Tracy Jakubowski

History teacher Tracy Jakubowski holds her daughter, Julia Jakubowski, 2, as Harris Payne of the Nebraska Department of Education (right) honors her with the Nebraska History Teacher of the Year award on Monday afternoon during a surprise visit to her classroom at Grand Island Senior High. (Independent/Barrett Stinson)

Nebraska students will be learning new social studies curricula as part of social studies standards adopted by the state earlier this month.

According to reports from both The Associated Press and the Omaha World-Herald, the new social studies standards, approved unanimously by the Nebraska State Board of Education Nov. 8, will encourage students to look at history from multiple perspectives, including those of religious, racial and ethnic groups, women, LGBTQ people and Native American nations.

The standards are a revision of the 2012 standards currently in place.

Grand Island Public Schools Curriculum Director Brittney Bills said under the new standards, “students will learn to apply knowledge in civics, history, economics, financial literacy and geography in order to address meaningful issues within our society and will learn to practice civil discourse between opposing interests.”

Grand Island Senior High history teacher Tracy Jakubowski said the new social studies standards will look at certain historical figures and see why their stories are typically told, versus others of their time who did similar things. She added the standards also expose students to lesser-known historical events such as the Stonewall Riots.

“It is not that I am going to tell students that this was right or this was wrong. I am going to tell them what happened, the cause of it and the effect of it,” Jakubowski said. “Those students are able to see history reflected in their backgrounds and I think that is pretty powerful to what the state wants to do in the new standards. They focus on that.”

Bills said the biggest changes between the current social studies standards and the new standards will be at the middle school level. The new standards are also written to be for grades K-8, versus the current standards that are written for grades 6-8.

“This change was made in an effort to provide equitable experiences for our students across the state,” she said. “In the 2016-17 school year, 4.23% — or 13,500 students — were classified as ‘highly mobile’ according to state data. This data was a major catalyst for the 2019 Social Studies Standards to be grade-level specific in grades K-8, offering more focus and guidance for middle school instruction.”

Jakubowski said what is currently taught in seventh and eighth grade “will be squished back into eighth grade,” meaning eighth grade will be a lot faster paced and eighth-grade social studies teachers will have new content to teach.

Jeanette Ramsey, director of teaching and learning for Northwest Public Schools, said the new standards will also change the curricula in her district as they shift the topics of study.

“Grades six and seven are more centered around world history and eighth grade is U.S. history, whereas before, sixth grade was mostly world history and grades seven and eight were U.S. history,” she said. “For our other grades, I think it will be a matter of looking at the rigor of the standards. I think what students are being asked to do with this information is more in-depth and they have added more communication and presentation skills to the social studies standards.”

Bills said the new social studies standards are more rigorous and they will change how students think in their social studies classes.

“The standards lend themselves to students having deep discussions that will need to be grounded in evidence and taken from a variety of perspectives,” she said. “The standards also make really great connections to math, English language arts and science, allowing for interdisciplinary connections and planning.”

Ramsey said more rigorous and in-depth learning is something Northwest strives to have in its curricula. She likes how the new social studies standards ask students to do “higher-level thinking.”

“We are asking students to do more of it with more compare and contrast, analyzing, communicating and presenting information,” she said. “The previous standards were a lot of just describing or listing, so I feel the (new) standards are asking students to do more application of the information that they learned.”

Jakubowski said the new standards will require students to “go deeper into history,” rather than simply memorizing facts.

“What are you going to do with that memorization of those facts? How do they make it applicable to them in the context of their own lives today?” she said. “It also helps them to understand where we came from.”

In her classroom under the new social studies standards, Jakubowski said, she will present students with facts so they can make evaluations based on the time and see how history changes how they look at historical events.

“For example, at one time, segregation was legal. So when we look at that same idea today, are there things that are legal or illegal that shouldn’t be and what guides those decisions?” she said. “The values of the people at the time. We are really looking at the average American lives and how those traditional or modernist values influence policy and law, and what that does for equality.”

Committee worked

to develop new standards

Prior to adopting the new social studies standards, the Nebraska Department of Education assembled a revision committee of education professionals from across the state to review the then-proposed standards.

Bills, Jakubowski and Barr Middle School social studies teacher Jason Weaver were all part of the social studies standards revision committee.

Bills said educators interested in being on the committee were asked to apply to be on it.

Jakubowski said the committee also featured a wide range of schools, from large schools to small schools, private schools to public schools. As the committee met for two days last October, its members broke off into subcommittees based on the areas they teach.

“For example, I was on the United States history (subcommittee) because that is what I teach and that is my wheelhouse,” she said. “We each had our specific areas and we broke off into our areas, which were by (grade) levels. Jason Weaver represented the middle school level. Since he teaches American history, he was also in the middle school history area and Brittney (Bills) was at the elementary level.”

Bills said that before the committee’s revision process began, it worked to develop its vision for the social studies standards, reviewed laws and policies that influenced the standards’ development and learned about the best practices in the social studies standards.

From there, she said, the committee began drafting the standards, reviewing stakeholder feedback and refining the standards based on that feedback.

“Social studies educators in Nebraska are very passionate about the content that their students learn and that is reflected in these standards,” Bills said. “Our standards revision committee felt it is critical our students are prepared for college, career and civic life. As a result of their social studies education, we want our students to value civic engagement and participate in society as informed and thoughtful citizens.”

When the standards review committee met, Jakubowski said, it looked at the disciplines the standards cover: civics, economics, geography and history — and the “anchors” in which they are taught, such as continuity, multiple perspectives and historical inquiry and research.

“One of the changes of the 2012 standards broke out the historical analysis and inquiry piece into research,” she said. “They were different ones and we tried to combine those, so that students were coming up with their own questions in the inquiry and then creating their own research. We used the C3 framework — college, career and civic ready. We had that lens on as we went through and revamped to make them (standards) more applicable to students and more rigorous.”

Bills said the state’s Department of Education has outlined a timeline for districts to implement the new social studies standards. Beginning next school year, school districts are expected to adopt and explore the social studies standards. They should also identify and select instructional materials, and determine local curricula.

The 2021-22 school year will be the first year in which districts implement the new social studies standards.

“From now until fall 2020, GIPS will begin unpacking these new standards and working on a recommendation for standards adoption for fall 2020,” Bills said. “We will also need to begin exploring instructional resources that will best support our teachers in teaching the standards as intended. It is exciting to me that the 2019 standards are a great complement to the work that we are already doing.”

Ramsey said Northwest has two middle school social studies teachers and five high school social studies teachers who will meet with her and other district administrators to review the new standards.

“We will meet together and they (teachers) will take some time in their professional learning communities to start to break down the standards,” she said. “But we will meet more formally. Typically, we do that work in the summer months when we can take a few days to really go through them and compare them to what our current practice is.”

Ramsey said it is the intent of the district that the Northwest Board of Education vote to adopt the new social studies standards into the district’s curriculum.

“We have a year to adopt the standards, so we have until next (school) year to adopt them,” she said. “Within that year, they (NDE) give us a year to 18 months to study the standards in order to implement. We know we need to make some changes, especially in our middle school, so that is probably where our first focus of change will be. Whatever changes we make in sixth and seventh grade is going to have an effect on our eighth-graders.”

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