DeSantis takes aim at College Board for “indoctrination” and lacking “educational value”
DeSantis has suggested earlier this month that Florida could do away with College Board entirely--but it's not yet clear how, when or what it might be replaced with. Image created by Caspian Rizzo

DeSantis takes aim at College Board for “indoctrination” and lacking “educational value”

Over the past few weeks, a dizzying flurry of announcements have come from Gov. Ron DeSantis’s office concerning Florida’s high school curriculum. Most recently, the governor has taken aim at the College Board’s Advanced Placement (AP) African American studies curriculum, lambasting it as woke indoctrination. After the College Board’s rebuttal, accusing DeSantis of putting off proposing changes to the curriculum and slandering their organization, he has suggested that the state might do away with College Board altogether—including their AP programs and the Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT).

The College Board has existed in some capacity for over a century now, developing testing and curriculum to help prepare high school students for college. This is done primarily through the SAT and AP programs. The SAT is a private standardized exam designed to serve as a broadly applicable measure of a student’s prowess that different colleges and universities can look at to determine enrollment. There are alternatives—the ACT is similarly popular, although more prevalent in the Midwest—but the SAT has been an educational institution in Florida for decades.

It has also been frequently criticized as a deeply unequal measure of a student’s capabilities, with some studies suggesting that family income is twice as likely to correlate with high SAT performance in comparison to high performance on students’ report cards. Standardized tests also require a $55 fee to take more than once, and sprawling industries oriented around SAT prep have exploded in recent years. DeSantis also has a history of supporting the SAT, consistently standing by in defense of requiring SAT scores for Florida colleges, just as many other states move away from it altogether.

AP classes serve a similar purpose, as they’re designed to be college-level courses that high school students can take. It costs approximately $100 to take the AP exam at the end of the class–an expense paid for by Florida’s public schools system–which can count as college credits for those who score well on these exams. This program is particularly popular in Florida, with approximately one-third of American students taking at least one AP class in high school.

It’s the AP program that DeSantis has taken umbrage with most recently, as they have proposed a class exploring African-American history. The state demanded changes to the curriculum, including barring explorations of critical race theory (CRT), queer theory, historically radical Black thinkers and more contemporary movements such as Black Lives Matter (BLM). The College Board criticized these late changes, and DeSantis has since proposed moving away from the College Board entirely. While it’s unclear what might replace the College Board, the phrase “classical and Christian” has come up in reference to a standardized test alternative, a common phrase in the vernacular of DeSantis’s educational crusade. DeSantis has suggested that the state adopt this Classical Learning Test, an exam used primarily by private schools and homeschooling families.

As criticisms of DeSantis flare up, so too do criticisms of the College Board. Some are concerned that both of these entities wield undue influence over the curriculum for high school students. The College Board is, after all, a for-profit institution that has become—for lack of a better word—an institution for the American student, with DeSantis’s proposed alternatives ranging from benign to disturbing. The College Board is also in a deeply uncomfortable position, though—if its programs are protested by Republican policymakers, it could rapidly lose its status as the national standard as Republican governors move away from it.

Parents and educators are concerned that this feud with the College Board could have very negative consequences for their students and children. The Florida education system is dependent on AP classes, among other things, to help qualify students for the Bright Futures award, a merit-based scholarship that pays for the tuition of 15% of all Florida college students. 

“I just worry my kids won’t be able to get into these colleges, if we stop offering free SAT tests and AP courses,” Michele Rizzo said, a Florida educator with children in high school.

Whatever the case may be, no legislation has passed yet. While DeSantis seems committed to this cause, it’s hard to tell if he will follow it through in the coming years as the Republican primaries loom ever closer to the Governor and his team.

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