Amid controversy, suggested K-12 social studies revisions to be reviewed

Jennifer Chambers
The Detroit News
From left, Michigan Department of Education senior executive policy advisor Linda Forward, social studies consultant Jim Cameron, and social studies consultant for assessment Scott Koenig listen to audience comments over proposed changes to the state's social studies standards at a "Listen & Learn" session in Waterford Township in June.

Correction: A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted Linda A. Forward, a senior executive policy advisor at the state education department.

A new task force being formed by the Michigan Department of Education will review thousands of suggestions on proposed revisions to Michigan's social studies standards and author a draft for the state board of education to consider.

Michigan's social studies standards, which set expectations for what students are to learn by the end of each grade, became embroiled in controversy this spring when Republican state Sen. Patrick Colbeck proposed controversial revisions such as removing the term "core Democratic values."

Public interest in the standards prompted the Michigan Department of Education to add more public comment sessions this summer, which will be reviewed. Public input on the standards ends on Sunday. 

Members of the review panel are being sought through Oct. 3 and will represent social studies experts, teachers, administrators, students, parents and community members, said Linda A. Forward, a senior executive policy advisor at the state education department.

An online application for the task force is at the education department's website. The task force will meet Oct. 15 and Dec. 19 in Lansing.

Since June, state education officials have held public comment sessions across the state to gather input on revisions and have also accepted input via an online survey.

Forward said department staff met more than 800 individuals in the sessions over three months of meetings. About 2,000 comments from the sessions were recorded and another 3,000 to 4,000 comments were left on the online survey.

"We had tremendous participation," Forward said on Friday. "People who attended were passionate but civil," Whether the word  "democracy" should be used versus the term "republic" is among a list of public concerns on proposed changes, state education officials said.

Forward said many commentors were asking for more examples to be put back into the proposed revisions after many had been taken out in a past revision. The initial goal of the revisions was "fewer, clearer, higher" content expectations to improve guidance for Michigan teachers and students.

"Nuances are important for people and their point of view," Forward said.

A 14-member leadership group of social studies experts has been working on revising the standards for four years. State standards set expectations for what students are to learn by the end of each grade. State assessments are based on those standards.

An additional 21 people were part of a focus group that formed after 2015 when the state Board of Education voiced its concerns about diversity and number of voices at the table to put standards together. The focus group wrote the first draft of proposed revisions.

Forward said public interest in the revisions led to additional public comment sessions and the creation of the task force.

Once the public comment period ends, all information from the sessions and survey will be compiled and summarized for the state board, MDE spokesman Bill DiSessa said.

"Because the public comment period was extended to September 30, the draft likely will be delivered to the SBE for review in the spring of 2019, with the board’s vote expected sometime mid-year," DiSessa said.