South Dakota's Noem delays social studies standards amid concerns over left-wing influences

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South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem is delaying consideration of new social studies standards as critics have accused her of allowing left-wing influences to taint the state’s curriculum. 

In a statement this week, Noem said she was delaying the revision process for up to a year – earning praise from the anti-critical race theory group 1776 Action. 

On Monday, Noem said: “Following public feedback from several constituencies, it is clear there is more work to be done to get this right.”

For the past several months, Noem has been waging a public and policy-based war against critical race theory (CRT), pushing to revise multiple aspects of the initial standards. She notably was one of the first Republican governors to sign onto an anti-CRT pledge from 1776 Action – although some have sought more from her office.

Her latest move came as Stanley Kurtz, a senior fellow at the Ethics and Public Policy Center, warned about the education consultant Beth Ratway’s influence on the Department of Education, as well as what he called the “action-civics-based C3 Framework.”

Kurtz also pointed to Ratway’s video presentation on social justice, which has since been removed from YouTube. Obtained by Fox News via Kurtz, the PowerPoint employs plenty of language reminiscent of controversial equity trainings seen throughout the U.S.

For example, under “Connecting Social Justice and Social Studies,” Ratway’s slide reads: “We define social justice education as the pedagogical practice of guiding students toward critically discussing, examining, and actively exploring the reasons behind social inequalities and how unjust institutional practices maintain and reproduce power and privilege that have a direct impact on students’ lives.”

She also cites Paulo Freire, a well-known advocate of “critical pedagogy” who has been criticized by anti-CRT advocates like James Lindsay. The ties to left-wing ideas don’t end with her presentation. In 2020, she co-chaired an Advancing Social Justice conference, which featured a speech from the controversial “1619 Project” founder Nikole Hannah-Jones.

Ratway did not directly respond to Fox News’ request for comment, but her employer – the American Institutes of Research (AIR) – provided a lengthy response defending its work. 

Dana Tofig, managing director for corporate communications at AIR, told Fox News: “We conduct and apply research and our work is informed by data and evidence. We have successfully consulted on standards reviews and rewrites in nearly every state in the U.S.  – including blue and red states – and our work is led by the needs and direction of our clients. In South Dakota, our role has been to facilitate the revision of the state’s social studies standards under the direction and guidance of the South Dakota Department of Education. When we began this project, the South Dakota DOE provided specific parameters for our work and we abided by those parameters as we collaborated with a team of educators and community members from across the state. We are proud of our work in South Dakota.”

The controversy appeared to prompt the June resignations of two members serving on the social studies standards committee. One of those resignations came from state Rep. Sue Peterson, a Republican who told Fox News that the state’s proposed standards don’t align with 1776 Action’s pledge.

“Like Gov. Noem, I signed the 1776 pledge,” she said. “The proposed standards do not align with that pledge, nor do they align with what I believe most South Dakota parents want for their children. Gov. Noem’s postponement of the approval process is the right thing to do. It will allow her to get the right people in place to create standards that align with what the Governor says she wants.”

Dr. Rich Meyer, who also left the committee, told Fox News: “We weren’t working on education standards compatible with the 1776 pledge that Gov. Noem signed, which rejects Critical Race Theory and Action Civics.”

In July, Noem signed an executive order prohibiting the state’s Department of Education from pursuing federal grants in history or civics until the legislature could consider anti-CRT measures in the 2022 session. This came amid conservatives’ concerns that the Biden administration had proposed grants that would effectively fund CRT-related education in schools.

“Throughout this summer, Gov. Noem took action to stop the teaching of Critical Race Theory in South Dakota schools,” former Trump adviser David Bossie said in an op-ed this week. “Gov. Noem is one hundred percent correct; allowing our children to be taught to hate America will spell our doom as a constitutional republic.”

Noem’s revisions also prompted backlash from the left as they removed multiple references to Native American education.

But according to Kurtz, Noem’s order “came entirely too late” while the governor purportedly made “largely cosmetic” changes to the draft standards.

Adam Waldeck, president of 1776 Action, urged further revision and praised Noem’s delay.

“The push for CRT and action civics is well-funded, organized and chock-full of word games meant to hide the truth from parents and taxpayers — and the fact that its proponents can even get a foot in the door in a state like South Dakota shows how much work there is to do,” Waldeck told Fox News on Thursday.

“Gov. Noem’s freezing of her state’s standards review process was exactly the right move and shows her commitment to getting this right,” he added.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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