Nebraska students would spend more time studying social studies from multiple perspectives, learning about personal finance, analyzing information and developing problem-solving skills under proposed state standards.
The Nebraska Department of Education on Thursday released a draft of the updated social studies standards, the first revision since 2012. The standards cover what students are expected to learn in history, economics, geography and civics for students from kindergarten through 12th grade.
Seven years ago, the state Education Department revised its social studies standards for the first time in 20 years, a process that sparked heated debate over climate change, the concept of American exceptionalism and instilling patriotism in students.
Those issues have come up in the interim during debate on a new civics bill passed by the Legislature and just signed into law by Gov. Pete Ricketts, and when the state education board tried to write a definition of civic readiness, a task it tabled.
The latest standards use the 2012 document as a framework and build on them, adding clarity and direction for teachers, said Harris Payne, director of social studies for the Education Department.
The department is seeking input on the draft, which was developed after seeking feedback from community groups and educators. Go to https://nde.qualtrics.com/jfe/form/SV_5nVd7KeiGybGmUZ to read and comment on the draft.
Nebraska’s state standards set out what students need to learn, but don’t address how that should happen. The choice of curriculum and textbooks are left up to schools and districts.
The latest iteration offers fewer standards with more depth, and an introductory paragraph that gives teachers guidance about overarching themes at each grade level.
In second grade, for instance, students learn about all four subjects through the lens of neighborhoods and their communities.
“We’re not giving them 100 targets, but fewer targets and more depth,” said Chief Academic Officer Cory Epler.
Each subject has standards (information students are expected to learn), indicators (certain information students are expected to learn as part of those standards) and examples of topics that may be included.
Eighth graders learn about climate change — a topic of debate seven years ago that's also a part of the current standards.
The revised version mirrors the approach in the science standards, Eppler said, encouraging students to gather and analyze data on the subject.
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The standard in the proposed revision: “Explain how the natural environment is changed by natural and human forces and how humans adapt to their surroundings.”
One of the "indicators" for that standard is to interpret the impact of natural processes on human and physical environments. The examples include precipitation, drought, earthquakes, tornado, floods, hurricane, volcanic eruptions and mudslides.
The examples aren’t exhaustive, Epler said, because it would be impossible to mention every event.
“They’re an attempt to provide guidance on topics that should be included,” he said.
More rigorous requirements for teaching financial literacy come in part from recommendations of the Nebraska Bankers Association and the fact that many schools now require a financial literacy class to graduate.
The high school standards include creating short- and long-term financial goals, managing credit and debt, and learning about investment strategies. There’s also a bigger emphasis on financial literacy in middle school, Payne said.
The current standards include looking at issues from multiple perspectives, but the revised standards better delineate how that should happen and encourages the use of primary sources — or original documents — to do so.
The standards address issues in the updated civics law and include as examples topics mentioned in the law such as the Pledge of Allegiance and Flag Day.
Epler noted that the new law says schools’ social studies curriculum must be aligned with the state standards.
Like the current standards, the revised standards address civic engagement and participation, though they are defined somewhat differently. It also touches on analyzing media sources.
In high school, students must demonstrate how individuals, groups and the media check governmental practices. It also asks them to analyze media sources for accuracy, an acknowledgement of the wealth of information available online.
The board is expected to approve the revised standards this fall.