• North Carolina Department of Public Instruction announced that revisions to state guidance standards would commence during the current school year
  • The State Board of Education approved the current guidance standards in 2010, and public schools implemented them in 2012
  • North Carolinians must be mindful that the Cooper-appointed majority on the State Board of Education may insist that the standards include elements of social justice ideology

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction (DPI) Office of Academic Standards recently announced that revisions to Arts Education, Guidance, and World Languages standards would commence during the academic year. Parents should anticipate that the Cooper-appointed majority on the State Board of Education will refuse to approve revised guidance standards that do not include elements of social justice political ideology. After all, the board unabashedly politicized social studies standards adopted in 2021. There is no reason to believe that the adoption of guidance standards will be any different.

The current review phase will include surveys of stakeholders, focus groups, research, and data collection. Opportunities for public comment or feedback occur during the critical revision phase, which comprises the writing and public review of draft standards. That stage will begin sometime next year. The published schedule anticipates that public schools will install the revised standards in these subjects in 2024.

Earlier this year, DPI officials initiated the standards review process for all health and science courses. Since then, my colleagues and I have pointed out that standards writers will be forced to grapple with some of the most contested issues debated in the public sphere, including gender; identity and environmentalism. The same will be true for educators recruited to serve on the team responsible for revising state guidance standards.

Some may be surprised that state standards for guidance counselors even exist. The development and implementation of guidance standards receive scant attention in the media. (The only mention I could find was the caption of a 2009 Asheville Citizen-Times photo of a standards-aligned performance of “The Ugly Duckling” by a group of adorable children from ArtSpace Charter School.) That is one reason why few North Carolinians knew that the State Board of Education approved the current guidance standards in 2010 or that public schools implemented them in 2012.

Guidance standards go beyond formal counseling conducted by North Carolina’s nearly 4,600 guidance counselors and 800 psychologists. The Office of Academic Standards declared that the standards “are designed and intended to be utilized by any educator to support the overall cognitive, career and personal/social development of every student.” As such, guidance standards touch on a wide variety of topics applicable to public school employees generally rather than trained school counseling professionals specifically.

DPI created separate guidance standards for each developmental stage: 1) Readiness/Exploratory/Discovery, 2) Early Emergent/Emergent, 3) Progressing, 4) Early Independent, 5) Independent. The high school students that fall under the Independent guidance standards should have more advanced skills and aptitudes than the middle or early high school students subject to the Early Independent standards and so on. Each of the five guidance standards features socio-emotional, cognitive, and career components.

Of the three components, the socio-emotional piece will demand public scrutiny and input. The 2010 guidance standards reflect social and emotional learning as defined over a decade ago, namely the propagation of strategies that help children and adolescents better manage emotions and maintain healthy relationships. Contemporary definitions of social and emotional learning include the language and precepts of the social justice movement.

For example, the Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL), the nation’s most influential social and emotional learning (SEL) organization, has integrated components of identity politics and social justice activism into a program called “Transformative SEL.” CASEL defines Transformative SEL as “a specific form of SEL implementation that concentrates SEL practice on transforming inequitable settings and systems, and promoting justice-oriented civic engagement.” Rather than championing social and emotional learning that adapts to the diverse needs of students, CASEL yearns to impose progressive social and political ideologies on impressionable children while encouraging political activism.

Otherwise, the 2010 guidance standards include elements that standards writers should retain in revised drafts. These include teaching children how to outline and execute a career plan, cultivate skills and dispositions that will increase the likelihood of success in the workforce, “formulate a position and be able to defend this position based on facts and reasoning,” and perhaps most importantly, “distinguish between a right and a responsibility.” Undoubtedly, public school children would benefit from guidance standards that preserve these universally embraced tenets.

North Carolinians concerned about the content and quality of state content standards should stay abreast of all activities by subscribing to DPI email updates and visiting the Office of Academic Standards website. In addition, I have created three useful resources for those new to the standards revision process: Lessons Learned from the Social Studies Standards Debate, a How-To Guide to Analyzing Academic Standards, and an overview of standards and curricula published in North Carolina Policy Solutions. Of course, the John Locke Foundation and The Carolina Journal will continue to provide timely analysis and coverage of all content standard areas currently under review.