Ohio legislators want to update school social studies. Two House bills propose dueling approaches

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — Democrats in the Ohio House are sponsoring a bill to bring multiculturalism to social studies lessons in the state’s K-12 classrooms. This comes as lawmakers are also hearing a Republican-backed bill to create new social studies standards through a task force of appointed state officials using a conservative civics program.

Rep. Mary Lightbody (right) discusses her bill, House Bill 171, alongside representatives from groups that support it
Rep. Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville, right) discusses her bill, House Bill 171, alongside representatives from groups that support it, including OPAWL, the Hispanic Caucus of the Ohio Education Association, CAIR-Ohio, the Asian Student Union at Olentangy High Schools, the Ohio Federation of Teachers and Honesty in Education. Reps. Tavia Galonski (D-Akron) and Anita Somani (D-Dublin) were also in the group (second and third from left). [Karen Kasler | Statehouse News Bureau]
The American Birthright civics program says it teaches “American liberty.” But Rep. Mary Lightbody (D-Westerville), a former teacher, said she’s worried about using the American Birthright model to create new social studies standards.

“At no time in my experience has a particular very narrow focus such as that from the Birthright group been requested to be used as the model,” Lightbody said. “And as an educator, I am significantly opposed to that particular bill.”

Lightbody and other Democrats have proposed a bill that would bring information about the history and contributions of cultural minority groups into a model curriculum for social studies classes. House Bill 171 is similar to a bill proposed in the legislature last session. It was created with the help of OPAWL, Ohio Progressive Asian Women’s Leadership.

HB 171 is not a reaction to the Republicans’ House Bill 103, Lightbody said.

HB 103 would create a nine-member task force appointed by the House speaker, the Senate president and the governor, who would use the American Birthright program to craft new social studies standards. The American Birthright program comes from the National Association of Scholars, a conservative organization that’s raised concerns about diversity standards, affirmative action and multiculturalism on college campuses. The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Don Jones (R-Freeport), told a House committee the task force appointees would likely be legislators and cabinet members.

Jones said in a statement that he appreciates Lightbody’s “attempt to improve the K-12 social studies curriculum.” But, he said, her bill “does not solve the problem of presenting accurate, non-partisan learning objectives. The broad and undefined standards currently in practice leave Ohio students vulnerable to the political ideology of any classroom teacher.”

He notes his bill would create new standards for social studies, leaving local districts to develop the curriculum.

“By crafting new standards on this basis,” Jones’ statement said, “we can ensure all Ohio students receive an accurate, non-partisan Social Studies education and strengthen Ohio’s public schools.”

But Lightbody said her bill seeks to help students and teachers understand more about people in their classrooms and communities, and there’s nothing partisan about that.

“I don’t think there’s anything political about looking at the makeup of the students in our communities and in our schools and seeking to provide information for teachers so that those children can be seen and heard and understood by their classmates,” Lightbody said.

Democrats have little hope in stopping HB 103 or advancing HB 171 since they’re the superminority in the legislature.