December 1, 2022
To the members of the State Board of Education,
We, the members of the Charlottesville School Board, are writing to request that the Board return to its usual process of consideration and approval of the state’s K-12 history standards as developed and recommended in August 2022 by history educators, professors, historians, parents, and others. We strongly encourage the VDOE to stay the course on its longstanding commitment to developing a more inclusive and honest curriculum.
The “August” Revisions
Throughout 2020-22, our Commonwealth trusted a committee of history educators, historians, museum professionals, parents, and community groups to conduct the scheduled seven-year revision of our state history standards. Over the course of two years, in a very public fashion, this committee made thoughtful and informed decisions. In addition, this work built upon the efforts and recommendations of Virginia’s 2020 African American History Education Commission. We would like the Board to follow its usual procedures to consider and then adopt these standards.
The “November” Alternate Standards
By contrast, the surprise alternate standards announced by the Youngkin administration on a Friday night in November were hastily developed by a consultant without public input and without the participation of the VDOE subject-area experts.This led to a number of ill-informed recommendations, such as omitting African American history to such a degree that not even Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was included in the original version. The idea that Virginia’s indigenous tribes and communities would be portrayed as “immigrants” is also inaccurate and offensive. Units of study about ancient China and Mali were both removed from the K-5 curriculum. These errors and omissions underscore the haste of the process, the lack of public review, and the political motivation to prioritize White, European perspectives. After the Board correctly rejected these November standards, there is now a consideration of merging the August and November standards, but a quick mash-up of the two sets will not lead to a thoughtful or cohesive curriculum.
A Shared Goal to Teach Our Whole History
The Governor has stated that his goal is “to teach our history, the good and the bad.” As parents, teachers, and students have recently shared in public comment, Virginians agree that our students should be learning whole-truth history that explores multiple perspectives and experiences. The best way to do that is to consider and adopt the original August recommendations and to follow the VDOE’s own time-honored approval processes.
This past spring in Charlottesville, a group of fourth-grade students at Clark Elementary explored our own schools’ desegregation story and then wrote letters to members of the Charlottesville 12, those Black students who bravely integrated all-white schools in 1959. As part of the students’ letters, one common theme emerged: “It was hard to learn this history, but I am glad we did.” Please take the steps to assure that Virginia’s students continue to have access to a curriculum that is challenging but rewarding, one that builds understanding, empathy, and a sense of connectedness to the people of our past, present, and future. Thank you for your service!
Charlottesville City School Board
Lisa Larson-Torres, Chair
James Bryant, Vice-Chair
Lashundra Bryson Morsberger
On Friday night, November 11, 2022, Gov. Youngkin’s administration released an alternate set of proposed history standards for K-12 students in Virginia. The governor’s proposed new standards would replace the draft learning standards developed by state and local social studies leaders, community groups, parents, social studies teachers, university professors, museum specialists, and historians in August 2022. The August standards were created over a two-year process, and social studies leaders consider the August version of the social studies standards to be more inclusive and more aligned with teaching whole truth history.
By contrast, some have described Gov. Youngkin’s standards as regressive in nature and Eurocentric. Historians, history leaders, and community members have accused the Youngkin administration of “whitewashing” in the alternate standards made this November. For instance, Gov. Youngkin’s new standards remove the curriculum changes that were implemented as part of the 2020 African American History Education Commission. Additionally, the November standards removed all Mali and Ancient China from the Elementary standards. Indigenous communities across the state have spoken against the new standards referring to indigenous groups as “the nation’s first immigrants.” Critics say that in addition to taking a step backwards towards yesteryear’s history standards, the Youngkin administration is not following best practices for transparency, adhering to previous approval processes, or allowing adequate time for review.
Following an outcry at a public hearing on Thursday, the Virginia Board of Education has asked for a slow-down to the process. They have requested that the Youngkin administration revise their draft standards, and they have requested a comparison chart for (A) the existing 2015 standards, (B) the August revisions recommended by historians and social studies leaders, and (C) the standards proposed by the Youngkin administration. The Board’s request to combine the Youngkin standards with previous state standards fell short of some critics’ request to simply return to the August 2022 recommendations of historians/history teachers. There will be additional review processes to come. The Board is anticipated to vote on the revisions sometime this winter.
For clarity, the history standards are updated at least every seven years, and most revisions are put out for public comment and then approved (sometimes with corrections or edits) by the Virginia Board of Education.
- 2015: Virginia’s K-12 history standards updated
- 2020: African American History Education Commission (AAHEC) makes recommendations for more inclusive history, which are then incorporated.
- August 2022: Historians/history teachers make their recommended 7-year updates to the standards, maintaining and expanding the recommendations of the AAHEC
- Fall 2022: Youngkin administration delays approval of the 7-year update
- Nov 11, 2022: Youngkin administration releases alternative history standards created by the Youngkin administration and paid consultants and sets aside usual processes
- Nov 17, 2022: After outcry at public hearing, Virginia Board of Education slows down the approval process for the Youngkin administration’s standards, asks for revisions to the Youngkin standards, and requests comparison chart showing the 2015 standards, the historians’ proposed 2022 revisions, and the Youngkin administration’s alternative standards
This page gives links to recent reporting and statements about the process, as well as some action steps for people to give feedback about the process or the Governor’s proposed history standards.
Links to Reporting and Draft Standards
- “Va. education board delays review of new history and social studies standards” (Washington Post, November 17, 2022)
- “New draft history standards reorient framing of race relations” (Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 16, 2022)
- “Youngkin administration releases new draft history standards” (Richmond Times-Dispatch, November 14, 2022)
- “Virginia education department proposes major changes to social studies standards” (Washington Post, November 12, 2022)
- Statement of Concern from the National Council for Social Studies (November 16, 2022)
- Standards proposed by the Youngkin administration (November 11, 2022)
- Original standards developed by historians and history teachers (Fall 2022) Note: the cross-outs and mark-ups are showing the deletions and additions that the historians recommended to the states’ previous (current) standards. The Youngkin administration’s standards are an entirely new and separate document.