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Let students study for final exams, not worry about college board politics

College, classroom
University professor addresses his students during a lecture. |

It’s final exam season, so middle school and high school students are feverishly preparing. In case students needed one more thing to worry about, some in the media are warning that students’ hard work studying for end-of-year tests may not even count — for political reasons.

A recent statement from College Board, creator of Advanced Placement courses and exams, says AP work stands for “clarity and transparency” and an “unflinching encounter with evidence,” and “opposes censorship.”

Some in the media have interpreted that to mean that when state lawmakers reject the application of critical race theory in K-12 schools, educators may not be able to fulfill the requirements of teaching AP courses.

In fact, College Board — and the media and parents — should be more concerned with the racial bias that critical race theory is ushering into K-12 classrooms than state officials’ proposals that reject the theory.

For example, some schools have been separating students by race for different school activities. Educators then offer specific material or hold some conversations only with certain students in those affinity groups.

It’s not clear, nor especially transparent, why students should receive different information or participate in some activities based on their skin color. Furthermore, those activities may violate the Civil Rights Act of 1964.  

As for College Board’s “unflinching encounter with evidence,” Illinois’ new teacher certification standards — which affirm the application of critical race theory’s concept of “intersectionality”— say “there is often not one ‘correct’ way of doing or understanding something, and that what is seen as ‘correct’ is most often based on our lived experiences.”

In other words: Facts need not apply.

Radical educators using a “critical literacy lens” have also developed their own hashtag, #disrupttexts. The #disrupttexts movement says Shakespeare and To Kill a Mockingbird should be replaced with books supporting the Black Lives Matter movement. That sounds disturbingly like the censorship of classic works of literature containing truths about the human condition that have stood the test of time.

Critics also claim a new Florida law might interfere with AP instruction. But the Florida law prohibits compelled speech through schoolwork or activities and says the provisions “may not be construed to prohibit discussion of the concepts listed therein as part of a course of training or instruction, provided such training or instruction is given in an objective manner without endorsement of the concepts.”

Likewise, in an executive order, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem wrote, “[We] must take every step to ensure that [students’] education is free from undue bias and political indoctrination,” and critical race theory does, actually, compel students to “view the world through a purely racial lens.” Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin issued a similar order.

Perhaps the biggest concern for families and the College Board about critical race theory is that AP courses are meant to be challenging and require students to work hard. High school students can earn college credit with their efforts and dedication.

Yet critical race theorists say that “certain conceptions of merit function not as a neutral basis for distributing resources and opportunity, but rather as a repository of hidden, race-specific preferences.” That means critical race theorists distrust merit (actions and behaviors striving to be worthy of acclaim) and prefer that government force everyone to receive the same outcomes in life, regardless of how hard one works.

People care about what College Board has to say because many high school students around the nation see AP courses as prerequisites to attending top institutions. Last year, 1.178 million graduating public high school students took AP exams.

Still, some scholars question whether College Board’s AP U.S. history materials accurately represent American history. For that reason and the popularity of the courses among college-bound students, College Board should focus on the quality and accuracy of its content.

Meanwhile, parents, students, and teachers should ignore fearmongering among the media. State policies rejecting critical race theory’s prejudicial ideas will not threaten a child’s GPA — but should protect students and teachers from racial discrimination.

Originally published at The Daily Signal. 

Jonathan Butcher is the Will Skillman Fellow in Education at The Heritage Foundation.

Benjamin Tardif is a Spring 2022 member of the Young Leaders Program at The Heritage Foundation.

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