There is a lot of discussion occurring across the country about civics education and social studies. In Louisiana it comes at a time when our social studies standards are being reviewed and updated. What we teach about the history of our country and its strengths and flaws can be a sensitive subject. The good news is that Louisiana has a good process for standards review and anyone can participate.
To date Louisiana’s social studies review has not exactly been defined by controversy, but at times some of its work has prompted questions and concerns from legislators and members of the public. In some ways that’s not unexpected. While social studies sometimes get less attention than reading and STEM-related studies, it’s still vitally important.
It tells us about history, places, people, government, economies, and so much more with the goal of creating informed citizens who can contribute to the wellbeing of a diverse democratic society. That’s a tall order, but it’s one of the responsibilities of our education system.
In Louisiana, our social studies standards were last updated in 2011 and it was past time to do it again. So, the question that often arises is how does the review and update of academic standards work? It should be encouraging to know that Louisiana has a very strong and transparent process.
- In this case, the review is being led by a steering committee, approved by BESE, that reflects the geographic and demographic diversity of the state. It is made up of 28 members from across Louisiana including educators, representatives of higher education, parents, students, community members, and other stakeholders.
- The steering committee is supported by two working groups, one for K-5 and another for grades 6-12. Together they include many of the top social studies educators in the state. They are the ones who will review the current standards, draft new ones, consider public comment, and make final recommendations to the steering committee.
This review process is extremely transparent. All meetings of the steering committee are open to the public. In addition, an extensive online open comment period for other educators and the public has been extended to the end of the month. Anyone who wants to can review the new draft standards and comment on any standards they choose.
To be clear, there are a lot of standards, and their wording and language are geared toward social studies teachers, not the average parent. But you can glance through them and get a pretty good idea of what is being taught to students, in which grades, and how the new approaches might differ from what is being done currently. The final decisions on the standards will be made by BESE, probably in January, with legislative oversight.
These are politically-charged times when it comes to adult discussions about civics, democracy, freedom, and justice, so developing social studies standards for young people can be all the more sensitive.
But Louisiana has a strong standards review process. It’s based on the expertise of Louisiana teachers who are passionate about the importance of social studies and are experts in their field. If we trust our process and our teachers, and consider the input of other stakeholders, we should emerge with updated standards in social studies that will work well for our students.