D86 board nixes social studies plan

The Hinsdale High School District 86 Board has halted implementation of a previously approved social studies curriculum designed to align courses at the district’s two schools.

By a 5-2 vote at the June 8 special board meeting, the board effectively reversed the prior decision after several members had expressed concerns that the planned changes would adversely affect students’ educational experience.

“If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” said board member Debbie Levinthal, a leading critic of the new curriculum slated to be rolled out for the 2024-25 school year. “We don’t have a broken system as near as I can tell.”

The most controversial of the curriculum shifts is replacing sophomore-year AP European History with AP Modern World History. In a letter to the board, the six-member social studies program team that developed the new curriculum shared that the change was in response to declining enrollment and a desire to attract a wider cross-section of students.

“Adding a new AP course like AP Modern World History will allow for expanded access to rigorous coursework at the sophomore level,” the team wrote. “An AP History course sophomore year that is built around welcoming all learners and supporting students who want to access a rigorous course will boost AP participation and increase performance in AP United States History and AP English courses.”

But Levinthal rejected that rationale.

“There’s been no evidence to suggest that AP Modern World is going to pull in more numbers than AP Euro,” she remarked.

Instead, Levinthal argued, students would miss out on the immersive quality of AP Euro.

“AP Modern is known to be a very fast course and broad in scope, whereas AP European History allows the opportunity to dig deeper into content,” she said.

The revised social studies curriculum is part of the district’s larger strategic goal to align courses at Hinsdale Central and Hinsdale South in a unified program of studies, which was approved in the fall of 2021.

AP Euro would still be offered as an elective for juniors and seniors under the plan. Other proposed modifications include the phasing out of Philosophy Honors because of low enrollment at Hinsdale South, and the incorporation of the African American Studies and East Asian Studies classes into a new World Cultures curriculum for freshmen.

Board member Terri Walker, who voted not to reverse the plan with board member Asma Akhras, alluded to the three years of work the program team invested in developing the plan.

“It seems to me that the recommendation that they’re making was well thought out and should stand as it has been approved previously,” Walker said.

Akhras underscored that point, contending that the six-member team of professional educators from across the district presented a plan that brings the district into compliance with state geography standards while maintaining a high degree of rigor.

“Three years of work — to me I value that, and I value the recommendation” that’s been presented,” she said.

Board member Peggy James countered that the board was not given adequate opportunity for input during those three years and recommended pausing curriculum development “while the (board’s) academic committee has a chance to weigh in.”

Levinthal echoed the idea that board members should be more involved in curriculum matters.

“I’ve had a problem with curriculum adoption since before I got seated on this board,” she said. “The whole (social studies) department did not have a broad discussion about this ... and it certainly didn’t come to the board for any refinement.”

Author Bio

Ken Knutson is associate editor of The Hinsdalean