/MDE to hold hearing on social studies proposal –

MDE to hold hearing on social studies proposal –

Nonprofit Mississippi News Over the past few months, both conservative legislators and leaders have pledged to stop critical race theory being taught in Mississippi’s public school systems. Many expressed dismay when a Twitter user reported that the Mississippi Department of Education had proposed changes to its social studies standards in December. An objective for fourth-grade teaching on civil rights had previously stated, “Name important people from the modern Civil Rights Movement, which includes Mississippians.” Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, Medgar Evers, James Meredith, Fannie Lu Hamer, Charles Evers, and others” would be changed to say, “Identify key figures of the Civil Rights Movement, including Mississippians.” A seventh grade objective, which read, “Examine southern resistance to Reconstruction Reforms, including: Black Codes, Jim Crow Laws, Ku Klux Klan, etc.,” would be changed to, “Analyze southern resistance for Reconstruction reforms.” Mississippi’s public schools follow learning objectives and material according to each grade level. The social studies standards can be broken down into five categories, which are called strands. They include history, geography, geography, economics and civil rights. The first step towards revising the standards was approved by the members of the state Board of Education on Dec 16. The item was approved without any discussion. However, all proposed changes to the standards are here. Many changes are made across the strands in the document, including removing specific names and descriptions to make way for more general terms. Verb changes are also possible, such as changing “describe” from “determine how” or “explain to” to “contrast.” Many people have questioned why the proposed changes were not announced or discussed by board members. Some called it cowardly while others found it disturbing. One person even called the proposed changes fascism. On Wednesday, MDE announced that it would hold a public hearing Jan. 28 to discuss the changes. The Mississippi Center For Justice’s education policy specialist Chauncey Sparrow was trying to get a meeting with MDE prior to the announcement of the January event. Spears, a former social studies specialist at MDE, said that he and his group want to understand the “academically justified” reasons for the changes as well as ensure that the public has a voice. Spears stated that a document such as this, which serves as the basis of instruction in classrooms, would need to have some kind of consensus about how history instruction should look in order to guarantee or at least hold accountable educators across the state in order to teach the full and truthful history of the state. “Because it’s too wide, then you run to teachers looking at these different historical events and depending on their level of comfort and expertise in certain areas, students not learning some things.” MDE officials who assisted in these changes stated that the process has been ongoing for over a year and any items removed from the standards will be in a separate document. The current social studies standards were established by a 35-member committee that included educators from public schools, MDE and people who worked in the Research and Curriculum Department of Mississippi State University. According to Wendy Clemons (executive director of the Office of Secondary Education and Professional Development of MDE), these standards have been revised twice before. One in 2006 and another in 2011. Jen Cornett, director for social studies at MDE, stated that the department assembled a group U.S. History teachers in November 2020 to create additional documents for educators. Cornett explained that what was meant to be a midterm evaluation of the standards turned into a new committee to improve them, following feedback from educators. Cornett stated that teachers had complained about the 2011 social studies standards being too broad. Therefore, 2018’s standards were more detailed. Cornett stated that educators found it difficult to implement the new standards. The work quickly grew to a full committee. In August and September 2021, the group worked through many revisions to the existing standards. These standards are for teachers to use to set learning goals and not as a guideline for every lesson. She said that 2018’s document was so dense that it was difficult for teachers to distill the lesson’s purpose. The changes were made. She stated that the goal was not to alter or add content. She said, “We just cleaned up.” Information that was removed from an existing document will also be included in a separate instructional plan guide, which the department plans on publishing in May. She said, “When you see that the information might be pulled from a document, it hasn’t disappeared.” It’s going to be presented in an effective way to teachers.” Kenneth Anthony of Mississippi State, an elementary education professor, and a member of the committee that reviewed the 2021 standards, stated that Mississippi’s social science standards aren’t as descriptive or prescriptive as those from other states. Anthony stated that although they wish the standards were more precise, good people differ on the subject of what specific standards should be. Clemons was asked if removing details or individuals would technically exempt districts and educators entirely from teaching them. Clemons replied: “If we tried being explicit in writing our standards, we’d have a laundry-list of historical figures and events that we have included.” Spears, who was involved with the 2011 standards, said: “I sympathize the idea of things being prescriptive from state.” “But we must also consider the historical and political context in which we educate our children.” House Education Committee Chair Rep. Richard Bennett stated Wednesday that he has heard of “a lot” of requests for legal staff to draft bills on critical race theory. However, he is not certain what specific details will be included in the bills. The language changes (inspect to “analyze”, “contrast to “assess”) are also discussed. Cornett stated that the committee suggested they be aligned with the grade’s learning goals and rigor. Angela Bass, a member of the State Board, stated that she had read the revisions before they were presented to the board. She said that there was nothing alarming and that it is a common practice for standards being revised every 3-5 year. The revisions were approved by the board in December. Anyone can comment on them. Send your comments in writing to Jen Cornett, 359 N. West Street Post Office Box 771 Jackson MS 39205-0771 or email jcornett@mdek12.org Deadline to submit comments is February 4, at 5 p.m. The board will hear public comments at its February 17 meeting. You can sign up at this link to address MDE for the Jan. 28 hearing. However, the deadline is Jan. 25, 2019. Spears stated that a public hearing would “hopefully spark a community-based discussion about what education looks and feels like in our schools throughout the state.” “The governor’s voice shouldn’t be stronger than that of the sanitation worker who has a child attending public schools,” Spears said. Julia James and Kate Royals contributed to this report. Editor’s Note: Vangela Wade, the president and CEO of Mississippi Center for Justice, is a member of Mississippi Today’s board.