Commission on African American History Education presents recommendations

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The Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth today presented its final report to Gov. Ralph Northam, the Virginia Board of Education, and other key advocates for diversity and inclusion in Virginia classrooms.

The report includes the Commission’s findings and recommendations on how to improve Virginia’s history and social science standards of learning and ensure that all teachers have the professional development supports needed for culturally competent instruction.

“This unprecedented time of crisis has given all of us an opportunity to renew our focus on breaking down structural inequities and telling a more honest Virginia story in our classrooms,” said Northam. “The Commission’s recommendations will ensure that Virginia’s history standards reflect the complexity of our past, help students understand how present-day challenges are connected to this history, and provide teachers with more resources to engage in anti-racist work. This is important because the more our students know, the more our students can do to help build a better future for our Commonwealth and our country.”

On Aug. 24, 2019, Northam signed Executive Order Thirty-Nine establishing the Commission on African American History Education in the Commonwealth. The governor tasked the Commission with thoroughly examining Virginia’s history standards and professional development practices with the goal of improving the way African American history is taught in Virginia schools.

Commission members include university professors, historians, advocates, school board members, faith leaders, and K-12 educators from across the Commonwealth.

One year later, the Commission presented their final recommendations to the governor, including but not limited to:

  1. Making recommendations and technical edits for enriched standards related to African American history;
  2. Identifying how the standards can be organized and improved to ensure that African American history is a cohesive part of the teaching of all history;
  3. Revising of the full history and social studies standards review process to be more inclusive of diverse perspectives; and
  4. Recommending the addition of professional development and instructional supports to equip all educators to create and sustain culturally responsive pedagogy and gain appropriate foundational knowledge in African American history.

When implemented, the Commission’s recommendations will enable all Virginia students and educators to develop a comprehensive understanding of the African American voices that contribute to Virginia’s story.

“The recommendations made by the Commission will result in curriculum and professional development changes that allow Virginia students to thoroughly examine and directly combat systemic racism in the Commonwealth’s history,” said Secretary of Education Atif Qarni. “Students will develop greater empathy for their neighbors, and a deeper understanding of their ancestors. They will come to realize how they can be part of the solution and help create a better Virginia moving forward.”

To help ensure its work reflected the experiences of Virginia students, educators, and families across the Commonwealth, the Commission included time for public comment at each of their meetings and conducted a series of public listening sessions during the spring of 2020.

Approximately 300 people attended the first three listening sessions in Roanoke, Richmond, and Norfolk, however sessions in Danville and Woodbridge were cancelled due to the public response to the COVID-19 outbreak.

A survey was developed to obtain feedback from individuals who were unable to attend an in-person listening session.

Staff from the Office of the Secretary of Education and the Virginia Department of Education supported the Commission’s work and convened its meetings. Additionally, the Intercultural Development Research Association contributed its expertise in standards revision and professional development.

Commission members also helped guide and review content for a new high school-level African American history elective course that Northam directed VDOE to develop last year. The course is being made available to students in 16 Virginia school divisions during the 2020-2021 academic year.

“This moment we find ourselves in requires that we move with urgency to eradicate all forms of systemic racism from our public schools,” said Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. James Lane. “These recommendations support efforts already underway at the Department of Education to advance anti-racism in our schools, increase the cultural proficiency of Virginia’s educators, and deepen the cultural inclusivity in our standards of learning curriculum.”

The executive summary of the Commission’s final report is available here.

Read the text of Executive Order Thirty-Nine creating the Commission here.

Additional information about the Commission and its meetings can be found here.


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