New social studies standards will be implemented in South Dakota public schools over the next two years.
Following hours of public testimony and debate Monday in Pierre, the South Dakota Board of Education Standards voted 5-2 to adopt education standards that put more weight into history and civics. The vote caps a years-long rewrite of social studies curriculum in South Dakota, a process that brought criticism from progressives and conservatives along the way.
“Today is a wonderful day for the students in South Dakota. They are our future,” Gov. Kristi Noem said in a statement following the board’s vote. “Now, they will be taught the best social studies education in the country, one that is a true accounting of our history. We want our children to have honest and factual classroom teaching so they can be engaged participants in our civil society for the rest of their lives.
While education areas like social studies automatically get updated once every decade, the social studies rewrite came amid civil unrest in the country, prompting Noem in 2020 to push for a more nationalist approach to teaching history and civics.
New social studies standards consultant has ties to Hillsdale College
But after standards proposed by a workgroup of educators and a Wisconsin consultant drew criticism from conservatives, the Republican governor hit the reset button, tossing the initial recommendations and appointing a new panel to start the process over. A new consultant with ties to conservative Hillsdale College was also brought in to help the new group.
And in August 2022, the Department of Education unveiled the second draft of standards, which have since been formally opposed by nearly all of South Dakota’s educational organizations, including the state superintendents association, the teachers union and tribal communities. Those groups argue the new standards come at a cost to math and reading, micromanage school board curriculum choices and put too much emphasis on memorization of historical facts.
They also contend the standards are not age appropriate and undermine advancement in school districts’ Career and Technical Education pathways.
Leading up to Monday’s vote, nearly 1,300 public comments were received by the Board of Education Standards, more than 1,100 of which asked the seven-member panel to reject the now-adopted standards.
And that, coupled with a process mired in politics, is why Steve Willard, one of two academics on the board, voted no.
“This isn’t what I signed up for,” said the Belle Fourche School District superintendent. “This has become way too devisive. This isn’t what South Dakotans are about.”
Native American tribes opposed to new standards
A significant portion of the opposition the board heard also centered around the amount of American Indian history included in the new standards. And that led all nine tribes in South Dakota to adopt resolutions of opposition.
But Board of Education Standards member Linda Olsen, a former educator who’s taught on the Cheyenne River Sioux and Oglala Sioux reservations, said the new standards upgraded American Indian history.
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“I truly feel like we need to do a better job incorporating (indigenous) history, but I’m a little bit confused because I feel like the 2022 standards do have more Lakota history than they have previously,” she said.
Department of Edcuation Secretary Joseph Graves said the department will work with school districts over the next two years to help schools prepare and ultimately implement the new standards.New