the course told teachers and administrators it had submitted all the items it had developed for it.

Education Department Secretary Jacob Oliva directed superintendents to provide the materials in a letter sent Aug. 21 . The districts were also required to submit a “statement of assurance” that the teaching of the materials “will not violate Arkansas law or rule.” The deadline Oliva set in the letter was Friday at noon, about 2½ weeks after superintendents received the directive.

Jacksonville/North Pulaski School District and Jonesboro Public Schools confirmed in emails last week that the requested materials had been submitted.

The national College Board that produced the class provided course materials to the state in response to the letter. A separate letter, sent from the College Board to teachers of the course on Aug. 24, states the organization submitted to the Education Department “the set of materials we have developed for the course,” which included: m Co u rs e f ra m ewo rk and teacher guide, m Source reader materials for each unit, m AP Summer Institute training materials, and m Course audit attestation.

Little Rock School District Superintendent Jermall Wright emailed Oliva on Aug. 25, asking whether participating districts would need to provide materials in addition to those sent to the state by the College Board, according to information obtained by the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette under the state’s Freedom of Information Act.

“We are all trying to work together on this and would rather not invest more time and energy into responding to ADE’s request if you’ve received what you need from the College Board,” the superintendent wrote.

Oliva confirmed his agency received “some files from College Board that we are reviewing” in an email reply to Wright on the same day. He said that the only additional information required from the districts at that time would be their letter of assurance. “If additional information is needed in the future after the documents from the College Board are reviewed, we will let you know,” he said.

Jonesboro Superintendent Kim Wilbanks said in an email on Wednesday that the state’s Division of Elementary and Secondary Education “indicated the College Board supplied materials were sufficient and we did not need to provide any additional materials.” College Board spokeswoman Holly Stepp said in an email Thursday they hadn’t heard back from the Education Department directly in response to their submissions, but echoed that “some of the superintendents have heard back from the ADE that the material College Board provided is being reviewed and that all they needed to send back was the assurance form.” Little Rock School District spokeswoman Pamela Smith couldn’t immediately confirm on Friday afternoon whether the Education Department requested any further materials from them after Oliva’s Aug. 25 email.

North Little Rock School District spokesman Dustin Barnes and Jessi Forster, assistant chief operating officer at eStem Public Charter Schools, didn’t respond to messages seeking confirmation on whether they met the state’s deadline.

In an emailed response Friday to questions about the status of districts’ submissions and whether any superintendents were given an extension on the deadline, state Education Department spokeswoman Kimberly Mundell said, “The deadline for schools to provide documents is today. We will review submitted documents before providing additional feedback.” A total of six schools are offering Advanced Placement African American studies: Little Rock Central High School, North Little Rock High School, North Little Rock Center Of Excellence, The Academies at Jonesboro High, Jacksonville High School and eStem High School.

Oliva sent the letter a little over a week after the Education Department notified administrators at school districts where the course was going to be offered that the class was being removed from the state course code listings. The move meant students could not use the course to meet core graduation requirements, and the state would not pay the cost of the end-of-year exam.

The letter requests “all materials, including but not limited to the syllabus, textbooks, teacher resources, student resources, rubrics, and training materials” to “assist public school employees, representatives, and guest speakers at your district in complying with the law.” Oliva said in the letter that, since the course is a “direct partnership” between the College Board and school districts, the Education Department “has not been provided the necessary materials and resources needed to enable the Department to support districts” in complying with state law and agency rules regarding prohibited indoctrination.

The Education Department believed the course “may not comply,” Oliva said at the time. On her first day in office, Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order “to prohibit indoctrination and critical race theory in schools.” The education omnibus bill known as the LEARNS Act, signed in March, includes codification of the executive order.

Both the order and law require the state Education Department to review policies and materials that “promote teaching that would indoctrinate students with ideologies, such as Critical Race Theory.” In his letter, Oliva pointed to themes in the second-year pilot’s framework that included “intersections of identity” and “resistance and resilience.” According to that framework, the course offers a total of four themes, which are “broad ideas” that “serve as the connective tissue of the course and enable students to create meaningful connections across units.” The remaining two are “migration and the African diaspora” and “expression, and the arts.” The College Board has denied that the course indoctrinates students.

In its Aug. 24 letter to teachers of the course, the College Board again said that Advanced Placement African American studies “does not represent indoctrination in any form.” 

“Opposition to indoctrination is a longstanding principle for all AP courses,” the letter states. “In AP African American Studies — as with all AP courses — no points are awarded on the AP exam for agreement with a viewpoint or perspective.” 

The description of the “intersections of identity” theme states: “AP African American Studies examines the interplay of distinct categories of identity (such as race, gender, religion and ability) with each other and within a society. Various categories of identity are emphasized throughout the course. Although different identities vary in prominence in the given units, students should develop the habit of thinking about identity as both a unified concept and intersectional framework and consider how different aspects of identity affect their experience.” 

The description of the “resistance and resilience” theme states: “Intellectual distinctions and differences informed approaches to resisting oppression and building society. These approaches will be examined throughout the course, and it is important that students can recognize the patterns of continuity and change that emerges over time. Encourage students to examine the many forms of resistance that demonstrate how Black people asserted their agency and influenced their cultural environments. Whether it be slave rebellions or the formation of Women’s Clubs in the 20th century, varied forms of resistance and political engagement figure prominently across the units as do notions of resiliency — not only in the face of violence and oppression — but in structures of social interaction and ways of community formation.” 

This is the second year in which the Arkansas schools are participating in the pilot program, joining hundreds of others across the country. The pilot is set to end in 2024, and the national nonprofit plans to allow all schools to begin offering Advanced Placement African American studies during the 2024-2025 school year.

The national nonprofit’s development committee is “finalizing the framework” for the course, which is expected to be released publicly later in the year.

In its Aug. 24 letter to teachers of the course, the College Board again said that Advanced Placement African American studies “does not represent indoctrination in any form.”


Coverage of the LEARNS Act 

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