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By Mary Helt Gavin
Starting in 2023 and perhaps earlier, students in District 65 schools will learn from what administrators say will be a fuller and more honest social studies curriculum. The new curriculum will be aligned to the “Triple C” framework – college, career, and civil life – of the Illinois Learning Standards, said Jamila Dillard, Director of Social Sciences and Instructional Technology Integration for the District, in a March 8 presentation to the School Board.
The District hired Learning Dimensions, a consulting group in Chicago, to review the current K-8 social studies curriculum. The group’s analysis focused on nine equity components informed by the Illinois State Board of Education’s Culturally Responsive Teaching and Learning Standards, New York University Metro Center’s Culturally Responsive Curriculum Scorecard, and Teach Tolerance’s Social Justice Standards, Ms. Dillard said.
The nine equity components that were the focus of the Learning Dimensions analysis are:
- Component 1, Interrogates Systems of Oppression;
- Component 2, Recognizes Students as Individuals;
- Component 3, Prioritizes Historically Marginalized Students;
- Component 4, Leverages Student Activism;
- Component 5, Includes Diversity in Representation;
- Component 6, Social Justice Orientation;
- Component 7, Uses Culturally Sensitive, Fair, and Unbiased Assessments;
- Component 8, Engages Students in a Range of Anti-Bias, Multicultural, and Social Justice Issues;
- Component 9, Teachers’ Materials Review of the current District 65 social studies curriculum reveals that the majority of the K-8 social studies units show little to no evidence of any of the nine equity components.
Megan Bang of Northwestern University led a team working with curriculum administrators to develop two instructional units for the intermediate grades that focus on deep learning about Indigenous people, Ms. Dillard said. The team has already offered one of the two professional development sessions it prepared for District staff.
‘Walk-Through’ of Two Components
Ms. Dillard walked the Board members through the “Interrogate Systems of Oppression” component.
“As part of Component 1, we highlighted where it says ‘Understanding systems of oppression as both parallel study and growth, to white Anglo-Saxon Protestants’ oppression in indigenous cultures as oppressor [to] subordinate indigenous cultures and interactions with Europeans – presenting history around American slavery, Asian Americans, Latinx and LGBTQ+.”
Taking the Board to Component 5, which includes diversity in representation, she said, “We have highlighted the study of the omission of indigenous peoples’ stories in the Americas beyond the story of early encounters of physical and cultural genocide, and indigenous removal in America.”
The Learning Dimensions team also offered two different tools to assess the curriculum units – one to give feedback at the end of the unit and the other to give immediate feedback.
Board President Anya Tanyavutti asked whether all the stakeholder groups participating in the review and decision-making have had access to Dr. Bang’s information.
Ms. Dillard said not all members of the group participated. The initial training, she said, was geared toward the third-and fourth grade unit.
A Rolling Rollout – Feedback, Professional Learning, and Final Approval Needed
Board Vice President Elisabeth “Biz” Lindsay-Ryan said, “The history-major nerd in me is very excited about this. The educator in me wants to make sure that we feel like our educators will have all the tools they need to do this successfully. I think these are the right changes that we need to see happen. But we’ve seen with some other rollouts, that people’s capacity or understanding isn’t quite where it needs to be; therefore, there’s kind of hedging – or delivery that isn’t at the level that we want it to do. So do we feel like we have the right things in place for building capacity of our educators and making sure they have all the tools they need, so that they can transform this curriculum successfully?”
Ms. Dillard said when the curriculum is completed, the educators will receive professional learning about the content and implementation, “so they should have everything that they need to get this thing up and running.”
Superintendent Devon Horton said Curriculum Director Jamilla Pitts would coordinate this effort.
Stacy Beardsley, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, said there has to be “learning about the learning itself first, as well as the pedagogy. … The professional development committee, as well as the folks that we partner with, will have a real hand in helping us to develop the professional learning that I think educators will experience. … But we do have to think about [the fact that] people are relearning a history and need to also think about the instructional delivery that is going to do that justice. And so it will take time, and it will take work, and it will take professional learning.”
Ms. Lindsay-Ryan said it is necessary to have accountability structures and evaluative procedures in place “so that teachers are getting coached through that transition and getting held accountable. … And so we want to make sure that we’re giving all the [tools] necessary so that they can be successful and, and checking in and making sure that we’re course correct, and where it’s not working.”
Lessons in Oppression and Resilience
Board member Soo La Kim asked for an example of a lesson “or a different way that that the history will be told.”
Ms. Dillard said, “Normally, in middle school, when we learn about African Americans, the story starts as slavery. In this curriculum, the story will not start in slavery; it will start at the beginning of the African American experience, but the African experience, slavery is a part of African American history. But it is not African American history. And so we’ll go beyond those stories where normally we’re used to seeing, ‘Well, the Pilgrims met with the Indians, and they gave them turkey.’ And we will go beyond those stories and, and will speak to the truth. And of course, they will be taught at each grade, you know, capacity.
Board member Sergio Hernandez said, “We also want to tell the truth about the resilience and the greatness and societies and civilizations that we all come from. So really, starting from there, and also telling the truth that the painful truth to write to make sure that again, we have a balanced look at how things have happened throughout history … making sure that that is part of [it] … the traditions of indigenous cultures in regards to the responsibility for the land and maintenance of it, and the respect of it.
“Also, is there a plan from our Department of Family Engagement to engage parents around the curriculum, so that maybe they may have some input and feedback? And just let them know that we’re changing the curriculum, and it’s going to be a foundational transformation that’s going to honor the lived experiences of our children and our families in this community.”
