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Ga. Teachers Decry Politicians' Influence on Draft Social Studies Standards

Updated

Georgia educators say their input on the state's new social studies standards is being ignored to boost political agendas, according to a piece in The Atlanta Journal-Constitution this week.

To reach out to the community for input on new K-12 social studies standards, which outline what students should know by the end of each grade, the Georgia Board of Education adopted a process that included four committees tasked with reviewing more than 9,000 survey responses and comments from state educators and stakeholders. The last committee review was held on March 16. The standards have been under review for a year.

Last week the board released the Georgia Standards of Excellence, a draft of the standards, which showed last-minute changes that appear to reflect suggestions made by politicians—including those of State Senator William Ligon, who sent a detailed critique to the board. This is how the letter starts:

 "I would like to take an opportunity to briefly comment on the standards revision process for Social Studies. Though the demands of the legislative session prevent me from being able to fully comment on all aspects of the standards, I do want to point out improvements that have been made as well as some omissions that still need to be addressed."

Ligon went on to recommend additions and changes for the final standards. For example:

"Starting with Grade 1, I find no logical reason why President George Washington continues to be omitted from the standards. This should be corrected. He is not mentioned until Grade 4, and this is far too late to introduce our most preeminent Founding Father."

Ligon's suggestion that President George Washington be introduced in the 1st grade is one of many examples of appparent additions to and discrepancies from the draft standards, according to the AJC.  Others include the study of the history of Christmas and Columbus Day in kindergarten, the arguments of Federalists and Anti-Federalists in 4th grade, geographic understandings of Iran in 7th grade, and the apparent absence of some standards for U.S. history and American government.

Disappointed teachers say the discrepancies between the work of the review committees and the draft of the standards speak to a political agenda rather than an educational one. One teacher reached out to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution to share a letter that she wrote to state school board members to express her dismay.

"I have been a Social Studies educator, teacher leader, and content specialist for over a decade. I, like thousands of my colleagues and fellow citizens, spent hours reviewing and providing feedback on the proposed Social Studies standards that were posted for public comment.

The set of standards provided to the Board do not reflect the feedback or approval of the stakeholders in the State of Georgia. There were additions and changes made to the standards after the committee approved the final draft on March 17, 2016.

If the Board moves forward and approves the standards as they have been submitted, you will be disregarding the time and commitment of over 9,000 educators and 2,000 other Georgia stakeholders. You will lose the trust and faith Georgia educators have placed in you.  We were told our voice is being heard. Is it?"

According to the article, the collective outrage from educators comes partly from the state's legislature talk about how important it is to treat teachers as professionals and listen to what they have to say, while the draft seems to show otherwise. Eddie Bennet, the executive director of the Georgia Council for the Social Studies, released a letter in response. Some highlights:

"Those of us who have been carefully watching the review process unfold were very surprised to find there are major discrepancies between the work of the 3/16/16 review committee and the now posted "draft" standards.

If a few people are able to overturn the comments of thousands and the work of hundreds who were a part of the committees, then the whole process is called into question."

In the letter, Bennet invites educators to attend the state board meeting on Thursday to voice their opinions and concerns.

Update, April 1, 2016: AJC reports that the Georgia Board of Education on Thursday has postponed implementing changes to the state's new social studies standards after educators expressed dismay over unexpected changes made by state Superintendent Richard Woods.

"I think we're correct in calling a time out," said board chairman Mike Royal. "We want to be crystal clear on what's happened."

"We all have heard the concerns," board member Helen Rice said at Thursday's meeting. Rice reportedly recommended postponing the final draft of the changes, and the board agreed.

Woods and members of the review committees will reconvene to review the changes and present them to the board in May's meeting.

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