When the Placentia Yorba–Linda School Board in Orange County, California, considered banning critical race theory instruction, a surprising entity stood in the way: the College Board. The nonprofit, which develops advanced-placement (AP) courses and standardized tests, has stated ambiguously: “If a school bans required topics from their AP courses, the AP Program removes the AP designation from that course and its inclusion in the AP Course Ledger provided to colleges and universities.” The Placentia Yorba–Linda school district told the school board that removing critical race theory from the classroom would risk the AP status of its courses, and that it “has no intention to proceed with any action that would inhibit its ability to continue to offer AP courses and content.”
Ultimately, the school board moved ahead with the ban, adding an exception stipulating that it did not intend to circumscribe any material appearing in AP courses. But similar difficulties may unfold nationally as more districts seek to remove divisive racial instruction from the classroom. At stake is more than just the curriculum of American high schools. Colleges frequently accept AP classes for college credit, so each class can save a student thousands of dollars in tuition. AP classes can be the difference that makes a student able to afford a college degree and all the job opportunities that depend on a college credential. That gives the College Board a tremendous amount of power—and an obligation to ensure that its policies don’t stand in the way of the determinations of democratic bodies.
Not that the group has managed to remain apolitical in the past. As the National Association of Scholars documented in a recent report, the College Board has abused its monopoly to impose on American students a politicized, progressive version of history. To forestall concerns about its integrity, the College Board should state proactively that none of its “required topics” include CRT, or racially discriminatory concepts. If it doesn’t, it should answer a different question: Precisely which AP courses do require lessons from critical race theory? Americans should understand where the monopoly provider of assessment for AP courses gets its material.
If the nonprofit stands in their way, school boards and policymakers should push back. State policymakers who provide grants to reduce the cost to students of Advanced Placement examinations could consider forbidding any money to support assessment organizations that require students to study the discriminatory concepts underpinning CRT (or reward them for doing so). They could also take steps to assist rivals to the College Board, including dual-course classes (classes at high schools that provide college credit) and dual-enrollment classes (classes taken by high school students at local community colleges). Finally, they could work to ensure that the content standards for these courses include none of the discriminatory concepts underpinning critical race theory.
The College Board should be clear about its stance on critical race theory. Democratically elected officials shouldn’t have to outsource their curriculum decisions to a nonprofit with a history of political cowardice.
Photo by MediaNews Group/Orange County Register via Getty Images