Teaching guidelines overhaul under review

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TALLAHASSEE – Florida’s State Board of Education on Wednesday will consider adopting a wide-ranging overhaul of curriculum standards across multiple subjects in public schools, including guidelines for teaching civics and government courses and Holocaust education.

In documents outlining the proposed standards, the state Department of Education said that the requirements would reflect priorities such as teaching “a sense of civic pride” and how to “participate regularly in all levels of government.”

Laid out in detail by grade level, the standards also would require Florida students to “study primary source documents to understand the philosophical underpinnings of the American Republic and the root cause of American exceptionalism.”

Students would also “compare the success of the United States and the success or failure of other nations’ governing philosophies to evaluate their past, present and likely future effects,” under the proposed standards.

The revision process for state-level standards in civics and Holocaust education has been in the works for some time. A bill passed by the Florida Legislature in 2019 prompted a review of civics curriculums and a measure passed in 2020 teed up a review of Holocaust education standards.

Education officials held a three-stop “listening tour” to discuss and hear public comment on the proposed standards in May and June, with the most recent session held in Baker County last month.

“The standards outline … what do we expect students to know at each of these grade levels,” Jacob Oliva, chancellor of the department’s Division of Public Schools, told a small crowd during the Macclenny stop.

The Holocaust guidelines were developed in conjunction with Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran’s Task Force on Holocaust Education and other state and national education organizations.

“Currently in our classrooms, there is Holocaust education. Those topics are covered and embedded in certain social studies standards, but they weren’t stand-alone specific to Holocaust education,” Oliva said at the Macclenny event on June 9.

Education officials also will consider adding character education and substance use and abuse instruction to existing health education curriculums.

In addition, alternate standards in math and English-language arts will be considered for students with “the most significant cognitive disabilities,” and minor “technical” revisions are being proposed for English-language arts instruction.

“When you write standards, it’s not a one-time (thing), you get it perfect the first time and then that’s what you have forever. The needs of our students change, the expectations of what we want students to learn grows and evolves. So standards should be revisited and they should be revised,” Oliva said last month.

If approved by the Board of Education on Wednesday, the new standards likely won’t show up in classrooms until the 2023-24 academic year, according to Oliva.

“Once we get new standards, then we revise courses to reflect those standards, then we’re going to look at getting textbooks to be aligned with those standards and professional development for our teachers,” he explained.

The proposed revision of social studies standards comes after a series of moves by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-dominated Florida Legislature aimed at emphasizing patriotism in civics instruction.

DeSantis on Tuesday visited an Orlando charter school to herald $106 million toward civics education initiatives, including boosting training for teachers in civics instruction with the promise of a $3,000 bonus from the state for educators who complete it. DeSantis said in March that the money for the civics initiative would come from federal coronavirus relief funds.

“I think every single piece of survey data, or any time people have ever looked at what is the baseline civic knowledge for people throughout American society but particularly for younger people, I think 100 percent of the time, the results come back and they’re pretty doggone dismal,” DeSantis told reporters in Orlando on July 13.

Lawmakers passed two civics education bills during the legislative session that ended April 30, including one measure requiring state college and university students to take a civic literacy course and exam as a graduation requirement.

The other bill will revise social-studies requirements for high school graduation to include in U.S. government courses “a comparative discussion of political ideologies, such as communism and totalitarianism, that conflict with the principles of freedom and democracy essential to the founding principles of the United States.”

DeSantis signed both measures into law last month.

At its most recent meeting in June, the State Board of Education approved a rule that imposes controversial guidelines on the way U.S. history is taught in public schools.

The rule, in part, says teachers “may not define American history as something other than the creation of a new nation based largely on universal principles stated in the Declaration of Independence.”

DeSantis, who made an appearance at the June meeting by video, told the board “we need to be educating people, not trying to indoctrinate them with ideology.”

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