June 23, 2024

Steve Nuzum: Open Letter on AP African American Studies

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Earlier this month, the state of South Carolina set out to quietly ax AP African-American studies. Teacher Steve Nuzum collaborated with a colleague to respond to that move. 

To whom it may concern,

We are South Carolina AP teachers writing with deep concern about the recent actions of the South Carolina Department of Education.

The memo released by the Department on June 4, entitled “Clarification on Course Offerings,” ironically did not offer any clarity about the situation. Instead, for those of us in public education, it confused the situation further, and at times appeared to be deliberately misleading.

First, while the memo says the Department has not added a course code for AP African American Studies for the 2024-25 school year, it does not offer a substantive explanation of why.  And, given the timing, it seems unlikely that there would have been any statement at all had the press not found out the course wasn’t being offered, and had many of our colleagues, parents, and students not contacted the Department.

Secondly, although the Department argues that districts can still “offer AP African American Studies as a locally-approved honors course should they choose to do so,” this statement ignores the fact that AP courses, according to the Department’s own guidance, are offered as weighted ALO (Advanced Learning Opportunities) courses. This means they can count towards a 5.0 scale. (Honors courses, by contrast, count towards a 4.5.) By deciding not to offer an ALO designation to the AP African American Studies course, the Department is knowingly and intentionally reducing the amount of grade points students can receive for taking the course.

Further, districts without a course code will presumably be responsible for all of the expenses related to offering the course.  This includes large expenses like buying textbooks and sending teachers to required College Board trainings, which for many districts means the course is out of reach for students who want to take it.  In practice, many districts cannot afford this additional expense, so by refusing to provide a course code the Department is effectively killing the course in under-resourced districts, and interfering with ability of all districts to make their own decisions about which courses to offer.

The Department’s memo also misleadingly ties its decision to the regular cyclical review of the South Carolina social studies standards, suggesting that the course might not meet the requirements of those theoretical standards.  Of course, since the new standards have not yet been created, it is impossible to know if any AP or non-AP course will comply with them. It is also true that AP courses traditionally are not expected to meet state academic standards; by adopting the courses, the state is relying on frameworks already created by the College Board. One of us was on the standards review and writing teams for the newly-adopted state English Language Arts standards, and at no point during the review or writing process were standards required to adhere to AP course requirements for AP English Language and Composition or AP English Literature, or vice versa. There seems to be no reason to bring up state social studies standards in the memo, unless the goal is to create additional confusion.

The memo also fails to explain why other AP social studies courses, such as AP European History, are not being held to the same standard as AP African American Studies.

Read the full letter here. 

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