Changes to D86 curriculum questioned

The new aligned social studies curriculum that will be rolled out over the next few years in Hinsdale High School District 86 is aimed at helping students “see themselves” in the content, educators submit.

But some district board members questioned the wisdom of doing away with popular courses like AP European History in pursuit of creating “global citizens.”

At the March 23 meeting, members of the District 86 Social Studies Alignment team laid out the plan to, as detailed in the presentation, “create a single program of studies, which is sustainable (and) meets our department mission and goals” at both Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South.

Beginning with the 2024-25 school year, freshman on the AP track will take World Cultures Honors, replacing World History Honors (Central) and World Studies Honors (South). World Cultures Honors made the most sense, staff said, because the curriculum will reduce content overlap between freshman and sophomore honors courses currently offered, provide a solid social studies foundation that students will build upon in future courses, value depth over breadth and critical thinking skills over memorization and meet state standards for both the geography and inquiry standards. It will also focus on literacy, writing and thinking skills demanded in future AP courses and standardized tests, among other benefits, said Kathy Lencioni, Hinsdale South department chair.

Those students would then proceed to the new AP Modern World History as sophomores and AP US History as juniors. AP Modern World History is replacing AP European History in the track, but will still be offered as an elective for juniors and seniors.

Board member Debbie Levinthal, who has been critical of the changes, said AP European History has traditionally been one of the most popular courses at Central and produced scores well above national averages. She questioned if AP Modern World History could generate the same level of engagement and performance.

Noting that the course will incorporate what has been taught in the soon-to-be sunsetted East Asian Studies and Humanities classes, Lencioni said it will be a more inviting class to a broader range of students.

“We wanted to design a class where students can more easily see themselves in the curriculum” rather than more narrowly focused class that may not resonate beyond a certain student subgroup, she said. In that vein, content from the current African American History class will be folded into the U.S. History and new American Diversity courses.

“I know there’s a tendency to lament what is lost,” said Hinsdale Central social studies department chair Mark Meyer.

But he encouraged people to see the potential of these new learning opportunities.

Board member Cynthia Hanson praised the team for its work, echoing Meyer’s remarks that the evolution of the curriculum is an appropriate response to a changing culture and student body.

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean