social studies

Lawmakers want a whole semester of Tennessee history — but aren’t sure how schools can fit that in

PHOTO: Grace Tatter
A first-grader at Nashville Classical Charter School wears a Colonial-era hat after history class. A new proposal would require all Tennessee students take a full semester of state-specific history at some point in their education.

Lawmakers are gearing up to require a semester of Tennessee history, just as the state is poised to adopt new social studies standards that include fewer state-specific facts.

But first, they have to figure out which classes to cut to make way for a new one.

The Senate last week passed a bill requiring that all students take a semester of state-specific history between grades 4 and 8. But on Thursday, Rep. Art Swann of Maryville confirmed that he won’t push for the measure in the House in the waning hours of this year’s General Assembly.

Though 83 out of 99 House members signed on as co-sponsors, he said too many lawmakers are concerned about the logistics of such a change. Swann plans to use the coming months to determine how to fit a Tennessee history requirement into students’ jam-packed schedules.

The proposal emerged in the 11th hour of the legislature, soon after the State Board of Education approved new social studies standards for Tennessee in the first of two votes.

Those standards, which were developed during an intensive year-long review, are about 14 percent shorter than the current set — a response to teachers who want to go more in-depth with their students. But the reduction comes at the expense of some Tennessee history such as the Chickamauga Indians, “Roots” author Alex Haley, and the New Madrid earthquakes.

The proposed standards would continue Tennessee’s practice of “embedding” state-specific facts across all grades and units, instead of requiring a separate unit or course, something Tennessee hasn’t done for nearly two decades.

The addition of a new course would require new standards, as well as an update to school schedules statewide.

“My argument all along has been it’s all a matter of priority,” Swann said. “All of the things they’ve got is important, but there are few things that are as important as Tennessee history, where kids learn who they are and where they’re from.”

The Senate sponsor, Ferrell Haile of Gallatin, said last week that the intention is not to complicate the lives of educators.

“We do not want to place additional burdens on our teachers, but we do want our students to be aware of Tennessee history going forward,” he said.

While Haile’s version of the bill places the required course in grades 4-6, Swann would rather see students focus on Tennessee when they are older and able to retain more information. Ultimately, he said, the change would affect grades have the most “wiggle room,” but he also might draft the bill so that local districts could decide.

The proposal is the latest twist for social studies in Tennessee.

The new standards, which face a second and final vote in July, were developed after reviewing tens of thousands of comments from hundreds of Tennesseans, as well as about 100 hours of meetings by a review committee appointed by lawmakers.

Most members of the Standards Recommendation Committee believe they’ve struck the right balance. But Bill Carey, who sells Tennessee history materials through his nonprofit Tennessee History for Kids, was the sole committee member to vote against some of the standards. He was mostly concerned with the reduction of Tennessee historical facts in grades 1-5 — not for the later grades, which would be impacted by Swann’s proposal.

Architects of the new standards say teachers still could cover such topics, but that decisions about how should be made at the local level.

The state spearheaded its social studies review in January 2016, after critics charged that seventh-grade standards addressing the Five Pillars of Islam amounted to “proselytizing.” Members of the recommendation committee say all religions would be taught in a uniform way under the proposed standards.

meet the candidates

These candidates are running for Detroit school board. Watch them introduce themselves.

Nine candidates are vying for two seats on Detroit's school board in November. Seven submitted photos.

One candidate tells of a childhood in a house without heat.

Another describes the two-hour commute he made to high school every day to build a future that would one day enable him to give back to Detroit.

A third says her work as a student activist inspired her to run for school board as a recent high school grad.

These candidates are among nine people vying for two seats up for grabs on Detroit’s seven-member school board on Nov. 6. That includes one incumbent and many graduates of the district.

Chalkbeat is partnering with Citizen Detroit to present a school board candidate forum Thursday, Sept. 20 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m., at IBEW Local 58, 1358 Abbott St., Detroit.

Participants will have the opportunity to meet each candidate and ask questions in a speed-dating format.

In anticipation of that event, Citizen Detroit invited each of the candidates to make a short video introducing themselves to voters. Seven candidates made videos.

Watch them here:

School safety

Report lists litany of failings over police in Chicago schools

PHOTO: Scott Olson/Getty Images
Police officers stand alongside Lake Shore Drive in August as protesters decry violence and lack of investment in African-American neighborhoods and schools

The Chicago Police Department doesn’t adequately screen and train the officers it assigns to Chicago Public Schools, and their roles in schools are poorly defined, according to a sharply critical report released today by the Office of Inspector General Joseph Ferguson.

The report lists a litany of failings, including basic administration: There is no current agreement between the police department and the district governing the deployment of school resource officers, or SROs, and neither the schools nor the police even have a current list of the officers working in schools this year.

The inspector general’s report also mentions several sets of SRO resources and best practices created and endorsed by the federal government, then notes that Chicago hasn’t adopted any of them. “CPD’s current lack of guidance and structure for SROs amplifies community concerns and underscores the high probability that students are unnecessarily becoming involved in the criminal justice system, despite the availability of alternate solutions,” says the report.

Chalkbeat reported in August about incidents in which SROs used batons and tasers on students while intervening in routine disciplinary matters.

Scrutiny of SROs is nothing new, and is part of the broader CPD consent decree brokered this week between Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. That agreement calls for better training and vetting of SROs, as well as a clearer delineation of their roles on campuses—including a prohibition against participating in routine school discipline — beginning with the 2019-20 school year.

Read more: How the police consent decree could impact Chicago schools

But the report from Ferguson’s office says that the consent decree doesn’t go far enough. It chastises police for not pledging to include the community in the creation of its agreement with the school district, nor in the establishment of hiring guidelines; and for not creating a plan for evaluating SROs’ performance, among other recommendations. In addition, the report criticizes the police department for delaying the reforms until the 2019-20 school year. A draft of the inspector general’s report was given to the police department in early August in hopes that some of the issues could be resolved in time for the school year that began last week. The police department asked for an extension for its reply.