RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Governor Glenn Youngkin’s administration is taking another swing at revising K-12 history and social science learning standards. The process was delayed after a previous draft was harshly criticized.
The new 68-page draft, if approved, will set the bar for what Virginia students should know at each grade level as early as the 2024-2025 school year.
History standards are revised every seven years under state law but this round is getting an unusual amount of attention.
The Virginia Department of Education released the new draft on Friday, nearly two months after the state’s Board of Education rejected another proposal crafted under the Youngkin administration. Critics said the November draft, which was created with the help of conservative-leaning educational organizations and think tanks, whitewashed history. Others said it ignored extensive public input compiled in an alternate, 400-page draft created under former Governor Ralph Northam’s administration.
Virginia’s Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, a Youngkin appointee, said the new document bridges the two drafts and fixes errors.
“Overall, we have expanded history and stayed true to the Governor’s commitment to teach all history, both the good and the bad, in a concise and honest way,” Balow said in an interview on Friday.
In a press release, the Department of Education said the proposed standards incorporated input from more than 200 reviewers over two years and has “new content on events and historical figures previously overlooked in the commonwealth’s history standards.”
“Previous iterations left out things like hate groups, the Ku Klux Klan, Senator Hiram Revels, the first African American to serve in Congress from Mississippi. We also built out civics, as well as economics. We incorporated feedback from more voices,” Balow said.
But Dr. James Grossman, executive director of the American Historical Association, said they were never formally consulted, despite offering to help the board multiple times.
“They have not been interested,” Grossman said.
The American Historical Association is part of a coalition that released its own set of recommendations last month. Balow said their written input was taken into consideration.
While Grossman is still reviewing the new draft, he is already taking issue with one of the document’s guiding principals. It says, “Teachers should engage students in age-appropriate ways that do not suggest students are responsible for historical wrongs based on immutable characteristics, such as race or ethnicity.”
“That’s a red herring. Teachers are not doing that. There is no reason to say that other than to score points,” Grossman said. “What historians are helping history teachers to say to students is that you’re not responsible for what your grandparents did. You’re responsible for knowing what your grandparent’s did and why it matters.”
Asked why this language was included, Balow said it’s an important part of the discussion around history standards.
“The idea is to concisely and honestly teach about history but not at the risk or the cost of ascribing guilt or suggesting guilt to students,” Balow said.
Dr. Ma’asehyahu Isra-Ul, president of the Virginia Social Studies Leaders Consortium, said the new draft still seems to embrace a narrow version of history focused on American exceptionalism. Based on early feedback, he said some of the learning goals are too dense and not developmentally appropriate.
There are also some notable omissions, according to Isra-Ul. For example, kindergarten standards say students should learn about Christopher Columbus Day, but there is no explicit mention of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
It comes after the old draft faced backlash for a reference to Indigenous people as America’s first “immigrants” from Asia, which Balow later apologized for.
“So once again, they have erased indigenous people,” Isra-Ul said.
Asked about the omission, Balow said the list reflects holidays that are embedded in state law.
“That standard very clearly states ‘including but not limited to,’ and so we certainly anticipate teachers will go above and beyond what is listed in Virginia Code,” Balow said.
Stay with 8News for updates.