“One California high school has eliminated honors classes for ninth- and 10th-grade students. While school officials claim that the change was necessary to increase “equity,” the move has angered students and parents alike.
“We really feel equity means offering opportunities to students of diverse backgrounds, not taking away opportunities for advanced education and study,” one parent who opposed the change told The Wall Street Journal.
Starting this school year, Culver City High School, a public school in a middle-class suburb of Los Angles, eliminated its honors English classes for ninth- and 10th-graders. Instead, students are only able to enroll in one course called “College Prep” English. The decision, according to school administrators, came after teachers noticed that only a small number of black and Hispanic students were enrolling in Advanced Placement (A.P.) courses.
“It was very jarring when teachers looked at their AP enrollment and realized Black and brown kids were not there. They felt obligated to do something,” said Quoc Tran, the district’s superintendent. According to an article by The Wall Street Journal’s Sara Randazzo, data presented at a school board meeting last year showed that Latino students made up 13 percent of 12th-grade A.P. English students, despite comprising 37 percent of the student body, while black students made up 14 percent of A.P. English students while comprising 15 percent of the student body.
“School officials say the goal is to teach everyone with an equal level of rigor, one that encourages them to enroll in advanced classes in their final years of high school,” Randazzo notes.
However, parents—and students—disagree. “There are some people who slow down the pace because they don’t really do anything and aren’t looking to try harder,” Emma Frigola, a ninth-grader at the school, said. “I don’t think you can force that into people.” She added that the curriculum has been made easier to accommodate less advanced students.”
“When schools eliminate educational opportunities for gifted students, those who are most hurt by the change are disadvantaged, academically talented students. While wealthier families can move to a new school district or enroll their children in private school, low-income parents—and their kids—are stuck. While getting rid of honors courses was supposedly designed to help black and Latino students, it will deprive opportunities of many of the same kids it was intended to help.”
“A Florida law signed by DeSantis last March requires that all books available to children be “reviewed by a district employee holding a valid educational media specialist certificate,” such as the school librarian, since the state says teachers cannot be trusted to select appropriate texts for their students. This means that classroom libraries assembled by teachers violate the law, and parts of the state — up to one-third of the state’s counties, according to reporting from the New Yorker — have restricted access to all books until they could be reviewed.”
“DeSantis announced..that the state is blocking AP African American studies, a new class developed by the College Board, on the grounds that it is “a political agenda” and an example of “woke indoctrination.” The administration objected to certain topics contained in a draft framework for the course: queer theory, intersectionality, Black Lives Matter, reparations, prison abolition, and more.
At a press conference in January, DeSantis said the course is on “the wrong side of the line for Florida standards.” He added, “We believe in teaching kids facts and how to think, but we don’t believe they should have an agenda imposed on them. When you try to use Black history to shoehorn in queer theory, you are clearly trying to use that for political purposes.”
Florida rejected the course under its Stop WOKE Act (Stop the Wrongs to Our Kids and Employees Act), which took effect in July 2022 and bans schools and businesses from teaching anything that could make anyone feel “guilt, anguish or any form of psychological distress” because of their race, gender, sex, or national origin. Though a judge ordered a temporary injunction against parts of the law that limit conversations about race in public colleges and universities, the law remains mostly intact.”
“At the start of the year, DeSantis called for the elimination of diversity, equity, and inclusion programs. The programs became required in 2020, ordered by a largely Republican-appointed board, while he was already in his second year as governor. A January 31 order from DeSantis prohibits higher education institutions from using any funding, no matter the source, to support DEI or critical race theory — the besieged academic framework that says racism is systemic — and anything else the administration considers “discriminatory initiatives.””
“DeSantis wants school leaders to review course material. On January 31, he announced that the State University System Board of Governors and the State Board of Education must review general education core courses to make sure that they are historically accurate, “foundational,” and “career relevant.” The administration has not publicly explained what “foundational” or “career relevant” means. The boards must also ensure that core classes don’t “suppress or distort” historical events or include “identity politics” in their curriculum.
The governor also wants to require schools to give priority to “graduating students with degrees that lead to high-wage jobs, not degrees designed to further a political agenda,” but hasn’t specified which degrees they are referring to. His proposed overhaul would also mandate courses in Western civilization.”
