Virginia state commission recommends African American history be made a graduation requirement for students
Virginia’s Commission on African American History Education recommended this week that students be required to obtain a credit in African American history in order to graduate.
The commission, formed by Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) office last year, issued a number or recommendations in its report on Monday to help improve the ways African American history is taught in state schools.
Other recommendations include revising teacher evaluation regulations and standards for school leaders in the state to “include cultural proficiency efficacy,” requiring all educators in the state to “certify that they have enrolled in Cultural Competency Professional Development by 2022” and for funding to be directed toward implementing “comprehensive professional development in the areas of cultural competency and African American History content for Virginia educators.”
The report also recommends certification in African American history be mandated for “all holders of education licenses issued by the Virginia Department of Education” and that requirements be amended for “licensure endorsements in History/Social Science to require evidence of course study in African American History.”
In addition to recommendations aimed at aiding professional development in Virginia schools, the body also listed several others geared toward making standards of learning for history and social studies “more inclusive of African American history.”
Among those standards, the body recommended the Board of Education consider updating “its history and social studies standards to ensure that African American history is not taught separately, but is truly a cohesive part of the teaching of all history” and “approve the teaching of history as a requirement at all levels in K-12.”
The recommendations, the commission states in the report, are "key" to ensuring educators in the state “achieve proficiency in culturally relevant teaching and gain appropriate foundational knowledge in African American history.”
“Even though Virginia led the nation in developing high quality content standards more than 25 years ago, the standards were tainted with a master narrative that marginalized or erased the presence of non-Europeans from the American landscape," the report states. “These historical silences skew our perspective of the past, erasing people of color, and supplanting them with false narratives that ignore the diverse cultural underpinnings in American society.”
Northam said in a statement on Monday that the recommendations will “ensure that Virginia’s history standards reflect the complexity of our past, help students understand how present-day challenges are connected to this history, and provide teachers with more resources to engage in anti-racist work.”
“This unprecedented time of crisis has given all of us an opportunity to renew our focus on breaking down structural inequities and telling a more honest Virginia story in our classrooms,” he continued.
The commission was formed a year ago after Northam signed an executive order establishing the body, which was tasked with examining how African American history is taught in state schools and ways to improve that instruction.
Those appointed by the governor to the commission included professors and higher education professionals from different parts of the state as well as local civil rights leaders.
The report also comes several days after Northam announced the launch of a new African American history course.
In a release detailing the course late last week, Northam’s office said students should be able to “identify and understand the African origins and developments of the Black experience in North America” and “evaluate how African Americans have shaped, contributed, and have been shaped by the institutions, policies, and laws established by federal, state, and local governments” by the end of the class.
Northam called the course "groundbreaking" and said it was the “first step toward our shared goal of ensuring all Virginia students have a fuller, more accurate understanding of our history, and can draw important connections from those past events to our present day.”