In the latest twist in a fight over what Virginia students should learn about the country’s past, state education officials on Friday released a third draft version of standards for history and social studies lessons.
The new standards, which total 68 pages and describe what kindergartners through 12th-graders should learn about state and national history, will come before the state’s Board of Education for a first review early next month, although final approval from the board — which will come after statewide public hearings and an online comment-gathering period — is probably still months away. Per Virginia law, state academic standards must be revised every seven years, and this round of revisions is being undertaken in compliance with that law.
But the normally staid and little-noticed revision process became embroiled in political controversy in recent months when Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s appointees to the state education board stepped in to halt the process. Led by the five-member Youngkin majority, the board rejected a more-than-400-page version of the standards that had been in the works for months and was a result of consultations with historians, museums, economists, political scientists, geographers, parents, students, professors and teachers. In its place, the board proposed a slimmed-down 53-page version of the standards that quickly drew criticism from left-leaning politicians and education advocates for minimizing the experiences and contributions of historically marginalized people, especially Native Americans.
The third version of the standards, published online Friday by Virginia Superintendent of Public Instruction Jillian Balow, appears intended to incorporate and address some of those critiques. It includes language, lacking in the previous version, that explicitly notes that America’s history is fraught and complicated and must be taught with nuance and honesty. There are also some grade-level changes in content that place greater emphasis on Native American and non-White people. Friday’s guidelines, unlike previous versions, explicitly mandates discussions of racism.