RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) – Despite several hours of heated feedback Thursday, the State Board of Education decided to move forward with the second overhaul of K-12 history standards from the administration of Gov. Glenn Youngkin.
The board voted 5 to 3 to accept the draft as a baseline document for the series six public hearings, which will take place across the state throughout March before the final document is approved. The standards, which are revised every seven years under state law, will set the bar for what needs to be taught in schools at each grade level as early as the 2024-2025 school year.
Council members acknowledged there is still work to be done on the project, but they are eager to move forward with a process that has been stalled for nearly six months. State Superintendent Jillian Ballou asked for a postponement in August after presenting an alternative set of standards that were developed with extensive input over more than two years under former Gov. Ralph Northam’s administration.
There was a sense of déjà vu during the more than four-hour public hearing on Thursday as dozens of speakers condemned the draft released last month and echoed many of the same concern caused by the previous version that the Youngkin administration unveiled last November.
“January’s draft standards are an insult to educators and not good for students,” said Samantha Futrell, president of the Virginia Council for the Social Studies.
Critics called on the board to adopt an alternative project created jointly by six organizations, including the Virginia Social Studies Leadership Consortium (VSSLC), the Virginia Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development (VASCD), the American Historical Association (AHA), the Virginia Council for the Social Studies (VCSS) , the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), and the Virginia Geographical Alliance (VGA). That request was also denied by the council on a 5-3 vote.
Several speakers said the process under the Youngkin administration was politicized by input from right-wing groups and lacked transparency. They said the latest project was developed without appropriate input from historians and educators.
Daniel Gecker, president of the board, said the controversy had a negative impact on public perception.
“We are a board that is meant to be independent of managers and I hope that as this board develops that independent role will become more prominent than it is today. I really think we interfered too much in what was supposed to be the job of the board, and I think that hurt us,” Hecker said.
Critics say the January project is too complex and includes topics that are not developmentally appropriate for certain grade levels. They say the project adds too much new content that teachers can’t realistically cover in the allotted instructional time and emphasizes memorization rather than critical thinking.
“There will be no deeper learning in our classrooms, and the quality of learning that our children deserve will decrease,” said Chris Jones, executive director of the Virginia Association for Curriculum Development and Supervision.
Speakers noted that the new project also contains various errors and omissions.
For example, a coalition of social studies groups said several courses began with the era of European settlement rather than the long history of indigenous peoples, and the standards removed a reference to Indigenous Peoples Day, which had previously been included with Columbus Day.
Historians have said that standards relating to trade unions were dropped and the term “fascism” was removed from the section on World War II. They said the standards incorrectly placed the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks in the Cold War chapter.
Critics continue to believe that the standards downplay the role of various marginalized groups in history.
“We deserve better. I’m asking you to do the right thing this Black History Month,” said Michelle Thomas, president of the Loudoun NAACP chapter.
More than 80 people signed up to testify during the board’s public comment period Thursday, with the vast majority talking about the history standards. Only one person, Youngkin’s chief diversity officer Martin Brown, spoke in support.
Superintendent Ballou accused some of the speakers of distorting the standards.
“It was clear that people hadn’t read or hadn’t read the standards carefully,” Ballou said. “For example, we expanded the indigenous history, especially east of the Mississippi. We expanded African American history, African American studies. We have expanded opportunities for students to learn about Asian American and Pacific Islander events.”
Asked if she plans to more actively involve the groups that created the alternative project, Ballou said: “They have been involved from the beginning until today and will continue to be involved. The January draft reflects most of the work that has taken place over the past two years, and it’s a synthesis, it’s an evolution of standards.”