Tennessee-Specific Standards Allow Local Flexibility
By: Jason Roach
It has often been said that “all good things must come to an end”. Over the past few months, I have been working with some of the best educators from across the state to propose a set of social studies standards that improve learning for Tennessee students. There has been great debate, consensus, and progress toward achieving that goal. We are almost ready to close the book on this part of the process, so that we can propose new standards to the state board next month and training and transition to the new standards can begin ahead of implementation in the 2019-2020 school year.
There has been plenty of consideration among our committee members about how to construct the standards. At the root of much of the discussion is the difference between curriculum and standards and the fact that they are often confused.
I think of standards and curriculum like archery: standards are designed to be the target, while curriculum is the bow and arrow that you use to shoot at the target. You may choose a different bow than someone else, or vary your choice based on factors like wind conditions. You may even want different arrows for different types of targets. But, your goal is always to hit the target. Local school districts, principals and teachers work together to select the bow and arrows in this analogy. The state, on the other hand, sets the target.
I love being a Tennessean. We understand the various roles and levels of government. We tend to bristle when the federal government tries to tell us how to do things that have historically been state issues. The same is true for local school districts, with relation to the state.
Local education agencies are responsible for setting curriculum for their students. As the state Social Studies Standards Recommendation Committee, we have to be mindful that we are recommending instructional standards that allow local school districts, such as Anderson County, Washington County, or Henderson County, the ability to set their own curricula without determining it for them. This can be a tricky line to walk when writing standards.
As we wrap up this review process, let me say with confidence that Tennessee history is safe. The standards that we are recommending will empower local education agencies to prioritize the teaching of Tennessee history, as well as historical events that have happened in our local communities.
I love being a citizen of Hawkins County almost as much as being a Tennessean. Under the proposed standards, I would be able to teach my students about the Amis Mill, Swift Memorial College, and Pressmens’ Home, which are all located in, or near, Rogersville, TN. Students in Nashville may study Fort Nashborough. Memphis students may learn about the founder of the NAACP in Memphis, Robert Church, Jr. Because local education agencies will continue to design curriculum, your children will learn much more about your immediate community, as well as Tennessee history.
Creating a set of social studies standards that reflect the richness of the world in and beyond TN has been intensive and time consuming, to say the least. Our committee has pored over the draft social studies standards for literally hundreds of hours. The state board extended the deadline for public comment and added extra meetings to ensure we had ample time to complete our extensive task. As a result, we will be recommending to the board, a set of standards that are rich with history, manageable for Tennessee teachers and developmentally appropriate for Tennessee students. I for one, count that time well spent.
Mr. Jason Roach is a principal and former social studies teacher from Hawkins County and chairs the Tennessee Social Studies Standards Recommendation Committee.