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Nebraska educators start updating standards for social studies

October 5, 2018

The Omaha Public Schools are well-represented on a team of educators writing new social studies standards for Nebraska schools.

The 65-member team officially got underway this week. They will update standards adopted in 2012.

The team includes 10 OPS educators and seven each from the Millard and Lincoln school districts.

Also on the team are educators from the Valentine district in north-central Nebraska, the Chadron district in the Nebraska Panhandle, Creighton Prep, Wayne State College and the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Members of the Nebraska State Board of Education were briefed on the update Thursday.

State law requires the state board to update standards every seven years.

School districts must either adopt the state standards or a set of equal or greater rigor.

Standards represent what state officials think students should know and be able to do.

The curriculum — how the standards are taught — is left to the local districts.

The standards will cover civics, economics, geography and history.

The writers will work through the fall and spring, with board approval slated for fall 2019.

Harris Payne, social studies specialist for the Nebraska Department of Education, said the department invited teachers and administrators to apply to serve on the team.

Team members include K-12 teachers and administrators and representatives from educational service units, the Nebraska State Council for the Social Studies, the department and secondary institutions.

“The team is made up of teachers and the teachers that teach teachers,” Payne said.

Board member Pat McPherson said the state needs to seek broad input on the standards.

“It seems to me, whether it’s our fault, your fault, the schools’ fault, we’ve done a woefully bad job of educating our kids as far as civics go,” McPherson said.

The department should be seeking input from parents, employers and public officials, he said.

“None of them are here,” McPherson said. “So what we get is, after the standards have been written by these educators, then we get, after the horse is out of the barn, basically, then we get the feedback.”

Cory Epler, chief academic officer for the Nebraska Department of Education, said the state uses Nebraska educators to write standards.

The public will have several ways to provide input, including via a survey on the department’s website.

Epler said the survey has received 240 responses, with 44 percent of those surveyed identifying themselves as parents of K-12 students.

The department, he said, will seek business input to ensure the standards reflect knowledge and skills needed for the workplace.

As drafts become available, he added, people will be able to provide input.

“First draft, potentially, could be next month,” Epler said. “And then we would post that, and then that is what we would hope people will provide feedback on.”

The update, he said, is a great opportunity to ensure that the standards reflect civic readiness.

He said it is “critically important” that students have “fundamental” knowledge in civics, economics, geography and history.

The writers also were told the standards must encourage students to “participate as informed, thoughtful and engaged citizens.”

And the standards must allow students to develop the “actions and dispositions needed to fulfill civic rights and responsibilities,” Epler said.

The standards must be rigorous enough that, when mastered, students will be successful in college social studies courses without remediation, he said.

The survey can be found at www.education.ne.gov. The public can email comments to nde.standardsinput@nebraska.gov. Comments also may be mailed to the Nebraska Department of Education, 301 Centennial Mall South, Lincoln, NE 68509.

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