NC State Board of Education approves new guidance for how students will learn about history, race

The documents provide educators with example topics and projects they can use to teach the standards, which different from prior standards in their emphasis of a more diverse array of perspectives on history and discrimination.

Posted Updated

Emily Walkenhorst
, WRAL education reporter
RALEIGH, N.C. — The North Carolina State Board of Education has approved a set of guidance documents for implementing the state’s new social studies standards.
They provide educators with example topics and projects they can use to teach the new standards, which differ from prior standards in their emphasis of a more diverse array of perspectives on history and discrimination.

Educators are not required to use the documents approved Thursday, and local school districts and teachers form curriculum and lesson plans.

Ultimately, school districts, schools and teachers have authority over curriculum and lesson plans, per state law. They could choose to use some of the examples included in the guidance documents or come up with their own.

But the documents approved Thursday provide about 20 or more pages of suggested curriculum for each grade level that teachers may use to help them implement a new set of standards.
The board approved the standards Thursday on a 7-3 vote. Olivia Oxendine, Amy White and Todd Chasteen voted against the documents. Lt. Gov. Mark Robinson and Treasurer Dale Folwell, both Republicans who voted against the new standards in February, did not attend the meeting.

Oxendine voiced the most opposition to the documents, taking issue with examples topics or projects not included that she thought were essential to certain objectives.

For example, Oxendine thought the state should have listed Sandra Day O’Connor — the first female United States Supreme Court justice — among the examples for a fifth grade objective to explain the contributions of “women, minorities, indigenous groups, and marginalized people” on the U.S. The example people listed are: Martin Luther King, Jr., Susan B. Anthony, Sojourner Truth, Abigail Adams, Eleanor Roosevelt, Ella Baker, Cesar Chavez, Mary Jackson, Katherine Johnson, Dorothy Vaughn, Jerry Yang, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Dolores Huerta and Thurgood Marshall. Ginsburg was the second female U.S. Supreme Court justice and considered more liberal than O’Connor.

“And I will point to the omission, and I know we cannot point to every person in history, every event in history, every major theme in history,” Oxendine said. “But I cannot for the life of me figure out how this particular standard within the unpacking documents, how we missed Sandra Day O’Connor, the first female to serve on the US Supreme Court, appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1981.

Superintendent Catherine Truitt, a Republican, re-emphasized that the unpacking documents are only frameworks of reference for when educators design their curriculum and lesson plans.

“The most significant way that we ensure that various groups or people are not left out is that we are leaving it in the hands of our teachers to determine what they are going to do,” Truitt said. “That’s why there’ s disclaimer on the document saying this is not a checklist of people to cover…. Someone may very well look at that list and say ‘I understand, Sandra Day O’Connor would fit perfectly in the lesson I would choose.’”

Oxendine cited other board members concerns a year ago that schools may not teach things if they’re not told to do so.

She also took issue with not including the history of fighting for disability rights as an example of a topic to teach.

“The document, I’m sorry, it isn’t expansive enough,” she said.

The documents approved Thursday include a glossary of terms used in the standards, an explanation of which objectives students should master first, a guide to how the new standards differ from the previous standards, and suggested topics and projects for students as they learn the objectives.

The suggested topics and projects — called “unpacking documents” — approved Thursday cover kindergarten through fifth grade social studies. Unpacking documents from sixth grade and up will likely appear before the board for approval in July.

Thursday’s vote comes after the documents and standards raised concerns about how the state will encourage teaching about race and discrimination.

The vote was delayed two weeks after Oxendine said she wanted the glossary to include more citations of where the DPI officials derived their definitions. The definitions are meant to accompany terms used in the standards, some of which are new to the standards, like “American exceptionalism” — defined in the glossary as “the belief that America is different, perhaps better, than other countries,” derived from the Cambridge Advanced Learner’s Dictionary and Thesaurus.
The glossary revision presented Thursday is 55 pages, compared to 36 pages earlier this month. Its length is largely because of the added citations. Some of the definitions were also changed from the earlier version, though that was not specifically noted or discussed during Thursday’s meeting.
Some of the definitions changed were for terms mentioned in a John Locke Foundation blog post by Terry Stoops, the foundation’s director of the Center for Effective Education. Stoops had done a web search of a handful of the originally proposed definitions to find possible sources of the definitions. In his post, Stoops said he was concerned about colleges, foundations or other groups influencing the definitions, based on his findings, though Stoops did not detail his concerns about most of the definitions.

Eventually, definitions for terms like equity and American exceptionalism were shortened to dictionary definitions.

“Privilege” was changed from “a benefits, advantage, or entitlement enjoyed by an individual or group beyond what is available to others.” It was changed, citing the Cambridge and Oxford dictionaries, to “a special right or advantage of a person or group.”

On Thursday, Truitt said she, 2020 North Carolina Teacher of the Year Maureen Stover and other DPI officials had reviewed the glossary since the June 2-3 state board meeting.

“I have personally reviewed every single page of what’s being presented today and am entirely satisfied with the work that’s been done,” Truitt said.

Truitt has been working on the guidance documents passed Thursday with others at DPI since the standards were approved in February.

Earlier this month, Truitt said she had recommended the removal of some groups from example lists of marginalized communities during the documents’ drafting process.

The documents listed sample marginalized groups that a lesson could explore, and Truitt said the examples for lessons largely referred to Black people. Other groups were listed in only one example for a social studies objective and some weren’t mentioned where Truitt thought they should be.

The examples Truitt referenced weren’t provided to board members, but Truitt briefly described them earlier this month as being too specific and too heavy on Black history.

That concerned Durham Minister Paul Scott, founder of the Black Messiah Movement, who called the change a “literary lynching.”

On Thursday, Scott said he was glad for the vote of approval on the documents anyway.

“This is a great way to celebrate Juneteenth, but we must remain vigilent [sic] and organize in local communities to make sure that history, especially African American history, is taught properly,” Scott said.

Concerns on the standards, passed in February and upon which the documents approved Thursday are based, have surrounded whether they were too negative or just honest. Proponents contended more diverse perspectives on historical issues would leave students better prepared to be leaders when they’re older, while opponents argued emphasizing too much negativity would keep students from supporting their country.

The state updates content standards every five or more years. North Carolina Department of Public Instruction officials began working on the new social studies standards in 2019, and they were passed in February. The previous standards were approved in 2010.

DPI plans to have the new social studies standards implemented in the classroom by this fall.

A bill in the North Carolina legislature, related to school COVID-19 provisions, seeks to delay implementation of the standards by a year. It passed the House but not the Senate and is being re-worked in committee.