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Advisory committee reviews division's history curriculum

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Curriculum - May 25

On May 25, Franklin County educators listen to a presentation at the beginning of an educator’s summit. Leanne Worley compared the work done by the history committee to the work being done by an FCPS curriculum committee. Both efforts, she said, should reduce teacher workload by taking a smarter approach to curriculum.

An eight-member history advisory committee recently completed its review of the history and social sciences curriculum framework used by Franklin County Public Schools.

“Our purpose was to review Virginia’s history standards,” Scott Agee, a Roanoke City Public Schools teacher and history committee co-chair said at the May 9 Franklin County School Board meeting. “...To look at those standards for all grade levels, K-12, and determine if there were things that needed to be added for depth and for a little more complexity. ... And to include rationale; why were we adding things to the facts that the state handed down to us.”

The committee provided FCPS with its recommendations, which will be reviewed by the division before being shared with teachers and used to inform curriculum for the 2022-23 school year.

Originally envisioned as a 12-member committee, the division did not receive enough volunteers to fill 12 spots. However, seven of the committee’s eight members were or are history teachers. The committee used that to its advantage, drawing on the knowledge and experiences of its members to make suggestions and provide teaching materials and resources.

The history committee was created last year partly in response to concerns from a handful of residents that learning about the history of slavery and segregation in the United States and Virginia could damage students’ emotional well-being.

“Our goal is never to teach a particular perspective,” Leanne Worley, a FCPS administrator and history committee co-chair, said. “...It was turned into an opportunity...to build community trust, to engage in dialogue and to center that on what is best for kids and helpful to teachers.”

The curriculum framework includes the standards of learning from the Virginia Board of Education. FCPS can’t remove anything from the standards or it could lose vital funding and accreditation, which is required to provide valid high school diplomas. As such, the history committee focused on adding depth and clarity where it deemed appropriate and necessary.

For instance, the committee made an addition to a fourth grade standard about how only certain free adult men had the right to take part in Virginia’s first system of government.

“One of the suggestions we made was that they emphasize that ‘only certain free men’ meant non-indentured, non-enslaved, land-owning, to make sure they specified who those certain free adult men were,” Worley said. “That type of clarity is key for a fourth-grader because they’re talking about terms like indentured servitude or enslavement.”

On May 9, Agee said the committee kept age appropriateness in mind.

“While we might get U.S. history throughout the grade levels we have to remember that what a fourth- or fifth-grader is exposed to isn’t going to be at the same level or the amount of information [as an older student],” Agee said.

Caution and context were part of the committee’s recommendations for some topics, Worley said.

“We might suggest that depth be given with 11th grade versus eighth grade because, developmentally, kids were ready for more depth of a particular subject,” Worley said. “One that came up, for example, was eugenics. Middle schoolers don’t have as deep a frame of reference or understanding for that terrible practice in American history but your 11th-graders would.”

Worley said the committee’s recommendations should, in combination with Vision 25, reduce teacher workload rather than adding to it, something about which the committee was also very mindful.

Vision 25 is a vision of where FCPS wants to be in 2025. Part of its focus is consistent, cohesive curriculum across grade levels so teachers can count on students having learned certain concepts in previous grades.

“They [the Virginia Department of Education] never reduce the curriculum framework...there’s always more pages added. There’s nothing deleted, so then teachers have to become more adept at teaching so that the knowledge transfers so the next grade level can move faster,” Worley said. “...So many kids have had to relearn things they already knew because...we weren’t engaging in these types of conversations that make the way in which we work smarter, not harder.”

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