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Urban Schools to Pilot AP African American Studies Class

  • About 60 schools across the country are set to pilot a new Advanced Placement (AP) course in African American studies this coming fall, with the effect of putting a sharper focus on Black history than its typical placement within social studies courses or Black History Month programing.

    One of the schools will be White Station High School in Memphis, where principal Carrye Holland said she is hopeful the new course will draw more students to AP offerings.

    Holland told Education Week she is “a big believer in bringing in courses that relate to our students. I think that high school is hard, because kids can be so bored and find coursework that doesn’t relate to them.”  

    Baltimore Polytechnic Institute also will pilot the course – with multiple sections because the curriculum already is in such high demand with students.

    Polytech social studies department chair Patrice Frasier will teach the course. “I want the students to know that African American history is more than about slavery,” Frasier said in a Baltimore City Public Schools’ news release. “We touch on so many aspects of African American history and influence.”

    Nationally, the plan is to roll out the AP African American Studies course in 2023, according to the College Board. The curriculum will showcase the medieval kingdoms of Africa, teach about enslavement and migration, the abolition movement, and Black people’s battles for civil rights and equality, among other topics.

    James Smith, manager of Memphis’ AP programing, described the course to Chalkbeat as “a great opportunity for us to learn at a deeper level – a wider level – about our current political circumstances and our past history and the relationship between the two.”

    Chris Tinson, department chair of African American studies at Saint Louis University, is among about 20 professors who offered advice on crafting the AP course. Interviewed by Chalkbeat, Tinson noted ongoing attempts to limit how race can be taught in school.

    “We’re trying to do something really comprehensive and as current as we possibly can with this lesson plan,” he said. “This is really the first time that we can think and teach broadly about the African experience in the United States and the Western Hemisphere at this level.”

    The under-representation of students of color in AP courses has been a concern among educators. Black students made up only about 8 percent of AP exam takers in 2020 while comprising 14 percent of the nation’s high school graduates that year.

    “African American history is vital to understanding American history so it should be taught to all students, not just African American students,” said Ray Hart, the executive director of the Council of the Great City Schools. “We applaud the College Board for providing an opportunity for the nation’s high school students to take an AP course devoted to the African American experience and learn about the contributions that African Americans made in the past and continue to make, while also providing historical context so students can make meaningful connections to current issues.”