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Revisions to Alabama history teaching standards delayed

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — With much of the nation debating what and how to teach about history, the state of Alabama has delayed a revision to its classroom standards for teaching history for years after they were both praised and criticized by an educational think tank.

Officials this fall postponed an update to the state’s social studies course of study for five to six years, citing a positive review from the Fordham Institute, an ideologically conservative educational group that has become recognized for its audits of state history and civics standards, reported.

A notice about the delay came in November, a month after Alabama officials voted to ban critical race theory in K-12 schools, a move that has left some students and teachers worried about how to discuss race and racism in the classroom.

A review published by the Fordham Institute called Alabama’s standards for teaching civics and U.S. history “exemplary,” citing an emphasis on facts and a “rigorous and thorough overview” of the nation’s past.

But the organization also noted some gaps in Alabama’s history instruction, saying that coverage of the Fourteenth Amendment is insufficient and that its standard for explaining Alabama’s secession from the Union “is unbalanced.”

“There is a somewhat ambiguous reference to ‘states’ rights’ in the fifth-grade standard on the causes of the Civil War, which should either be removed or more clearly subordinated to ‘the issue of slavery’ to avoid misinterpretation,” the report stated. “And the decision to lump together the many changes that have occurred in the seven decades of U.S. History ‘since World War II’ is unfortunate.”

A committee met once in February to discuss revisions to Alabama’s social studies course of study, which hasn’t changed since 2010. But in September, State Superintendent Eric Mackey told members that all future meetings had been “postponed until further notice.”

“As you may know, our current standards have been recognized for excellence, including the most recent recognition by the Fordham Institute as one of only five states to be ranked as exemplary in both Civics and U.S. History,” Mackey wrote in a September memo. “As important as social studies is, with a number of important topics to cover in the next few years, we believe the next steps include updating and aligning our Career and Technical Education (CTE), arts, and sciences. We remain undeterred in our commitment to high-quality social studies in all grades.”

A lead researcher at the Fordham Institute didn’t agree with the delay.

“A lot could happen in two decades,” said David Griffith, a senior research and policy associate who led the institute’s recent review of social studies standards. “Per the report, Alabama’s history standards for the post-1970 era are already a little thin, so it’s concerning that the problem could get worse before it gets better.”

The Alabama State Department of Education does not mandate the teaching of any particular curriculum.

Rather, the agency adopts standards about things students are expected to know and be able to do by certain grades. Typically, those standards are updated every five to ten years, but the recent delay spells an even longer waiting period for social studies standards, which were up for review this year.

Griffith, who led the Fordham review, said the institute generally recommends states revise their standards every 10 years. Many states are behind schedule, he said, but to his knowledge Alabama is the first to cite the strength of its current standards as a reason for delaying revisions. The decision that could dock them points in future reviews, said Griffith.

“We definitely penalize states that haven’t addressed important historical developments in their standards, and the post-2010 era has definitely seen its fair share of history,” he said.

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