Colorado Board of Education split over conservative “American Birthright” academic standards


The state Board of Education voted Wednesday against adopting a conservative set of social studies standards that highlight American patriotism as Colorado’s official guidelines for teaching history and civics.

The board was split in its decision, voting 4-3, against member Debora Scheffel’s proposal that the state replace the current guidelines with the “American Birthright” framework. The standards were created by a conservative education coalition called the Civics Alliance and are modeled after Florida’s guidelines.

“These standards are too extreme for the state of Colorado and I will be a “no” vote,” said Lisa Escárcega, a Democrat.

The state school board is in the middle of revising the social studies standards, and on Wednesday, members reviewed the civics and media literacy portions of the framework.

The members voted along party lines, with the four Democrat members who hold a majority — Escárcega, Angelika Schroeder, Rebecca McClellan, and Karla Esser — saying they were against implementing the “American Birthright” standards.

The three Republicans — Scheffel, Joyce Rankin and Steve Durham — voted in favor.

Scheffel said she wanted to adopt the “American Birthright” guidelines and have the board amend them to align with Colorado statutes.

“Our standards in Colorado, broadly speaking, are not that great,” Scheffel said, adding, “I was looking for another document that could help us.”

Revisions to standards draw scrutiny 

The board will vote by the end of the year – potentially next month – on a final version of the social studies standards.The state began reviewing the guidelines roughly a year ago, with a committee of educators recommending changes in November so that they include more diverse perspectives.

The initial changes were made to comply with a law passed by state legislators in 2019 to have K-12 schools teach students about the experiences of people of color and those in the LGBTQ community in history and civics classes.

Then earlier this year, the committee reversed its changes and removed many references to people of color and those in the LGBTQ community. They stripped mentions that listed minority groups as well as words such as “equity” and “race” in some cases.

The language was softened after the committee received public feedback that questioned the “age appropriateness” of having young students learn about their experiences. The critiques echoed similar discourse that has occurred nationwide and some states, such as Florida, have restricted how educators discuss racism, gender identity and sexual orientation in the classroom.

Sex education is optional in Colorado and is not included in the social studies standards, which cover topics such as history, geography, civics and media literacy. Teachers used the guidelines to build curriculum, and in Colorado, local school boards and educators are the ones who ultimately decide what is taught to students.

Colorado lawmakers and activists have pushed the state board to add back references to people of color and those in the LGBTQ community into the standards.

“I’m not sure we even need standards.”

Some members of Colorado’s state school board have criticized such language. For example, Rankin has previously said the terms “LGBTQ” and “migration” in standards for elementary students “could be interpreted as indoctrination” in her feedback to the review committee.

More recently, Rankin proposed that the board remove the Declaration of Sentiments, which advocated for rights previously denied to women, from standards for eighth-graders. She also recommended that “civil disobedience” be removed from high school standards that list the strategies people can use to influence public policy, according to a memo of board member feedback.

On Wednesday, Durham criticized the committee itself, saying he researched the political affiliations of the people who reviewed the standards.

“These standards were not produced in an unbiased manner,” he said, adding, “I’m not sure we even need standards.”

His comments drew a rebuke from McClellan.


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