“DeSantis urged schools to bypass their tenure systems to conduct post-tenure reviews of faculty members “at any time with cause.” “They can be let go if they’re not performing to expectations,” he observed, adding that “the most significant dead-weight cost to a university is unproductive tenured faculty.” He also empowered school presidents and boards to “take ownership” of their hiring and retention decisions without interference from unions or faculty committees.”
“DeSantis is staging what’s being called a “hostile takeover” of the New College of Florida, a small school in Sarasota. As part of his 2023-2024 budget recommendations, DeSantis wants to spend $100 million to recruit and retain faculty members at Florida’s state universities, and in addition, he wants to allocate another $15 million to “overhaul and restructure” the New College of Florida.”
“The College Board is a nonprofit organization that administers college entrance exams and develops Advanced Placement (AP) courses for high school students that earn them college credits. They’ve developed a pilot program for an African American Studies class that they plan to launch in 60 schools across the U.S. over the next school year. They did intend for one Florida school to offer the class. They hope to start offering the class in all high schools by the 2024–25 school year and begin administering exams in spring 2025. High school students who pass those exams would earn college credit for taking the class.
Florida’s Department of Education looked at the class, and flat-out rejected it, with officials saying it would indoctrinate students with “a political agenda” and lacked educational value. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ Press Secretary Bryan Griffin* said, “As submitted, the course is a vehicle for a political agenda and leaves large, ambiguous gaps that can be filled with additional ideological material, which we will not allow.”
Well, it is a history class, after all. Once you get past the names and dates, history studies political agendas and ideology. Certainly, that would have to be the case for a black history class in America.”
“No AP class is mandatory. Parents and students can decide whether they want to it.”
“First, out of more than 100 units, the governor has identified three or four that may sound sketchy to people unfamiliar with the topic. But the focus on this handful of examples creates a highly selective and distorted view of the curriculum.
Second, he describes the class as “history,” when in fact it is an interdisciplinary curriculum that exposes students to college-level subject matter they almost certainly don’t encounter in standard U.S. and world history classes.
Third, and most importantly, the curriculum makes a lot more sense if you consider its topline objective: arming students with a range of analytical and critical thinking skills. If you believe that the purpose of a quality education is to prepare kids to thrive in the real world, the AP African American Studies is a win. The subject matter is rigorous, and the texts and other source material are challenging. Isn’t that exactly what a twenty-first century education should look like?”
“While it is certainly true that Florida students already study some fundamentals of Black history, they are unlikely to learn about African linguistic diversity or how to parse maps of the Songhai Empire in their U.S. or world history courses. They may read excerpts by former enslaved people like Frederick Douglass or Harriet Jacobs, but probably won’t encounter Olaudah Equiano’s captivity narrative, analyze the intersection of European and African art or locate connections between Harlem Renaissance writers like Zora Neale Hurston and Langston Hughes and visual artists like James Van Der Zee and Aaron Douglas. We can fairly intuit that they won’t encounter writing by Black feminists like Nikki Giovanni or parse Molefi Kete Asante’s work on Afrocentricity.
This is no knock against Florida’s public schools. According to its mission statement, the AP curriculum “enables willing and academically prepared students to pursue college-level studies.” By design, the curriculum operates a level or two above a standard high school program.”
” The first unit, “Origins of the African Diaspora,” offers a bright tapestry of subjects around African culture, history, linguistics, art and economics, as well as the process behind — and experience of — enslavement (including the role of Black Africans in that tragedy). It would require a feat of political gymnastics to find issue with units on “Exploring Africa’s Geographic Diversity,” “Ethnolinguistic Diversity and Bantu Dispersals” or “Visualizing Early Africa.”
The second unit, “Freedom, Enslavement, and Resistance,” is also standard fare, with topics that include “African Explorers in the Americas,” “Origins and Overview of the Transatlantic Slave Trade,” “Fleeing Enslavement” and “Black Women’s Rights & Education.”
And so it goes with the third unit, “The Practice of Freedom,” which covers such topics as Reconstruction, Jim Crow and the early civil rights movement. Notwithstanding the current vogue for banning literature in schools — a troubling development that is hardly specific to Florida — it would take a particularly narrow mind to find fault with modules on “Everyday Life in Literature,” “The Rise and Fall of Harlem” or “Music and the Black National Experience.”
It’s unit four, “Movements and Debates,” that opens the door more than just a crack to conservative criticism, though most of the unit continues the curriculum’s chronological arc, exploring subjects like civil rights, the Black Arts Movement, student protests, Black women’s history, music and religion and faith. Nothing particularly out of the ordinary.
