Updated: Oct 24, 2022
"Just because you pay out money to subcontract your standards doesn't excuse you from being responsible for curricula."
For parents and some school board candidates in North Carolina, the big question asked is, “Where do the state standards end and the district’s curricula begin?”
Recently, this question has been raised about the state's controversial Social Emotional Learning (SEL) requirements, as well as the 2021 Social Studies standards. SEL and critical race theory (CRT) teachings are controversial elements within the school curricula, but parents have trouble knowing which governing body to petition for change.
Sloan Rachmuth and Nancy Andersen of Education First Alliance spoke with State Board of Education member Dr. Olivia Oxendine last night about the state’s role in creating district curricula and policies.
“The writing of the curricula rests with the local boards,” Oxendine explained, “the State Board of Education does not mandate curriculum.” Education in North Carolina is governed by a “culture and philosophy of local control.”
The State Board of Education calls upon the Department of Public Instruction (DPI) to revise standards every five to seven years. There are eight areas of standards including computer science, English/language arts, and healthful living.
Specialized units within the DPI are then charged with selecting outside experts, usually teachers and university professors, to assist in standard development. Oxendine believes that the most important part of the review process is selecting credible research for inclusion in the standards.
The DPI uses writing teams to add proscriptive elements to the standards by creating "unpacking documents" and "crosswalks" for district curriculum teams. As an example, the DPI created a new glossary for Social Studies that emphasize "gender identity" and "white privilege". Teachers are also trained by the DPI on adherence to federal mandates, such as Culturally Responsive Teaching, which is actually Critical Race Theory.
After standards are adopted by the State School Board, the district must develop lessons and content for each grade level that conform to the requirements. Usually, teachers from the district are selected to create the curricula. “At the local level you could bring in physicians, attorneys, scientists, and other professionals in the curricula-writing process,” Oxendine said.
There is often disagreement among board members during the standards passage process. In 2021, Oxendine was critical of the Social Studies standards for their lack of “balance.” "I take away the feeling of 'America, the oppressor,'" Oxendine said, "not 'America, the land of opportunity."
A Lumbee Tribal member, Dr. Oxendine researched school segregation from the perspective of teachers. She has presented at state and national levels, including at the Smithsonian Institution's National Museum of the American Indian.
In 2013, former Republican Governor Pat McCroy appointed Dr. Oxendine to the State School Board. She teaches school leadership courses at the University of North Carolina Pembroke.
Watch the interview: