New statewide social studies standards aimed at incorporating the experiences of minorities and marginalized groups throughout history have some Moore County school board members asking whether or not individual districts can opt out or delay the implementation of state-set curriculum.
The State Board of Education approved those new standards in a 7-5 vote in February, effectively setting new guidelines for how the subject is addressed in kindergarten through 12th grade classrooms around the state.
The new standards have been nearly two years in the making and are timed along with a realignment of social studies courses on the high school level. Graduation requirements for students starting ninth grade in 2021 will include one American history course instead of two, making room for a new course in economics and personal finance as directed by the legislature. World history and a retitled civic literacy course will remain requirements.
The state Department of Public Instruction has yet to roll out a full curriculum based on the new standards, and the Moore County Board of Education has not discussed at length the changed objectives that social studies classes will be expected to cover.
But during their meeting last week, board members agreed to delve into the standards next month. By summer, Moore County Schools and its social studies teachers should have enough direction from the state to start planning courses that align with them.
New Standards Spur Controversy
The new standards were designed to be more inclusive of diverse perspectives on government, economic systems and seminal historical events, but they’ve spurred no shortage of controversy statewide. At least two members of Moore County’s school board have echoed concerns from detractors statewide that the expanded focus on racism and discrimination are in danger of overshadowing the nation’s progress toward racial equality.
The issue was not on the school board’s work session agenda last week. But during the time allotted for general comments from board members, Robert Levy suggested that the board take a vote during its April 12 meeting on potentially delaying implementation of the new standards for at least a year.
“Everything I’ve seen about these standards is foreboding,” he said. “I don’t know at this point whether we should throw them out entirely or if we should use what is good about them, but I do know that given their volatility and given their basis we need a lot more study before we start preparing our teachers over the summer, which is what the plan is, for these standards.”
Superintendent Bob Grimesey described the new standards adopted by the State Board of Education as a “framework” for the curriculum that will actually be taught. The substance of that curriculum, he said, won’t trickle down to the districts for some weeks.
History Through a New Lens
The new standards in most cases call for students to examine the same topics they’re already learning, grade by grade, but through a new lens. Fifth grade social studies currently covers immigration to and migration within the United States, including forced migration, and students are called upon to “compare the changing roles of women and minorities in American society from Pre-Colonial through Reconstruction.”
The new standards more specifically state that students should be able to “explain how the experiences and achievements of women, minorities, indigenous groups,
and marginalized people have contributed to change and innovation in the United States.”
North Carolina does not currently set any statewide standardized test in any social studies subject, either K-8 or in high school.
Current high school American History objectives deal with the roles of various ethnic groups, cultural conflicts and “public and governmental response” to voluntary and involuntary immigration trends. The new standards go further in homing in on injustice with objectives that call on students to “critique multiple perspectives of American identity in terms of oppression, stereotypes, diversity, inclusion, and exclusion” and “deconstruct multiple perspectives of American capitalism in terms of affluence, poverty and mobility.”
Teachers and administrators don’t yet know how those objectives will translate to classroom instruction. The state Department of Public Instruction will be expanding upon the new standards with what are called “unpacking documents” specific to each grade level that contain detailed guidelines for how the new objectives might be taught.
“We have the state standards but we still don’t have the curriculum. We don't have the content,” Grimesey said. “We would present that to the board as we were receiving it, we will be very transparent about where we go with it.”
Not Implementing ‘May Not be an Option’
The superintendent did not offer input last week on the extent to which the school board could decide to amend the standards as they’re taught in Moore County Schools or even move to remain with the current ones.
“I don't know that we’re far enough along to where I can give the board any informed direction as to what your options are, if you can even choose to not implement the standards. It may or may not be an option for you,” Grimesey said. “Whatever the board’s position is, we’ll do what we can that the law allows us to do.”
Levy also suggested that the board consider forming an ad hoc committee of board members and administrators to review the standards and supporting materials and come up with a version “in keeping with our philosophy.”
“This is probably, I think for the public, one of the most serious hurdles we have, especially if we want to keep up our enrollment,” he said. “The public looks at this very seriously.”
Other board members were open to a discussion of the new standards during their May work session, at which point more details are expected to be forthcoming from DPI.
“Hopefully by then the state will have made some progress toward opening it up such that we can see what the actual program looks like,” said board Chair Libby Carter.
Board member David Hensley said that the school board should directly engage in the conversation around the new standards.
“What I’d like to see is what are the standards, what our requirements are and what we can and cannot do legally,” he said. “Once we know what the standards are, what the legal requirements are and what our options are then we can mull it over.”