When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis threatened to ban an Advanced Placement African American Studies class from his state’s schools, the College Board quickly backed down, revising the class to remove the content that DeSantis had deemed unacceptable. When you let a bully succeed, he always comes back for more—a lesson the College Board is now learning. This time, though, the organization that develops and administers AP exams and other standardized tests is standing its ground.
DeSantis is now coming for AP Psychology via the Florida Department of Education because it has a unit that covers gender and sexual orientation. Following the expansion of Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” law, instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal not just for grade school students but for middle school and high school students as well.
Last month, the state education department instructed the College Board to inspect its courses for “content or topics prohibited by State Board of Education rule and Florida law” and report on which “need modification to ensure compliance” by this week. The College Board has responded with a strong no: “Please know that we will not modify our courses to accommodate restrictions on teaching essential, college-level topics. Doing so would break the fundamental promise of AP: colleges wouldn’t broadly accept that course for credit and that course wouldn’t prepare students for success in the discipline.”
The College Board also explicitly said that it had screwed up when DeSantis demanded changes to African American Studies, andit wouldn’t be repeating that mistake.
"We are resolute in this position, in part, because of what we learned from our mistakes in the recent rollout of AP African American Studies," the organization wrote. "In developing the framework for AP African American Studies, we tried to create a course that could be available in states across the country and accurately represent a college-level course on the subject." But it didn’t work: "We learned that both of those objectives could not be achieved if state policies prohibit content that is essential for a college-level course.”
The American Psychological Association agreed. “We applaud the College Board for standing up to the state of Florida and its unconscionable demand to censor an educational curriculum and test that were designed by college faculty and experienced AP teachers who ensure that the course and exam reflect the state of the science and college-level expectations,” its CEO, Arthur Evans Jr., said in a statement.
Under DeSantis, Florida is attacking LGBTQ+ people, declaring the mere mention of their existence as inappropriate for K-12 students, and trying to block health care for trans kids. His past successes made him think he’d win this fight, too.
Instead, what happened is that DeSantis has taught another powerful organization not to bow to him. He’s now in fights with the College Board and Disney, both of which have a lot more ability to thwart him than the faculty and students of Florida public colleges and universities he’s targeted, or the parents of trans kids, or LGBTQ+ parents wanting their existence to be acknowledged in their kids’ schools, or LGBTQ+ kids in schools looking for support or representation. The College Board can make DeSantis choose between promoting his bigotry and allowing Florida high school students to take a course that will look good on their college applications and perhaps give them a head start on earning college credit. And if ambitious Florida kids can’t take that class next year, it’s going to be on DeSantis.