Ms. Pitts said, “I absolutely agree. … Every story is not just the oppression of our people. But actually how great our people are. I just want to ensure that we’re getting a full picture. And we don’t want to just highlight the oppression, but we want to highlight a total picture of each culture. And so that’s what we’re aiming to do with this social studies curriculum.”
Dr. Beardsley said, “I think what we can do is potentially look for those opportunities for engagement as we move forward. But … we want to get all the right pieces in place. But I hear you saying, ‘While we’re doing that, can we think about what maybe parent learning or accompaniment can be and who our partners can be?’”
Mr. Hernandez said, “Again, as we think about really making sure giving children that the windows and mirrors. I love this analogy. In the end, we want children to learn about themselves. That’s the mirror right and also have a look into other people’s cultures right and for a long time. For a lot of marginalized folks, it’s always just been windows for us – so excited about seeing the mirrors.”
Ms. Tanyavutti said, “[We] recognize that this is a revolutionary transformation, this is groundbreaking work, and that we also need to be thoughtful and strategic about how it’s rolled out so that it’s sustainable, and is operating with some fidelity in having the impact that we intend for it to have.”
Ms. Dillard said the goal of the new curriculum “ultimately is to rid ourselves of these different weeks that we have with Black Lives Matter, LGBTQ+, Latinx that we’ve dealt with throughout the curriculum, so students are being exposed to these daily within the social studies curriculum.”
She also said all core curricula can be cross-curricular, “and so the goal is to identify those units that can translate across the curriculum. So we will try our best to identify those that can as soon as can see that connection, in science and math, and even music.”
Ms. Dillard said her team “hopes to end June 26 with a completed K-8 social studies curriculum.”
Dr. Beardsley said she and Ms. Dillard will bring proposals to the Curriculum Advisory Committee “as part of our curricular process of engagement with DEC [the teachers union].”
Dr. Beardsley added, “The goal is to have as much of the content fleshed out as possible by the end of June, and then work through the process of introduction of the units in the professional-learning sequence that’s going to support the implementation of those units in that kind of respectful and complete way that needs to be done.”
Ms. Lindsay-Ryan then asked, “Do you feel like the folks will have had the professional learning they need to implement that within the next academic year? Or is it going to be kind of phased in as they get professional learning?”
Dr. Beardsley said, “I would perceive that we’re going to need to phase in portions of this curriculum, particularly as we think about the different curricular aspects that educators, particularly in our K-5 are navigating. And I think we need to think about what [Ms. Dillard] has brought forward – that there are places that we have more egregious gaps that can be addressed. And so we’ll want to really make sure we prioritize the spaces of greatest importance.”
“One more question,” said Ms. Lindsay-Ryan, “Will that then be part of the evaluative process for social studies? Is there a date in mind for after this point in 2022 educators would be expected to be able to do this with fidelity? [Does] this kind of a timeline exist yet? At what point do we first see that we could have accountability metrics with it, so that, 2023, every social studies educator should feel they have had their capacity developed to do this with fidelity and therefore that be evaluated based on that premise?”
Dr. Beardsley said, “We need to see the product delivered, and then define the professional learning plan in partnership with Dr. Pitts, to make sure that we’re thinking about the priority the other priorities within the system.”
Dr. Horton said, “There are other priorities that are coming to that curriculum-related. I don’t want to put the cart before the horse. There are some other big curriculum pieces that are going to be built, and other areas that we’ve got to be conscious of. So it’s really aligning with Dr. Pitts’s work around professional development. And once the project is complete, we will know more around what the timeline will look like.”
Ms. Lindsay-Ryan said, “I don’t want us to rush that process. I want us to have a successful implementation. But I do think part of embedding all of these things in these values into our culture is having it be part of hiring process and having a new part of evaluation process. … And I want to make sure that’s part of the expectation for educators down the road at some point.”
Ms. Tanyavutti said, “In addition to this timeline for rollout for educators, and measurement of impact of quality, [I want to be sure] that we also have a timeline for community education, because we kind of had an ambiguous response to that. … I think the community education is going to be incredibly important as well. And it needs to run parallel to educator education.”
She also said it is important that the Board receive updates “in terms of the cross-curricular nature of the impact of this accurate, more affirming, more inclusive, and more than just the sovereignty liberation oriented social studies curriculum.”
Incorporating Climate and Land
Board member Rebeca Mendoza said she thought the information should be available to the public. “I noticed that it wasn’t on our board book. So I think it’d be nice for people to have that to reference that we could get that up on our website.”
Picking up on Mr. Hernandez’s reference to the land, she said, “That’s the one thing that we all have in common – that we’re all on this amazing planet. I think sometimes with curriculum, we tend to separate social studies from the natural sciences. And it would be great to see some incorporation of the land in the social studies, curriculum update.
“Specifically, we don’t inherit the land from our ancestors, we’re borrowing it from our children. … and we are part of a climate action resiliency plan here in Evanston.
“When I connect with people, it’s mostly around land. It’s around where we came from – the origins of who we are as a human species. And I think that it would be great to see that incorporated into the curriculum.
“And I know that I’ve asked you this before, and you promised me that it would be incorporated into the update. But again, I just want to emphasize that in collaborating with the environmental justice groups that are currently at work we are really providing spaces for our youth to be innovators and to be able to see themselves now, not always looking back, but I think also looking forward to the spaces and the history that they will one day make for us.”