To be sure, many culture warriors will object to topics and texts that strike most people as unproblematic. Voices like Frantz Fanon, Malcolm X, Ta-Nehisi Coates and bell hooks offend the sensibilities of some white Americans. They push the boundaries of the conversation about race in ways that challenge ideas about “American exceptionalism,” progress and national innocence. Similarly, raw representations of white violence against Black persons, families and institutions — be they historical texts, paintings, songs or sociological tracts — make a lot of conservatives uncomfortable. They complain that broaching these subjects teaches white children to feel implicated by the actions of earlier generations. This concern assumes that students are especially brittle and incapable of dealing with the subject matter.
But the back half of unit four also contains topics that may cause some parents — and not just conservatives — to raise an eyebrow: “Intersectionality and Activism,” “Black Queer Studies,” “‘Postracial’ Racism and Colorblindness,” “Incarceration and Abolition,” “Movements for Black Lives” and “The Reparations Movement.” These topics drive at extremely polarizing political debates, including what if anything the country owes its Black citizens, whether the criminal justice system is fair and unbiased and the meaning of sexuality. Even outside an AP course, these are fraught topics.
One need not agree with DeSantis that the AP course is a study in indoctrination to wonder: Why would you teach these topics to 17-year-olds? Are they not in fact … “woke?”
The answer to this last question is a resounding: Yes! Also: So what?”
“They’re complicated works of sociology and philosophy. They’re highly contested polemics. We read them to sharpen our capacity for analysis and argument. Contra Gov. DeSantis, being assigned a text is not an exercise in indoctrination.
How do I know this? Because reading Friedrich Nietzsche in college did not turn me into a nihilist any more than reading Albert Camus made me an existentialist. I read Ross Douthat’s New York Times column regularly, and yet I have neither changed my party affiliation to Republican nor converted to Catholicism.
We expose students to knotty, complicated and controversial ideas because it helps them sharpen the five critical skill sets that the College Board identified in the course prospectus.
If a student takes the AP course on African American Studies and is ultimately able to develop an empirical, well-constructed, knock-down argument against reparations or prison reform, that’s as much of a win as the opposite outcome. I might not like where the student landed, but the curriculum did its job.
That’s the idea behind the AP’s course in African American Studies: use a topic that captures the interest of a large number of students to introduce them to a range of interdisciplinary methodologies and teach them to analyze and make sense of our very complicated world.”
“In four years, the number of students graduating from high schools across the country will begin a sudden and precipitous decline, due to a rolling demographic aftershock of the Great Recession. Traumatized by uncertainty and unemployment, people decided to stop having kids during that period. But even as we climbed out of the recession, the birth rate kept dropping, and we are now starting to see the consequences on campuses everywhere. Classes will shrink, year after year, for most of the next two decades. People in the higher education industry call it “the enrollment cliff.”
Among the small number of elite colleges and research universities — think the Princetons and the Penn States — the cliff will be no big deal. These institutions have their pick of applicants and can easily keep classes full.
For everyone else, the consequences could be dire.”
“Black enrollment fell rapidly at the top schools in the University of California system. Before the ban, Black students made up 7% of the student body at UCLA. By 1998, that figure had slipped to 3.93%. By the fall of 2006, the freshman class included only 96 Black students out of nearly 5,000.
In an effort to address that gap, officials in California have spent more than $500 million in outreach to underserved minority students since 2004, lawyers for the state said in a Supreme Court brief this year.
A similar decline took place at the University of Michigan. Black undergraduate enrollment dropped to 4% in 2021 from 7% in 2006, the year the state approved a referendum banning affirmative action.
Even though a Supreme Court ruling restricting the use of race-conscious admissions is unlikely to affect their states, lawyers for Michigan and California filed briefs with the court over the summer arguing that without affirmative action, achieving racial diversity was virtually impossible.
Florida, which banned affirmative action in 2001 and where admission to the state’s flagship university is also competitive, has taken the opposite position: Racial diversity can be achieved without race-conscious admissions, it said.
A study in 2012 by liberal-leaning research group the Century Foundation found that in most states where affirmative action was prohibited, Hispanic and Black enrollment at flagship universities bounced back after an initial drop.
But the study also showed that those increases did not generally keep pace with the growing number of Hispanic and Black high school graduates.”