State Restrictions Like Florida’s on Curriculum Are Having an Effect, Nationwide

Managing Editor
FILE - Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a news conference, Jan. 26, 2023, in Miami. DeSantis and Florida lawmakers are proposing to make it easier to send convicts to death row by eliminating the requirement that juries be unanimous on capital punishment, a response to anger among victims’ families over a verdict that spared Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter Nikolas Cruz from execution. (AP Photo/Marta Lavandier, File)

The College Board recently released a new framework for its AP African American Studies course, after an initial pilot of the materials became the latest ideological flashpoint over classroom instruction raised by Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and other Republicans in the state.

The developer of testing and curriculum describes the new framework as an “unflinching” presentation of the Black experience across centuries, and it says objections raised by Florida officials had no impact on the final version.

But the debate in Florida is just one of many political-cultural fights playing out over curriculum around the country. Florida is one of 18 states that have approved laws or policies in recent years that put restrictions on how teachers can discuss racism or gender.

State-mandated curbs on how teachers can discuss racism and gender issues are shaping how districts review and make decisions on curriculum.

And a recent EdWeek Market Brief survey shows that those state policies — despite what some see as their vague wording and shaky legal foundations — are already having an impact on K-12 school districts’ reviews and purchases of classroom materials.

A survey conducted for EdWeek Market Brief by the EdWeek Research Center found that 50 percent of K-12 district and school leaders who live in states with curriculum restrictions say their school systems have conducted reviews of their existing classroom materials as a result of those policies.

And 22 percent say they’ve actually halted the purchase of a resource because of those state restrictions.

State Law Cited

In Florida, the furor began about three weeks ago when the state’s department of education sent a letter to the College Board stating that the AP African American Studies course would be banned from the state for lacking “educational value and historical accuracy.”

The state also claimed the course violates a state law, an apparent reference to a measure signed last year by DeSantis that he dubbed the Stop W.O.K.E. Act, which seeks to put restrictions on how racism and systemic discrimination can be discussed in public workplaces and schools. For instance, the law says students should not be instructed that they “must feel guilt, anguish, or other forms of psychological distress” for historical acts of racism or sexism.

Last year, Florida state officials rejected an array of math materials, claiming they included references to “critical race theory” and social-emotional learning, a popular concept in the nation’s schools. The state’s department of education called the materials an attempt to “indoctrinate students.”

The African American Studies framework puts students on a path to earn college credits in history, literature, and the arts. The College Board says the final framework for the program was built on input from more than 300 college faculty working at more than 200 higher education institutions, nationwide, as Education Week’s Ilena Najarro reported.

The framework was released to coincide with Black History Month and is to be rolled out nationally for the 2024-25 school year.

The program covers a vast expanse of history and scholarship that includes analyses of African societies and policies, the Transatlantic slave trade, enslavement in the United States, the abolition movement, Reconstruction, the Civil Rights movement, and contemporary efforts focused on Black empowerment, among other topics and themes.

“No topic of any sort that you might imagine is off base, unless of course, a local state or locality decides that they want to, in some way, say what topics they do or don’t want students exploring in that way,” College Board President David Coleman told Education Week. “We have to reserve that right to them, but I see no reason to assume that will be done.”

The College Board strongly disputed a New York Times report that the organization had “purged the names of many Black writers and scholars associated with critical race theory, the queer experience and Black feminism.”

The organization said that its framework was revised in December, before DeSantis and other Republican officials in the state raised objections to a pilot version of it. That earlier version was time-stamped, the organization said, and it reflects the work of those who drafted it — “the most eminent scholars in the field, not political influence.”

District Responses

The new framework also includes a capstone research project where students are asked to apply analytical and historical thinking to a deep-dive into a topic of their choice. In those instances, the project would be expected to not run afoul of the laws in that state that restrict teaching and learning about race and racism, the College Board said.

Independent of the College Board’s entanglement with Florida officials, EdWeek Market Brief’s research has shown that the tide of state laws and policies prohibiting various discussions on race and gender issues is shaping K-12 officials’ buying behavior.

The nationally representative survey conducted in October and November of 181 district administrators and 191 school leaders found that 3 in 10 work in states with restrictions on teaching about race.

Among those K-12 officials who work in those states, the survey found:

  • 50 percent say those restrictions have led them to stage reviews of their instructional materials or curricula;
  • Three in 10 K-12 officials say the state prohibitions are leading them to do outreach to parents explaining their choices of instructional materials and other products;
  • More than 1 in 5 say they’ve gone so far as to halt the use of an instructional resource because of a state policy; and
  • 16 percent say they’re in the process of revising or considering revisions to curriculum, professional development, or other materials.

Over the past few years, numerous providers of curriculum and other resources have told EdWeek Market Brief they feel whipsawed by the surge of state policies curtailing discussions of race.

For years, many companies have invested in developing culturally responsive materials and other resources focused on addressing diversity, equity, and inclusion, partly in response to requests from school districts seeking resources that speak to the enormous diversity of their student populations.

Now, many state policies appear to be attempting to pull classroom materials in a different direction, with state legislators and state education agencies demanding something different than K-12 districts.

Those tensions seem unlikely to go away anytime soon. And school districts, in the meantime, are taking steps to comply with state policies, with uncertain, long-term consequences for classroom teaching.

Photo: Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis gestures during a news conference, Jan. 26, 2023, in Miami. (Marta Lavandier/AP)

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