When lawmakers voted this spring to add a semester of Tennessee history to students’ education, they threw a curveball at new social studies standards that were approaching final approval.
Now the State Board of Education has announced how it plans to accommodate the new mandate. Beginning in the fall of 2019, fifth-graders will be learning more about Native Americans, early settlements and the state’s development in culture, economics and politics.
Students also will receive smaller doses of Tennessee-centric studies in the third and eighth grades, in addition to some basic lessons already required for first-graders.
The changes are part of revisions to new standards that the State Board is expected to give final approval to on Friday. Those standards will determine what students should learn grade-by-grade in their social studies, history and civics classes.
The latest revisions represent the final twist in a contentious, 18-month-long review process that began with complaints from some individuals and groups about how Islam was being taught in seventh-grade world history. Social studies teachers had also complained about an excessive number of standards to teach, contributing to the State Board’s decision to launch the review two years earlier than planned.
The result was an overhaul that reduced the number of standards by 14 percent — but at the expense of some Tennessee history such as the Chickamauga Indians, “Roots” author Alex Haley, and the New Madrid earthquakes. And even though the State Board unanimously approved the new standards on first reading in April, it received pushback from historians and other advocates about topics being excluded.
Soon after, lawmakers passed the new mandate during the waning hours of this year’s session. Thus, after the painstaking process of winnowing down the number of standards, the state had to put some back in.
Sara Heyburn Morrison, executive director of the State Board, calls the latest changes “the right balance.” She also thinks that fifth grade is the best place to add a semester of Tennessee history, based on input from educators and members from the Standards Recommendation Committee.
“We put it all out on the table, K through 12,” she said Wednesday about the latest deliberations. “Where would this course be best integrated to support student learning and be developmentally appropriate?”
They landed on fifth grade. Younger students aren’t quite ready for advanced Tennessee history; middle schoolers focus more on world history.
“(It’s the) least amount of content eliminated and still make sense developmentally,” she said.
Specifically, students will study Tennessee history in the second half of their fifth-grade year, shifting the standards so that they concentrate the bulk of those studies in a single grade.
“There was a lot of shuffling in all the grades since Tennessee history was embedded throughout the standards,” said McKenzie Manning, a spokeswoman for the State Board.
The new standards also require students to compare and contrast major world religions, including Christianity and Islam, and adds Sikhism to a high school elective on current events.
Below is a informational sheet provided by the State Board of Education on the changes.