Missouri lawmakers focused on how school boards interact with the public and how history is taught in schools on Tuesday.
For more than three hours, the Joint Education Committee discussed how the social studies curriculum is making its way into the classroom, raising questions about whether the 9/11 attacks are taught and debating once again the presence of a critical race theory.
“The teaching of Missouri history is a bit anemic,” said Rep. Doug Richey, Republican from Excelsior Springs and chairman of the committee. “We’re not teaching history as solidly as it should be, in my opinion.”
Tuesday’s hearing mainly focused on the learning standards that outline the concepts students are expected to be taught as part of social studies. There are more than 600 learning standards overall, said Tracy Hinds, assistant commissioner of the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education for the Learning Services division.
State Law states that learning standards must be changed at any time, task forces comprising parents and education professionals – some of whom are appointed by state legislators – must be convened to develop and recommend changes.
The state’s social studies learning standards were last revised in 2016, said Dixie Grupe, director of social studies at DESE. Although the standards are set at the state level, decisions about the curriculum used to teach those standards ultimately rest with the school districts themselves – a key part of Missouri’s local control mantra, a. said Hinds.
“The fact that the government censors what is or what is not taught can be a slippery slope, and it is a slope that (the legislature) traditionally tries to avoid,” said Hinds.
Missouri high school students must pass the equivalent of one semester of learning about branches of government and electoral processes, pass tests regarding the constitutions of the United States and Missouri, and earn two additional credits in social studies.
Classes in U.S. history typically cover the founding of the United States through 1870 or 1870 to the present day, Grupe said. Students can also take world history courses, advanced internships, or other options that schools may offer.
But Richey expressed concern that depending on the courses they take, students might fail to learn in depth about key events like the Civil War, and said he was ultimately concerned that the standards current learning practices do not encourage districts to teach only what will appear on standardized tests.
“What you measure is what you get,” Richey said, “and we’ve continued to measure other areas of content at the expense of not measuring other core content areas.”
Senator Jill Schupp, Democrat of Creve Coeur and former teacher, said that with a limited number of hours per day, districts must make decisions about what to cover. If the learning standards need to be updated, then lawmakers can assess whether it would be reasonable to reconvene working groups for certain topics, Schupp said.
As next year’s legislative session quickly approaches, Tuesday’s hearing offered a glimpse into the education issues that may arise. And the discussion of history teaching also delved into the perennial subject of critical race theory in the classroom.
Although former teachers have heard that critical race theory largely not taught at the K-12 level in Missouri schools and the elementary and secondary departments echoing this fact – opponents of the academic concept and some legislators insisted that the concept is in schools today.
Experts said Critical Race Theory, which seeks to recognize how racial disparities are embedded in American history and society, is misinterpreted by conservative lawmakers who sought to ban it.
The last legislative session attempted to ban Critical Race Theory or the New York Times Project 1619 failed to pass into Missouri.
When asked if Critical Race Theory would be deployed appropriately in a K-12 context, Andrew Bolger, director of the Keeter Center for Character Education at the College of the Ozarks, said he didn’t think critical theory should be applied in the K -12 framework, asking, “Would you like to give a kindergarten child a scalpel?”
“I think people, even in this room, who are trying to figure out which direction this legislative session will take, can use the same words and mean different things,” Schupp said of the use of critical theory. and critical race theory. .
Tuesday’s hearing also touched on the subject of school boards, whose nationwide meetings became increasingly hostile as the subjects of diversity in the classroom, hide mandates and more recently removing books from school libraries dominated the discussions.
Under state law, elected members of school boards must receive training on various policies and laws, as the Missouri School Boards’ Association, a statewide nonprofit organization that represents school boards, offers free to members and non-members.
But some state lawmakers have argued that the attempt by school board members to be careful not to break various open meeting laws, like the state’s Sunshine Law, is turning out to be parental ignorance instead. .
“People want to be heard,” said Senator Cindy O’Laughlin, Republican of Shelbina and committee co-chair, later adding, “And we have to give parents, who are after all those who pay for education, the opportunity to contribute.
Rep. Chuck Basye, R-Rocheport, said he had encountered obstacles firsthand in trying to add items to the Columbia Board of Education agenda over the past two months and planned to file a legislation this next session that would ensure that members of the public can have specific items heard and addressed by school boards.
“There’s no response, no interaction, you never hear anything else,” Basye said of the public comments at school board meetings. “It’s just a ventilation session, basically what it is.”
Basye recently fought with Columbia Public Schools over materials used in the program, including a music video by Donald Glover, who goes by the stage name Childish Gambino. Basye, who has already tabled a law which would recall school board members, went so far as to request the resignation of the district superintendent.
A spokeswoman for Columbia Public Schools did not immediately respond to a request for comment Tuesday afternoon.
Schupp said she recalled feeling frustrated that she couldn’t always answer questions during public comments. But she stressed that the policies are in place for a reason, including being clear about when items go to public debate in order to maintain public trust.
“We don’t want to put them in a position,” Schupp said of the school board members, “where they’re doing something that the public at large isn’t familiar with.”