New Hampshire looks to revamp social studies curriculum

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EXETER, N.H. (AP) — The state of New Hampshire's educational standards for social studies has not been updated since 2006 but with a review from the Department of Education underway, local school administrators and community leaders are beginning to line up to help shape its process.

The review is being led by the DOE under the Social Studies Standards Strategic Leadership Team composed of education officials and citizens. Heather Gage, director for the Division of Learner Support at the DOE, said the committee was forced to take a hiatus over the summer but is currently working to have a draft ready for review by the state Board of Education. After the board reviews the draft, the DOE will open a public comment section and the draft will go out to communities for regional listening sessions for parents, teachers, school administrators and interested citizens to weigh in on the final draft's contents.

Gage said she expects the final draft of the standards to be distributed among the state's school districts by the end of the school year so each district can use the summer to adjust their curriculums to fit the new standards, pending final approval by the Board of Education. She said there is no specific timetable when the regional listening sessions will begin but she hopes they will take place in the winter of 2019.

"We've started to process the different pieces of social studies education; civics, history, economics and we are rounding out each one in subcommittees to identify what specific standards in each are in need of updating," Gage said. "We're looking forward to getting out for our regional listening sessions to give educators and administrators a chance for them to give us the bits and pieces we might have missed so we know what we can go back and improve."

Gage said the DOE social studies leadership team is comparing the social studies standards of states that recently updated their curriculums, including Massachusetts, the "C3" college, career and civic life effort developed by a group of social studies educators across the country, among other materials as part of the New Hampshire review.

However, once the final standards are approved, it will be incumbent on each school district to devise a curriculum based on the new standards because of the right of communities to maintain local control of their school districts.

This local control has energized some activists to encourage their fellow community members to take an active role in helping the state finalize the new social studies standards once the public input process begins, particularly with an eye toward ensuring issues regarding diversity, inclusion and multiculturalism are strongly reflected in the new standards.

On the social studies team's page on the DOE's website, in the minutes of the team's March 5 meeting, members reference an element of Massachusetts' social studies standards having students become "literate" in a number of topics including leadership, unity, current events, media, data and social science, in addition to diversity. The other three meetings did not address the issue of diversity, according to their minutes.

Rogers Johnson, chairman of the Governor's Council on Diversity and Inclusion, said if parents and educators truly want to see a diversity and inclusivity reflected in their children's education, then they will need to be active in the public process when the draft standards come out of the DOE.

"To the extent school officials, teachers and individuals get involved locally and then demand this of their school board, that is the extent diversity and inclusion will be in their school's curriculum," Johnson said. "If our students go anywhere for college other than UNH, they are going to school in a place that is instantly more diverse than New Hampshire, so the people involved with this process need to know what diversity and inclusion in a social studies curriculum truly looks like and understand the necessity of preparing our students to be able to thrive in a diverse workforce."

Ken Mendis is an organizer with Exeter's Racial Unity Team, which hosts an annual racial unity walk to remind participants of the contributions minorities have made to Exeter and the backlash they were subjected to. Mendis said New Hampshire's students will be unprepared for a diverse and multi-cultural world because by growing up in a less diverse state, they are not exposed to people who hail from different ethnic and religious backgrounds.

"My hope is when the Department of Education looks at other states' curriculums they can pick up a state with diverse cultures as a model," he said. "Then, it's up to the school boards to create an education system that seeks to take advantage of the diversity in its own back yard so students learn the cultural history of their own communities. We have to make sure we are educating our children about diversity because they are not gaining this experience through osmosis, as many children do in other parts of the country."

Gage said local school boards will be the final decision-makers deciding to what extent the standards are applied to each district's social studies curriculum. Though she said she did not know specifically how much the social studies team has discussed the topics of diversity and inclusion since it returned from its summer hiatus.

"In general, diversity is a big piece of any social studies education," Gage said. "We're making sure our standards are current and the most rigorous we can develop so they are appropriate for our students."

Portsmouth Assistant Superintendent George Shea said social studies has become a relatively "neglected" discipline with fewer tools on the state and federal level to ensure the rigor of district's social studies curriculums compared to other subjects, such as mathematics and science. He said he was looking forward to Portsmouth residents and educators participating in the public input process.

"It's hard to drill down to one specific standard as to how a social studies curriculum is structured," Shea said. "We can gear it around big questions of diversity throughout history and people's cultures. We want kids to wrestle with these complex questions. We cannot have these issues be check-boxes, or a couple paragraphs."

SAU 16 Superintendent Dr. David Ryan said it was somewhat premature to make declarations about what does and does not need to be included in the new social studies standards until a draft is presented to school districts so his district can begin to assess what the real dollar amount revamping the curriculum would be. He said it was important for school boards across the state to understand the diversity students who go to live and work in other parts of the country and world will experience so they can build a curriculum that embraces it and educates students on the vast perspectives diversity reflects.

"How as a school district can we ethically prepare students for the diverse and multi-cultural world they will be citizens of," Ryan said.

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Online: https://bit.ly/2Fwlkv6

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Information from: Portsmouth Herald, http://www.seacoastonline.com


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