Board of Education delays review of history, social sciences standards again

Virginia Department of Education staff to provide standards Nov. 17

By: - October 21, 2022 12:01 am

The Virginia Department of Education’s offices in the James Monroe Building in Richmond. The agency has recently launched new initiatives aimed at teacher recruitment and retention with the help of federal aid money. (Parker Michels-Boyce/ For the Virginia Mercury)

The Virginia Board of Education on Thursday accepted a request from Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration to delay the review of the state’s new history and social science standards until Nov. 17.

The board will also receive a proposal of the curriculum framework at the same meeting.

“Our commitment remains that we want all of Virginia and American history to be told,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow. “We want all students to be engaged in fact-based and inquiry-based instruction throughout their education in an age-appropriate way, and that’s what we want to ensure. So in some respects, I want to be really unapologetic about taking extra time with this because we want to get it right.” 

In a Monday letter to the board, Balow said that since the September meeting when an earlier delay was discussed, new board members have raised concerns and questions about the roughly 400-page draft standards. Simultaneously, Virginia Department of Education staff have been reviewing the curriculum framework.

She also wrote that staff have worked to correct errors, reorder guidance and edit language so parents, educators and students can understand the standards document.

The work is “paramount,” she said, urging the board to not settle for standards that “fall … short of our best because of strict adherence to a timeline.”

Five new members of the nine-member board who were appointed by the Republican Youngkin took office for the first time in September. 

Board Vice President Tammy Mann, an appointee of former Gov. Ralph Northam, expressed concern about interfering with the existing review process by further delaying the standards. 

And board member Anne Holton, an appointee of former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, pointed out that the draft was first released in June and said she didn’t “understand who are the voices that want to weigh in on this that haven’t been paying enough attention to have weighed in by now.”

VPM previously reported Balow is working with the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative educational think tank headquartered in Washington, D.C., to develop the standards. 

On Thursday, Balow said representatives from American University, the University of Virginia, Baylor University in Texas and Hillsdale College in Michigan have expressed interest in commenting on the draft standards.

The standards outline Virginia’s expectations for student learning in history and social science, which is assessed through the Standards of Learning tests. Virginia code requires the board to review the standards every seven years to update content and reflect current academic research.

The code does not provide a deadline for the board to accept the standards, although they are expected to be in place for the 2023-24 school year.

Under Balow’s plan, the first review by the board will begin on Nov. 17, followed by community engagement sessions between Nov. 28 and Dec. 16.

Board public hearings, which will be delayed a month from the most recent plan, will be between Jan. 9 and 13. The final review and adoption will take place a month later, in February. VDOE staff will finalize the curriculum frameworks from March to August.

Board member Bill Hansen, a Youngkin appointee, said Balow’s plan would get the board where it needs to be, but he felt that members are having “a little bit of a scrum” over the additional months-long delay.

The state’s review of the history and social science standards began two years ago. It included repeated meetings by the Board of Education and a committee of experts, and public input from over 5,000 commenters. The total number of comments has since increased to 6,000.

Several leaders push back against delay 

Members of the Virginia Education Association called for “partisan politics to be put aside” on the draft history standards, according to VEA President James Fedderman. 

He said the administration should have corrected the “handful” of grammatical errors in the standards after three months of delay.

“Delaying the standards further will cause real harm: If they are not released until late summer, educators will not have sufficient time to review them and create quality lessons and learning materials for a new school year,” Fedderman said in a statement. 

Zowee Aquino of the nonprofit Hamkae Center also urged the board to move forward on Wednesday.

“Every delay means less time for teachers and school divisions to properly implement the SOLs,” Aquino said. “Keep the process going by incorporating the public input already provided to the original revised SOLs and stop the delays.”

Del. Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico, who is a teacher, tweeted Thursday that the “consistent delays” in approving the standards suggest the Youngkin administration is so busy with “ideological crusades” and “culture wars” that officials are “dropping the ball on academic matters.”

He said individuals and groups have had years to give input and still have months to do so. 

“We don’t need to give far right-wing groups a hecklers veto,” VanValkenburg wrote. “We do need the admin to stop delaying academic policies [because] all of their energy is going to culture wars.”

Revised plan to adopt history and social sciences standards

October – November 2022

  • Seek additional input, incorporate changes, make edits to the standards document

November 17, 2022

  • First review of standards document 

Nov. 28 – Dec. 16, 2022

  • Community engagement sessions

January 9-13, 2023

  • State board public hearings

January – February 2023

  • Final standards content review
  • Review public comments
  • Incorporate changes into standards document

February 2023

  • Review and adoption by state board

March – August

  • Finalize curriculum frameworks for school divisions

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Nathaniel Cline
Nathaniel Cline

Nathaniel is an award-winning journalist who's been covering news across the country since 2007, including politics at The Loudoun Times-Mirror and The Northern Neck News in Virginia as well as sports for The Plain Dealer in Cleveland, Ohio. He has also hosted podcasts, worked as a television analyst for Spectrum Sports, and appeared as a panelist for conferences and educational programs. A graduate of Bowie State University, Nathaniel grew up in Hawaii and the United Kingdom as a military brat. Five things he must have before leaving home: his cellphone, Black Panther water bottle, hand sanitizer, wedding ring and Philadelphia Eagles keychain.