Kansas State Board of Education members approved new history and social studies standards for public schools on Tuesday, despite concerns that they don’t do enough to ensure that students learn about minorities and their contributions.
The board voted 9-0 in favor of the guidelines, which will replace standards in place since December 2004 and overdue for revisions under state law. Educators say the new standards emphasize teaching research and critical-thinking skills over memorizing names, dates and facts about historical events.
The Department of Education will use the guidelines to develop annual standardized tests for students and measure how well schools are teaching from the scores. The state hopes to start giving tests based on the new standards by spring 2016.
The Rev. Ben Scott, a former Topeka school board member and a longtime local and state NAACP leader who served on the standards-drafting committee, said he worries that the guidelines don’t have enough “teeth” to ensure that teachers don’t skip over material about minorities.
“If it’s not assessed and taught in schools, they’re really not going to get it anywhere else,” Scott said of students. “I still hope that the state board would monitor these standards.”
But Don Gifford, the Department of Education official who supervised work on the new standards, said the state is shifting from a focus on specific content to teaching students how to gather evidence about historical figures and events, then using it to frame arguments.
“What we really did was empower teachers,” he said.