A bill proposing a conservative social studies curriculum moves through the Ohio House

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ATHENS, Ohio (WOUB) — The Ohio legislature is considering a bill that would require new K-12 social studies standards intended to counter what conservative critics see as a progressive bias in civics education.

The new standards would be based on a social studies curriculum developed by the Civics Alliance, which says on its website that civics classrooms are at risk of becoming “a recruitment tool for the progressive left.”

Don Jones has his photo taken while he is speakering.
Rep. Don Jones (R-Freeport) [Ohio House]
House Bill 103 would establish a social studies task force that would be responsible for developing social study standards based on the Alliance’s “American Birthright” curriculum.

Rep. Don Jones (R-Freeport), one of the bill’s sponsors, said the legislation is not intended to take any swings at educators.

“This is not a slap in the face to anyone who is a teacher of American government, U.S. history, American History, Ohio history,” Jones said. “The state standards we have today are vague. I don’t know that they’re as well written as they could be.”

Some education officials question the legitimacy of the new curriculum.

“Just blanket accepting a set of standards that was not created by all professional educators, that has not been vetted by any professional organization, that is not endorsed by any professional educational is concerning for a lot of reasons,” Tom Gibbs, superintendent for the Athens City School District, said.

The task force created by the bill would have nine members, selected by the governor, the president of the senate and the speaker of the House of Representatives, who currently are all members of the Republican party.

Many opponents pushing back against the bill believe the use of the “American Birthright” curriculum is a political move.

“This certainly appears to be an attempt by the right wing to insert a very political right-wing agenda into our social studies standards,” Melissa Cobbler, president of the Ohio Federation of Teachers, said. “This is just a political ploy, and we should not be playing politics with our students.”

The bill has also caught flak for potentially framing a narrow image of American history. Over the last few decades, educators in Ohio have worked to make social studies classes more discussion-based.

“We have been on a continual arc of improvement,” William Hilt, president of the Ohio Council for the Social Studies, said.

“In Athens, we have prided ourselves in recognizing the diversity in our student body,” Gibbs said. “Whenever a curriculum is put forward that appears to be narrow-minded, or narrow in scope, that raises concerns for our educators certainly.”

Some who support the bill advocate for the new curriculum in response to poor test scores for social studies throughout the state.

“These results were horrible. Only 13% of 8th graders scored proficient in history,” Robert Maranto, a professor in the Department of Education Reform at the University of Arkansas, said during his testimony in favor of the bill.

Maranto is referring to the NAEP test, generally referred to as “The Nation’s Report Card,” which is used as a national gauge for academic performance in K-12 programs.

As of now, the Civics Alliance’s “American Birthright” curriculum has only been adopted in one other school district in the country, Woodland Park, Colorado, where it was met with visceral controversy among the area’s locals.

Pushback was so severe the police were called on attendees who were causing a fuss at the Woodland Park school board meeting while the curriculum was discussed, as reported by the Pikes Peak Courier.

Discussions of House Bill 103 are part of a national debate over education reform.

Last year, Florida governor and Republican presidential candidate Ron DeSantis introduced his “Stop Woke Act,” which opponents say serves to censor topics of race and sexual orientation in public education.

“Following woke indoctrination in our schools, that is a road to ruin for this country,” DeSantis said.

Jones, House Bill 103’s sponsor, reflects some of this sentiment, saying that a great deal of the civil trouble in the United States today could be due to poor social studies and civics education.

“Look at the society we’re a part of — we’ve got more unrest than we’ve ever had,” Jones said. 

The bill has already drawn pushback from Ohio Democrats, who have introduced a counter bill, House Bill 171, titled the “Include Certain Instruction in Social Studies Model Curriculum Bill.”

The goal is to “include instruction on the migration, experiences, and contributions of a range of communities in the social studies model curriculum,” according to the bill.

House Bill 103 has had three hearings so far in the House Primary and Secondary Education Committee. It has not yet been scheduled for a fourth hearing.

Some who oppose the bill say the public has the ability to fight and prevent what they believe could be dire consequences.

“I really think that the overwhelming majority of our Ohioans are sharp enough to realize that this is a little bit of a detour we don’t want to take,” Hilt said.