Virginia Board of Education: Stay the Course

Standards and Curriculum Framework are Both Needed – Not One Without the Other

by Kathleen Smith

In November, the Board of Education put off the approval of the Virginia History and Social Science Standards again. The Board members seemed quite perplexed as they were asked to approve only the Standards without the Curriculum Framework –- or a “decoupled process” as the State Superintendent explained.  In February, the concerns over the much-disputed process and standards will be considered again.

On November 30, the Virginia Mercury published an article regarding the separation of the Virginia History Standards and the Curriculum Framework.  Three other articles have recently come to light as well.  On December 3, the Richmond Times-Dispatch published an opinion column by Tom Shields entitled “Schools Have a Moral (and Legal) Obligation to Resist a ‘Divisive Concepts’ Ban.”  Children First – IRDA published a policy paper entitled “What Virginia’s Anti-Equity Executive Order 1 and Reports Mean for K-12 Schools & Students – A Guide for School Leaders.” Lastly, EducationWeek published “The Architects of the Standards Movement Say They Missed a Big Piece.”

These references provide some insight into the concerns the Board of Education expressed at the November meeting. The public and parents are interested in what should be taught or not be taught in schools related to divisive concepts, including equity. State Board members should stay the course and approve both the Standards and the Curriculum Framework without any “decoupling” of the two documents.

When you pick up any package of food, all ingredients are listed as required by code. This lets the consumer know what is in the food you are eating. The curriculum framework is the same as the ingredient listing on food packages. It is a transparent way of making sure folks know what they are eating, or in the case of the frameworks, know what is meant by the standard and what the teacher is expected to teach.

Whether you are on the “woke” or “anti-divisive concepts” side of teaching history in Virginia’s classrooms, keep this quote from Children First – IRDA in mind:

Contrary to the assertions made in the 30-day report, the equity tools and guidance removed by the Superintendent of Public Instruction are not “banned” but simply are unavailable from the VDOE.

Meaning of above: without the framework, teachers can teach divisive concepts if they want to do so. Tom Shields says they absolutely have a moral obligation to do so.

The curriculum framework provides the ingredients. Those “ingredients” matter. Parents want to know exactly what is being taught — not at the 50,000-foot-level of the standard, but at the classroom level. In other words, they want to know not only what “bread” their kids are eating, but they also want to know that the bread doesn’t contain harmful by-products.

Further, the EducationWeek article offers a great read as to why the curriculum framework provides teachers with a clear understanding of the expectations of each standard and directs them to what needs to be taught. This ensures that “meatloaf” in one classroom will follow the same “recipe” as in another classroom. Meatloaf will be meatloaf, not sausage. In other words, the framework serves as a recipe.

Here is an example from the VDOE website for the current History and Social Studies Standards and Framework. Both were approved at the same time in 2015 by the Board of Education. 

Standard – Virginia Studies 7.b Framework or Recipe
VS.7 The student will demonstrate an understanding of the issues that divided our nation and led to the Civil War by

b) describing Virginia’s role in the war, including identifying major battles that took place in Virginia; and


The student will demonstrate an understanding of the issues that divided our nation and led to the Civil War by

b) describing Virginia’s role in the war, including identifying major battles that took place in Virginia…

Essential Understandings

Virginia played a significant role in the Civil War and became a major battleground between Union and Confederate troops.

Virginians played a significant role in the Civil War. Essential Knowledge

Major Civil War Events battles fought in Virginia

· The First Battle of Bull Run (also known as the Battle of First Manassas) was the first major clash of the Civil War. Confederate General Thomas “Stonewall” Jackson played a major role in this battle.

· General Robert E. Lee, Commander of the Army of Northern Virginia, defeated Union troops at Fredericksburg, Virginia.

· Richmond was the capital of the Confederacy. It fell to General Ulysses S. Grant and was burned by the Confederacy near the end of the war. Fires were set by retreating Confederate forces to keep war supplies from approaching Union forces.

· President Abraham Lincoln used the Union navy to blockade southern ports. An important sea battle between the Monitor (Union) and the Merrimack (Confederacy), two ironclad ships, took place in Virginia waters near Norfolk and Hampton. The battle was fought to a draw.

· The Civil War ended at Appomattox Court House, Virginia, where Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered his army to Union General Ulysses S. Grant in April 1865.

· The Confederates were using slaves to help them in the war effort. Three men (Shepherd Mallory, Frank Baker, and James Townsend) refused and escaped to Fort Monroe, this led to the Contraband decision, which led to tens of thousands of enslaved people to seek refuge with the Union Army.

Is there any reason why the documents shouldn’t be approved at the same time once again as the Board of Education has done in the past? If this administration wants to be open and transparent, wouldn’t it be wise to have the board review the ingredients and the recipes at the same time they review the Standards? The Board of Education should seek no less in this next round of approval.

Dr. Kathleen M. Smith has been an educator since 1975. She has served as the Regional Director for the Mid-Atlantic States for AdvancED l Measured Progress (now Cognia) and the Director of the Office of School Improvement with the Virginia Department of Education. She served as a Board Member At-Large for the Virginia Council of Private Education.