Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s administration produced draft history standards for Virginia’s K-12 schools with comments and suggestions from nine entities, according to the Department of Education, most of which are conservative-leaning organizations.
At the request of a member of the state Board of Education, state Superintendent Jillian Balow on Friday sent a list of all external people and organizations who have participated in the review and revision of the 2015 standards.
The draft history standards written largely under former Gov. Ralph Northam, which will be replaced by Youngkin administration standards, summoned hundreds of people and institutions.
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Former President Ronald Reagan’s secretary of education, William Bennett, is among the individuals who contributed to the Youngkin draft along with University of Virginia professor James W. Ceaser, formerly a staff member at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank.
“Superintendent Balow said she felt that there were some additional voices and the different and additional perspectives that really ought to be included that weren’t [before],” said Virginia Department of Education spokesman Charles Pyle.
The email on Friday was the first complete list of people and institutions summoned to contribute to the new K-12 draft history standards provided to all members of the state Board of Education.
Other institutions that contributed to the Youngkin document are:
- Michigan’s Hillsdale College, a conservative Christian college that played a key role in writing the widely condemned “1776 Report” on U.S. history commissioned by then-President Donald Trump
- The National Association of Scholars, a conservative advocacy organization
- The Civics Alliance, a group convened by the National Association of Scholars aiming to guide civics education
- The Louisiana Department of Education
- Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education policy think tank
- American University, a private institution in Washington, D.C.
The Youngkin administration excluded the input of hundreds who worked on the Northam draft, including Edward Ayers, a historian, professor and former University of Richmond president. Ayers said the new draft “offers only the illusion of efficiency, burying ambiguity and confusion in the lives of young people rather than in accountable principle.”
The K-12 draft history standards released last month were ultimately rejected by the state Board of Education, the majority of which are Youngkin appointees. The board delayed action on the draft and directed the Department of Education to create a new draft document, using the Youngkin draft as a baseline, fixing all mistakes and incorporating elements of the Northam document.
The Youngkin document contained several errors and missteps, including a mistake in the document that purported that Native Americans are “America’s first immigrants.” Balow apologized for the error.
Board member Anne Holton, who served as state secretary of education in Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s administration, called the November revisions a major step backward from the 2015 standards, which are in place now.
The day after the state Board of Education voted to delay action on the document, Youngkin acknowledged that he was “disappointed” in the history standards that the Department of Education released last month.
Sheila Byrd Carmichael, who was hired by the VDOE to review and revise the standards, called the document a “hastily prepared draft,” according to emails obtained by the Richmond Times-Dispatch. She also said her “professional reputation was blown up.”
During a November meeting, state Board of Education members asked Balow and Carmichael who contributed to the document.
While Balow said she could not remember them off the top of her head, Carmichael listed a few organizations along with historian and author Susan Wise Bauer, who owns the educational consultancy Well-Trained Mind Learning Services.
When Bauer learned she had been named as a consultant on the document, she was “surprised and disturbed.”
Carmichael had reached out to Bauer on Oct. 28 and Nov. 2 to ask if Bauer could review the document, as a favor, by Nov. 7.
Bauer responded by saying that “... given the complexity of the standards, the very short turn-around time, and the lack of any space in which to converse about the goals, I’m not sure that I could have provided any useful feedback for change.”
Bauer objected to the pattern of the new standards, which starts with civic engagement “for students who are far too young to understand the concepts presented” and then progresses directly to American history. Bauer has written critically about the said pattern several times, because she says she finds it developmentally inappropriate.
“How are students supposed to understand colonization if they haven’t studied 15th and 16th century European history, so that they know something about the colonizers?” Bauer wrote in an email to Carmichael.
“As they are currently structured, these standards don’t give any context for American history, and so any study of American history is going to be incomplete and fragmented. There’s no way to think critically about the American experiment without that vital context,” she continued.
Bauer offered to provide input in the future if more time was given.
Following the November meeting, Carmichael apologized in emails to Bauer for erroneously mentioning her name as a contributor.
“While the board and the governor were the targets of a very well organized attack that misrepresented both the intent and the substance of those draft standards, the standards themselves were in no way ready for the board’s review,” Carmichael wrote in an email obtained by The Times-Dispatch. “I deeply regret not trying harder to convince folks of that fact.”
After Bauer threatened legal action, Carmichael sent an official letter to Bauer and copied Balow; Secretary of Education Aimee Guidera; and Dan Gecker, president of the state Board of Education.
“I should have recognized your non-response to my request as an opportunity to withdraw from this process and convincing my colleagues to do the same,” Carmichael wrote in the letter. “You were very clear about not having time to respond to my request; we didn’t allow enough time. You also made it clear that you thought the organization of the standards document was flawed, and I agree.”
The VDOE gave a noncompetitive contract to Carmichael’s company, BlueByrd LLC, to review the standards. The contract indicates a payment of $1,000 a day for 15 days of work.
Carmichael fulfilled her contract, and the VDOE has no plans to create another contract with her, according to Pyle.
The state Board of Education indicated at its last meeting that members intend to schedule a special meeting in January to accept a first review of the draft that will merge elements from the Youngkin and Northam versions of the document, if it is ready by January.