Legislators are looking to standardize Black history curriculum in grades 5 and 8, and have the state provide additional resources by 2025. The bill in question specified that fifth and eighth-grade students would learn about Black heritage, culture, experience, and the “ultimate destiny of all social, ethnic, gender and national groups and individuals, and that such are represented as interdependent, interactive, and complementary.” It also specified that the Tennessee Department of Education (TDOE) would provide internet resources and materials for K-12 instruction in the subject.
State Senator Katrina Robinson (D-Memphis) first introduced the bill, followed with a companion bill filed by State Representative Yusuf Hakeem (D-Chattanooga). Senate committees recommended the bill for passage with amendments. Although senators applauded the basis for the idea, they expressed concern over the fiscal impact of the bill. They also questioned the reality of schools’ ability to craft a new curriculum of that magnitude by this fall, as the bill required originally.
State Senator Brian Kelsey (R-Germantown) submitted an amendment suggesting an extension of the timeline to implement this curriculum, and that TDOE only bear the responsibility of providing the proposed resources for grades 5 and 8. It also suggested that the State Board of Education (SBE) develop the social studies standards on black history and culture for this summer. The Senate passed this amendment on Thursday.
Current Tennessee Code on Black history curriculum is brief and generalized. The law defers judgment to the local board of education on which grade level or levels should learn about Black history and culture. It also refers to the curriculum framework as a goal of the general assembly, whereas the proposed bill makes it a mandate for schools to follow.
The Senate was scheduled to review the bill for the third reading and final vote on Thursday, but deferred action for another week. The House version of the bill is awaiting its hearing in the Education Instruction Subcommittee.
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