Legislators, students critical of decision to drop AP African American studies course

by Michael Tilley ([email protected]) 1,222 views 

Arkansas Education Secretary Jacob Oliva.

A group of Arkansas legislators and students are firing back at a late Friday (Aug. 11) decision by the Arkansas Department of Education (ADE) to drop an AP African American studies from high school curriculum.

Arkansas Secretary of Education Jacob Oliva said the course is a pilot program still undergoing major revisions and not ready to be certified as an AP course. He also told media outlets that the course could violate orders by Gov. Sarah Sanders to avoid the teaching of so-called critical race theory in public schools.

“The department encourages the teaching of all American history and supports rigorous courses not based on opinions or indoctrination,” noted a statement the ADE sent to Talk Business & Politics.

The ADE also sent the following info in response to a Talk Business & Politics inquiry.

“The AP African American Studies pilot course is not a history course and is a pilot that is still undergoing major revisions. Arkansas law contains provisions regarding prohibited topics. Without clarity, we cannot approve a pilot that may unintentionally put a teacher at risk of violating Arkansas law.

“Since the launch of the pilot, College Board has worked directly with schools that choose to participate; however, an exam was not offered to students during the 2022-2023 school year, and the course may not articulate into college credit.

“As a result, the pilot may not meet graduation requirements and does not comply with the rules of the department’s AP program like other vetted courses, such as AP European History, United States History, and World History: Modern.

“Arkansas has an African American History course listed in the ADE Course Code Management System for 2023-2024. It is not an AP course, but students who complete the course are eligible for high school credit. We are working with districts regarding an honors version of this course so students can benefit from a rigorous experience.”

Such explainers do not satisfy Rep. Jay Richardson, D-Fort Smith, and chairman of the Arkansas Legislative Black Caucus. Richardson, on behalf of the ALBC, sent the following statement to the media on Monday.

“This further perpetuates the marginalization of African Americans and denies all students the opportunity to learn about the unique history and experiences of our community. The decision of the Arkansas Department of Education is deeply concerning and sends a message to students in Arkansas that their African American peers are not as important and not as valued.

“This type of decision has far-reaching implications on the educational and professional success of all Arkansas youth, and we must not allow this type of inequality to persist. We must work together at every level of our government to ensure that Arkansas students have the opportunity to learn about all parts of history. That includes the history and culture of America, as well as the history and culture of African-Americans.

“This gives all Arkansans the ability to expand our view of our neighbors and the contributions they have made and continue to make in our lives. We are committed to doing all we can to challenge this discriminatory decision and ensure that African American Studies is available for AP credit and a valued option in Arkansas public schools.

The Young Democrats of Arkansas also provided statements Monday decrying Oliva’s decision.

“I am extremely displeased with the state of Arkansas for not counting the AP African American Studies course as a credit,” Mikayla Liddell, a junior at Little Rock Central High and a member of the Black Student Union, said in a statement. “It is just as much of a history as AP European History, AP World History, AP U.S. History, & many other history classes. With them doing this, it may make students shy away from taking the course. Every student should be able to learn about other histories & gain class credit.”

Jacksonville High AP Teacher Julia Gardner said the action is an attempt to “stifle knowledge” about African American history.

“This decision hampers the true goals of schools, which should be to provide a comprehensive and inclusive education for all students. By denying them the opportunity to learn about the history and experiences of African Americans through the critical lens that College Board offers, this action perpetuates harmful stereotypes and perpetuates systemic racism within our education system,” Gardner said in a statement.

ADE Director of Communications Kim Mundell said schools may still provide the course and offer local credits, but students can’t get state-approved AP credit for the program.