RALEIGH — At its July scheduled meeting, the State Board of Education (SBOE) voted to approve documents that support the revised social studies standards for grades six through 12.
The vote was 6-5 down party lines, with all Democrats voting in favor and all Republicans voting against them. The vote this time around was minus member Donna Tipton-Rogers, who voted in favor of the new standards earlier this year.
The supporting documents for grade K-5 were presented and approved in June.
During the meeting, state Superintendent Catherine Truitt read a statement, a copy of which was obtained by the North State Journal. The statement begins by thanking the Department of Public Instruction’s social studies standards team for its work before describing issues with the revisions and documentation.
“As superintendent, one of the things I’m charged with is improving the quality of education for students and implementing strategies that will enhance student outcomes. However, I can’t say in good faith that I believe these standards do either,” Truitt said in her statement. “And while it would certainly be easier for me to take a seat and clasp my hands rather than allow this conversation to continue, I feel it would be a disservice to our students.
“As they are written, there is no historical content provided in them,” Truitt wrote. “And while there is a menu of topics provided within the unpacking documents, there is no specificity on what the non-negotiable historical events are that students are expected to learn.
“There are other challenges presented in our standards as well, including the standards’ organization around theme versus chronology. This approach does not serve younger students well,” Truitt told the board. “Students cannot examine relationships among events or explain historical causality without a strong understanding of chronology.”
The superintendent asked that the board grant her “the opportunity to help re-shape these standards to ensure specificity, and to guarantee that North Carolina students walk away having learned the lessons of our past in order to help pave a brighter future for all.”
Board Chairman Eric Davis responded by saying there may be “potential” to improve the standards but that “whether this potential merits further work is subject to the board’s judgment and approval.”
Truitt expanded on her comments during the board meeting in a statement to NSJ.
“The social studies standards we have passed do not provide assurance that students will graduate with the knowledge and skills necessary to both love and critique our history. As they are written, there is no historical content provided in them,” Truitt told NSJ. “There is no specificity on what the historical events are that students are expected to learn.”
“Additionally, there are other challenges presented in our standards, including the standards’ organization around theme versus chronology. This approach does not serve students well and makes it more difficult for newer teachers to devise a course,” said Truitt.
The revised standards approved by the board in February are scheduled to go into effect for the 2021-22 school year; however, at least one district so far has voted not to move forward with the changes.
At its June 14 meeting, the Moore County School Board voted unanimously on a resolution asking lawmakers and the state board of education to delay implementation of the revised standards until 2022-23. The resolution includes a provision that if no action is taken by those state-level officials, the Moore board reserves the right to delay implementation unilaterally.
Also in June, the House passed a bill delaying implementation of the standards for one year. The bill, Senate Bill 654, is now sitting in a conference committee after the Senate failed to concur with the House.
Earlier this year in February, the revisions to the standards drew heavy criticism from both members of the board as well as from the public.
Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson was particularly vocal in his opposition to the revisions. He took issue with the overall tone of the revisions, which included portraying the United States in a negative way and being too focused on race.
“I think they are politically charged. I think they are divisive, and I think they, quite frankly, smack of a lot of leftist dogma,” Robinson said during the board’s Jan. 27 meeting.
Criticisms included the infusion of social justice concepts into the revisions, such as the use of “Gender Identity.”
Robinson was not alone in his opposition. A petition opposing the revisions hit 22,000 signatures by Feb. 2 and over 30,000 signatures prior to the board’s final vote. Additionally, in an interview with NSJ in May, Truitt also expressed her opposition to Critical Race Theory.
“I think there’s a lot of misunderstanding about what Critical Race Theory is. It is not a curriculum, it is not a program,” said Truitt in the interview. “It is an idea and a theory, pieces of which sometimes permeate everything from a comment that an adult in a school may make all the way down to a particular assignment that is given or to a training that could be given by a district.”
She also expressed her support for House Bill 324, which doesn’t mention Critical Race Theory by name, but rather protects students from being subjected to the promotion of racial or sexual discrimination in the classroom.
The bill bars the promotion of concepts such as one race is superior to another, that one’s race or sex should cause individual psychological anguish or discomfort, and the “belief that the United States is a meritocracy is racist or sexist or was created by members of a particular race or sex to oppress members of another race or sex.”