Advocating to Local and State Boards of Education

Tool 20: Show up and speak up at school board meetings.

Tool 21: Support student advocacy and uplift student work and testimonies.

Tool 22: Engage multigenerational coalitions.

Tool 23: Join committees to write or develop standards.

Classroom teachers and administrators report that their ability to teach honest history is greatly influenced by local and state boards of education (BOEs). A number of BOEs have taken strong, supportive stances on the importance of honest history instruction in schools. However, some local and state BOEs have taken measures to censor honest, accurate and inclusive education. These efforts have included attempts to restrict history instruction as well as classroom conversations about racism and other forms of oppression.

Media reports have shown an increase in school board meetings dominated by mostly white community members who show up to demand certain curricula, books and resources be removed from their schools. One high school teacher in Virginia shared that a member of their BOE is a “woke checker” who posts on Facebook, outing educators who discuss honest histories. This same teacher now worries that her African American history course will be canceled, even though losing this course would be detrimental to the students who need this course as part of their education.

Despite news reports and social media posts showing certain community members loudly calling for book bans, censored materials, and the firing of teachers who are teaching and advocating for honest histories, research shows most U.S. parents and caregivers want honest histories taught in schools. The following tools offer guidance for advocating to local and state boards of education for teaching honest history.

Tool 20: Show up and speak up at school board meetings.

As educators, you can demonstrate your commitment to advocating for your students and championing honest, accurate and inclusive education by attending school board meetings. Sharing public comments with decision-makers offers an opportunity for educators to speak about the direct effects of decisions and policies on educators’ and students’ abilities to teach and learn honest history.

Learning directly from educators who speak up at board meetings also offers families, caregivers and community members an opportunity for a greater understanding of what is actually being taught in classrooms and the potential consequences—intentional or unintentional—of board decisions.

Tool 21: Support student advocacy and uplift student work and testimonies.

“A history that honestly addresses race and racism in the United States is essential because it is a whole history that allows us to identify the root causes of enduring structural challenges and to develop effective, equitable solutions. It reminds us that history is alive and a powerful force in our everyday experiences.”

From “Paving the Way to a Vibrant Multiracial Democracy” by Angela Glover Blackwell and Learning for Justice

Educators can help students realize their power to affect policies and decisions by supporting student advocacy and activism. Start by helping students understand how decisions and policies from boards of education affect their learning. Support students in engaging with BOEs and leading action. Collect student testimony on how teaching honest histories is affecting students’ learning and present these stories on students’ behalf to school boards.

Educators should include students when engaging with school boards so students can share firsthand experiences that demonstrate the importance of teaching honest histories. Educators and administrators can also support these efforts by sharing case studies and student work with school boards to emphasize the value of teaching honest histories. Case studies, for example, can link teaching honest history to improving school climate and culture. See the “What Administrators Can Do To Support Educators” section for more information.

Tool 22: Engage multigenerational coalitions.

Building coalitions and solidarity among educators, students, families, caregivers and community members is key to effectively advocating for teaching honest history to decision-makers. This advocacy work is essential in showing that the coalition supporting honest history is larger than the vocal minority against it.

The Conflict Campaign: Exploring Local Experiences of the Campaign To Ban “Critical Race Theory” in Public K-12 Education in the U.S., 2020-2021 states that “[t]he National Education Association (NEA) provides a model resolution to present to school boards for consideration, which contains ‘a commitment to affirming inclusion of all students,’ insistence on ‘the right of our students to learn,’ and a firm stance inviting professional development to support students better.” This proactive approach can help sway school boards toward supporting teaching honest histories instead of working against it.

Tool 23: Join committees to write or develop standards.

“Collective agency and acts of resistance have been the most powerful and inspiring ways of participating in democracy. This is why knowing the true history of our nation is fundamental to understanding the rights and responsibilities each person has in challenging democracy to be more inclusive.”

From “Civics for Democracy” by Jalaya Liles Dunn, director of Learning for Justice

Educators can leverage their expertise in the classroom by creating or developing state standards around honest history to help ensure that educators in their state are required to teach a more inclusive, accurate history. Educators can also use their local networks to ensure that historians, colleagues and other community members who are knowledgeable about and supportive of honest history share feedback on state standards.

Although state legislatures ultimately have the power to change statutes, including standards, only a few states require legislative action for the adoption of standards.

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