Proposed curriculum changes drawing attention

Published 9:52 pm Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Staff writer

Beaufort County school administrators haven’t yet decided how to respond to a proposed change by the N.C. Department of Public Instruction that would focus high-school U.S. history classes on the past 132 years.
They have established a link from the Beaufort County Schools’ Web site to the department to let local residents comment on the change, according to Sarah Hodges, public information officer for the local school system.
Math, science and English classes also are getting an update.
The department is accepting comments on the proposal which will have to be approved by the state Board of Education. The change has garnered national attention and led to a flood of telephone calls and e-mails to the department in Raleigh from both ends of the political spectrum, including conservative family groups and university professors.
A Feb. 3 broadcast on Fox News, headlined “North Carolina Schools May Cut Chunk Out of U.S. History Lessons,” reported that “under a new curriculum proposal for North Carolina high schools, U.S. history would begin years after President Lincoln, with the presidency of Rutherford B. Hayes in 1877.”
Meanwhile, it quoted critics as saying the state’s decade-old high school curriculum may need an update — but not like this.
“The answer isn’t to throw out fundamental portions of U.S. history,” said Mike Belter, a U.S. history teacher and social-studies director, told Fox News. “This is not preparing our kids to have a deep historical perspective that can be used to analyze modern events for themselves.”
But state education leaders said the change may help students learn about more recent history in greater depth.
“We are certainly not trying to go away from American history,” Rebecca Garland, the chief academic officer for North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, told Fox News. “What we are trying to do is figure out a way to teach it where students are connected to it, where they see the big idea, where they are able to make connections and draw relationships between parts of our history and the present day.”
Currently, ninth-grade students take world history, 10th-grade students study civics and economics and 11th-grade students take U.S. history in a survey course that goes back to the nation’s founding.
The proposed changes would provide a year of U.S. history in elementary school and middle school. The high-school civics course includes learning about the nation’s development and foundation. The high-school U.S. history course would begin with 1877, the end of Reconstruction. The years before Reconstruction would have been covered with students in fourth grade, as part of North Carolina history, in fifth grade and in seventh grade, according to the Department of Public Instruction.
On Monday, state Superintendent June Atkinson, in comments posted to the department’s Web site, said that North Carolina’s draft revised social-studies curriculum actually increases the amount of time students will spend studying United States history.
“Our goal is to give students more study of United States history and to teach it in a way that helps them remember what they have learned,” she said. “Students will have United States history three times before high school, and in high school they will have at least two more courses. The events, people and dates that are so familiar to many of us will still be taught to students. That means everything from early exploration through the Civil War, the 20th century and today.”
Atkinson said that national media coverage of the state’s initial draft revision of the social-studies standards this week included an incomplete description of the new standards, which are slated for several rounds of revision before being finalized.
The overall purpose of the change in the North Carolina Standard Course of Study to an Essential Standards Course of Study is to ensure that students learn the most important knowledge and skills for the 21st century, she said in the statement.
North Carolina’s current curriculum, as well as the proposed draft, are available online. The information is available via the Beaufort County Schools’ Web site at