Another Florida Blow for Higher-Ed Freedom

By accepting the Classic Learning Test as an SAT alternative, the Sunshine State has further loosened the progressive hold on education.

The higher-ed policies of Florida and Governor Ron DeSantis have been a lightning rod for liberal rage for quite some time now, and the intensity has only heated up with DeSantis’s presidential campaign.

First, Florida scuffled with the College Board, designer of Advanced Placement courses, over the content of a Critical Race Theory-intensive African-American Studies class. Next, the Sunshine State argued publicly with the organization over its AP Psychology offering, which, like all courses, must abide by the state’s Parental Rights in Education law.

Yet the latest higher-ed news out of Florida may be the most significant of all. Effective immediately, high-schoolers who wish to apply to the state’s public universities may ignore the College Board-owned SAT and take the relatively new Classic Learning Test, instead. The Martin Center and other education reformers generally support the SAT as a merit-based admissions tool. Nevertheless, as the Wall Street Journal’s editorial board suggested last week, Florida’s acceptance of a new SAT competitor begins to correct the fact that “the College Board has accumulated a worrisome amount of power.”

By exploring alternatives to a progressive monopoly, the Sunshine State is standing on entirely reasonable principles.Indeed, Florida’s changes to higher-ed policy have generally been reasonable and moderate, despite progressive claims to the contrary. For example, the state requests that courses taught to minors must have parental oversight and be subject to Florida law—hardly the stuff of political radicalism.

On May 19, 2023, the Florida Department of Education sent a letter to Brian Barnes of the College Board, reminding the organization of amended Rule 6A-10.081 of the Florida Administrative Code. The altered rule

prohibit[s] Florida educators from intentionally provided classroom instruction to students in grades 4 through 12 on sexual orientation or gender identity unless such instruction is either expressly required by state academic standards … or is part of a reproductive health course or health lesson for which a student’s parent has the option to have his or her student not attend.

Though Florida’s letter did not mention AP Psychology specifically (and reads as a rather mild correspondence), it nevertheless generated no small amount of progressive hysteria.

On August 3rd, the College Board released a statement claiming that “the Florida Department of Education ha[d] effectively banned AP Psychology in the state.” During the confusion that followed, a number of schools dropped AP Psychology from their course offerings and began to explore alternatives. As The Federalist argued days later, the scrap did the College Board no favors, despite an ultimate resolution in AP Psychology’s favor. (The course, as written, does not, in fact, violate Florida law.) Instead, the dispute weakened the organization’s standing in the Sunshine State and surely influenced the Florida Board of Governors during their consideration of the Classic Learning Test.

As previously mentioned, the chaos surrounding AP Psychology was not the first College Board kerfuffle to happen in 2023. Earlier this year, Florida rejected AP African-American Studies, stating that it attempted to indoctrinate students into Critical Race Theory. Nor did Florida stop there. In April 2023, the Florida legislature agreed to give the Florida Department of Education $2.8 million to help create new courses and exams to assess student learning so that future students might have an alternative to the College Board’s Advanced Placement program.

Florida lawmakers and Ron DeSantis clearly remember what many others seem to have forgotten: that the education of minors must be undertaken with parental oversight and not for the purpose of indoctrinating young minds. By exploring alternatives to the College Board’s progressive monopoly, the Sunshine State is standing on entirely reasonable principles.

Grace Hall is a communications assistant at the James G. Martin Center for Academic Renewal. Graham Hillard is the Martin Center’s editor.