Aug 15, 2023 - Education

Arkansas not giving credit for African American studies

Illustration of a backpack with a "no" symbol keychain attached to it.

Illustration: Allie Carl/Axios

Arkansas high schools cannot give credit for Advanced Placement African American studies, a pilot course that was offered at two schools in the state last year.

State of play: Because the course is still in the works, state officials do not know whether it complies with the law. The state began inquiring about it after Gov. Sarah Huckabee Sanders signed an executive order prohibiting "indoctrination and critical race theory" in public schools.

  • "Without clarity, we cannot approve a pilot that may unintentionally put a teacher at risk of violating Arkansas law," according to an email from an Arkansas Department of Education spokesperson to Axios.
  • The course may not meet graduation requirements.
  • AP courses include a year-end exam students can take for college credit. An exam for the African American course was not offered in the 2022-23 school year, according to the department.

Reality check: Conservative politicians have claimed the course teaches critical race theory, a college-level framework that is rarely taught in grade school but often conflated with teachings on systemic racism.

  • Bans on so-called critical race theory have led some teachers to scrap once-noncontroversial Black history lessons for fear of being fired or shamed on social media.

What they're saying: Arkansas can't offer AP African American studies for credit because it's not an official course, Department of Education Secretary Jacob Oliva told Axios. It's unclear, for example, whether it would meet the requirements to count for high school social studies credit.

Details: The course was offered at Little Rock Central High School and The Academies at Jonesboro High School last year.

What's next: Fifty-nine Arkansas high schools teach a separate African American history course. Oliva said the state is working with schools to potentially create an honors version that could have a weighted grade like AP courses.

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