I recently wrote about the job of a school director. Each School Board in the state has defined its role and the role of a school director in its governing documents. Puyallup’s Board believes that at its core, the board must ensure that “students will have ample opportunity to achieve their individual and collective learning potential.” The operation of a school district is a complex process, involving a broad range on interests. In serving those interests, the Board has adopted a number of District Policies that seek to define the roles and responsibilities of everyone involved.
One of the tasks of a School Board as adopted in our District Policies is to give final approval during the curriculum adoption process. The entire process is spelled out in Board Policy 2020R. The role of the Certificated Teaching Staff, Principal, Assistant Superintendent, Instructional Materials Committee, Superintendent and School Board are clearly defined, as illustrated in the Policy.
Certificated Teaching Staff are to identify core material. The Instructional Materials Committee, which may include parents, will evaluate and recommend core materials for approval, and will “evaluate and act upon citizens’ requests for reconsideration of core materials.” The criteria for the selection of instructional materials is also defined. I added emphasis on points E and H below.
Criteria for Selection of Core/Alternative Core Instructional Materials
Core instructional materials shall be selected based upon the degree to which they:
A. Demonstrate likelihood of impact as shown by scientific or evidence-based research;
B. Enable implementation of the district’s developed curriculum and meet state standards and College Readiness requirements;
C. Provide sufficient flexibility to meet the varied needs and abilities of the students served;
D. Provide clear and appropriate differentiation components for English Language Learners, special education students, students with academic opportunity gaps, and highly capable students;
E. Where appropriate, present balanced but differing views of issues, controversial or otherwise, in order that students may develop critical analysis and informed decision-making skills;
F. Demonstrate consideration of appropriate format(s) (including technological, visual, and/or auditory components);
G. Support equitable access to learning and learning materials for all students; including the provision of appropriate, high-quality accessible instructional materials to all students with disabilities who require them; and
H. Are free of stereotyping and gender, race, class, and other forms of bias, recognizing that under certain circumstances biased materials may serve as appropriate resources to present contrasting and differing points of view, and biased materials may be employed in order to teach students about bias, stereotyping, and propaganda in historical or contemporary contexts. The Washington Models for the Evaluation of Bias Content in Instructional Materials, published by the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction (OSPI) should be consulted in the selection process to further to the goal of eliminating content bias.
So why am I writing about this now?
During the May 24th School Board meeting, the Director of Instructional Leadership presented to the Board a recommendation to adopt a new 9th Grade Modern World History Curriculum. You can see full details of their recommendation in the Agenda for the May 24th meeting, and I’ve linked the specific recommendation here.
The stated plan was to present the proposed new instructional materials for a first reading and consideration at the meeting on the 24th, and to hold a second reading during the June 7th meeting before asking for a vote from the Board. Despite beginning the process in 2019, some questions and comments were made by Directors during the meeting that questioned the content of the material, and how America was portrayed in the World History Curriculum. The new curriculum has now been pulled from the June 7th agenda to allow Board Members to gather additional information before voting.
I’m very concerned about the introduction of politics into this process at this late date, and particularly during a time when Boards across the country are finding themselves attacked for supporting concepts of equity, diversity of opinion, and addressing how certain perspectives in history have dominated discussions. The objections raised during the Board meeting weren’t about the process, or about the recommendation of the teachers. In the report of the Instructional Materials Committee, “[t]he committee overwhelmingly selected the TCI materials, both for the content it covered, the amount of learning strategies & resources offered, as well as the support and structure for new teachers.” Our policies explicitly recognize that some concepts will need to include differing views of issues, so that students can develop critical thinking skills. Still, the objection seemed to fall back on whether the world history curriculum was sufficiently pro-American and too welcoming of differing views of historical events.
Our Certificated Teaching Staff has done their job and made their recommendation. Our Instructional Materials Committee reviewed the recommendation and followed the processes outlined for them by the Board. There were opportunities for involvement and review before May 24th. The texts and samples of the curriculum have been available to the Board and to the public online and at each of our Junior High Schools since April 27th.
I’ve heard repeatedly from parents that they don’t feel like the District and the Board are adequately seeking their input before decisions are made. Even more clearly, you’ve told me that you don’t believe that the District and the Board LISTEN to that input when it is welcomed. There is absolutely room to improve our processes and to do a better job of engaging our community in decision making. In this case, the input of teachers was sought according to policy, received and acted upon according to policy, and then disregarded — at least for right now — because of politics. That should concern us all.
I will be at the June 7th Board Meeting to express my concerns. The public is always invited to sign-in for in-person public comment before each meeting. You can also request to make a comment virtually by emailing Beth Kerrick at email@example.com by 4:00 p.m. Monday with your name and topic. Please put “Public Comment” in the subject line of your email. Your name will be called by the Board President during the public comment portion of the agenda. Public comments are limited to three minutes in length, and guidelines are posted on the District website.