Some school board members would like to put the brakes on Moore County Schools’ implementation of new state guidelines for teaching social studies.
Effective this fall, North Carolina’s standard course of study will more actively incorporate the contributions and experiences of women and minorities throughout history. The state’s standards for social studies have been rewritten at each level from kindergarten through eighth grade, and for each high school social studies course.
A team of about two dozen Moore County Schools teachers is currently combing through the new standards. Their goal is to develop a framework for how teachers in each grade and class might structure their teaching in accordance with the new guidelines.
But in the interest of time, they’re starting that work before the state’s Department of Public Instruction finishes writing its own supporting documents for those standards.
That process hit a snag earlier this month when the State Board of Education delayed a vote on the first set of materials related to the new standards. Those materials included a “crosswalk” comparing the previous standards to the new ones in kindergarten through 12th grade and a glossary of terms that frequently appear in the standards.
But due to an oversight, the glossary presented to the state board was a draft that had not been fully edited. In addition to misspelling former President Ronald Reagan’s name, the glossary did not cite sources to help teachers and others understand what its definitions were based on.
Directors from DPI’s standards, curriculum and instruction division are now working with State Superintendent Catherine Truitt to revise the glossary, rewriting some definitions and including a more extensive list of citations.
Also sidelined were what’s known as “unpacking documents,” which outline learning objectives at each grade level, give an overview of what students should understand and provide examples of topics that relate to each objective. State DPI staff presented draft unpacking documents for kindergarten through fifth grade earlier this month. The state board is scheduled to review documents for grades 6-8 and for high school courses in July.
At the end of its June 3 meeting, the state board planned to reconsider those materials no later than June 18. But a bill now moving through the state legislature might give the state and local districts more time to streamline their curriculum.
Earlier this week the N.C. House of Representatives passed a COVID-19 relief bill that includes a one-year delay in the implementation of the new standards. That rewritten bill will be back in front of the state Senate this week.
But regardless of the outcome of that legislation, this week some members of the Moore County Board of Education were ready to halt the district’s work on any changes to its social studies curriculum.
During the board’s work session on Monday, board member David Hensley went so far as to accuse state education officials of “plagiarizing” the proposed glossary from politically biased sources and said the district should hold off on developing any curriculum based on the new standards.
“It’s going to delay us getting the unpacking documents, and I’m not sure that we’re going to have time to develop a social studies curriculum if we don’t receive the unpacking documents in a timely manner,” Hensley said.
“I’m not sure why we even have people working. We should delay them working.”
DPI officials told the State Board of Education that most of those definitions don’t have a single source, and were developed entirely in-house. But there are a few exceptions.
Much of the proposed glossary’s definition for “racism” is consistent with widely-used language originating in a “race equity and inclusion action guide” published in 2014 by the Annie E. Casey Foundation. Similarly, the definition for “equity” draws heavily from a 2019 publication from the Center for the Study of Social Policy.
Monday’s school board agenda includes an update on Moore County Schools’ planning around the new social studies standards and goals for the district’s summer curriculum workshop.
Board member Robert Levy also expressed reservations about some of the state’s proposed supporting documents.
“I can see a request to delay based at least upon the unpacking documents that I’ve seen so far,” said Levy.
Last month Levy was the sole board member who did not vote to endorse teachers’ summer work to incorporate the new standards into their classroom plans. Levy abstained from that vote rather than opposing it.
After viewing the proposed K-5 unpacking documents presented to the State Board of Education earlier this month, Levy said some of the guidelines appear to be politically motivated.
Levy took issue with the inclusion of Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor on a list of 18 “historical people” who could be taught in first grade, along with the objective “Explain how the experiences and achievements of people throughout history have helped contribute to the changes in various local communities and communities around the world over time.”
That list does not include Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female Supreme Court justice, but includes Thomas Jefferson, Martin Luther King, Sacagawea and Condoleezza Rice.
Levy also objected to the suggestion that the Rev. Dr. William Barber, formerly president of the North Carolina NAACP, be taught in third grade in connection with the objective: “Explain how the experiences and achievements of women, indigenous, religious and racial groups have contributed to the development of the local community.
“(Barber) is certainly a great man, and does a lot of interesting work, but he’s extremely, extremely, extremely political and is current and is not an historical figure,” said Levy. “At every place that you turn, this becomes a political document and I hope we’re going to have an educational document when we finally take care of this.”
But much of what’s in the unpacking documents serve as guidelines for teachers rather than hard-and-fast rules for what must be taught. Those decisions will be made at the district level and by teachers themselves.
“What our teachers need to be able to do, if nothing else, they need to be able to sort this out. They’re not waiting for you all to make their decisions for them. They’re the ones who are going to write the curriculum,” said Superintendent Bob Grimesey.
“You can provide guidance, but they’re not looking for you to come and dictate the curriculum that they’re going to teach. This is a very complicated situation and if this week they just take this video and watch it, it informs them of your concerns and your perspectives. They’re not ignorant of that and they’re not trying to look for a way to get around you. They are concerned about what you’re concerned about.”
The district brings in small groups of teachers to refine curriculum every summer — even when the state isn’t changing its standards. Grimesey maintained that teachers have enough information as it stands to start planning for the upcoming school year.
“I just simply wanted our teachers to be paid to be able to come in, look at the situation we have at hand with social studies given what they’ve learned from the past year, which is the kind of work we do anyhow, and bring as much perspective to that for them and their colleagues in the coming year as they possibly can under these unusual circumstances,” he said.
“The state has not made that easy, and the whole dynamics of politics in America have not made that easy. I think we owe it to them to let them … come in and see what they have on hand and talk to each other about what they’re going to need between now and the end of the year.”
The Moore County Board of Education’s regular meeting will be held on Monday at the district’s central office in Carthage. The board is scheduled to meet in closed session at 4 p.m. before the 6:30 p.m. open session.