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Black History AP Course Faces Obstacles by College Board

Some K-12 school district officials have proposed a remedy to the lack of Black student enrollment in Advanced Placement classes: an AP course in African-American History.

“My thinking is, if we can get [Black students] to engage in one AP course, then eventually they will enroll in others,” says Dr. Linda Lane, the deputy superintendent for instruction for the Pittsburgh Public School District.

However, the officials at the College Board, which oversees the AP tests, say the likelihood of a Black history AP course coming to fruition is slim to none. Adding a new subject to the AP curriculum is up to colleges, who at this point are cool to the idea, says Trevor Packer, vice president of the AP program.

“We could not find a single college that shared an interest [in having an AP course in African-American history,” he says. “What [our member colleges and universities] explained to us is that though the issue is important, they don’t want to lose enrollment in their African-American studies.”

Instead, Packer says, colleges and the College Board believe it would be more effective to place an increased emphasis on African-American history in the existing AP U.S. history course. Other options include offering pre-AP courses in middle schools and providing support to teachers in predominately Black high schools so more can qualify to teach AP classes.

Packer says that of the 5,200 College Board members — which include private and public high schools, colleges, universities and minority-serving institutions — none, including HBCUs, expressed interest.

Lane, however, says an AP Black history course would send a message that could change Black students’ outlook on education.

The AP program currently includes 37 subjects, including English, history, math and a host of foreign languages. Chinese and Japanese were added to the AP curriculum this year.

Despite the Board’s reluctance to add the new class, some other educators say the course could be beneficial.

“I think we have a fair amount of evidence that students are more motivated to learn when they understand the relevance [of a course],” says Dr. Lisa Lattuca, an associate professor in the Center for the Study in Higher Education at the University of Pennsylvania. “For African-American students, a course in African-American history is relevant to their life in a historical context.”

Lattuca says such a course would be appropriate not just for Black students but for all students because it will be useful in understanding the dynamics of American society.

While admitting that the decision to create the course lies in the hands of colleges and universities, Packer says he does not believe the course will boost Black student enrollment.

In the 2006-2007 academic year, Packer says Black enrollment in AP classes increased 15 percent over the previous year, the largest increase of any ethnic group. Hispanic enrollment jumped 14 percent, followed by 10 percent for Asians and 8 percent for Whites.

He adds that the Board has not been contacted formally about creating an AP course in African-American history, either by Lane or any college administrators.

Lane says she had a brief, discouraging phone conversation with the Board, but intends to continue advocating for the course. She says she has already received support and encouragement from nearby universities and colleges.

– Margaret Kamara


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