Sunday, February 20, 2011

Maybe states can share history standards after all!

The multi-state standards movement has results in place for reading, writing, and mathematics, and work in progress for science, but there's ongoing concern about when and how social studies will get its due. In that context, I was delighted to see the following set of history standards:
The student will demonstrate an understanding of...
…the exploration of the New World.
…the settlement of North America by Native Americans, Europeans, and African Americans and the interactions among these peoples.
…the conflict between the American colonies and England.
…the beginnings of America as a nation and the establishment of the new government.
…the westward movement and its impact on the institution of slavery.
…the Civil War and its impact on America.
…Reconstruction and its impact on racial relations in the United States.
…the continued westward expansion of the United States.
…major domestic and foreign developments that contributed to the United States’ becoming a world power.
…the economic boom-and-bust in America in the 1920s and 1930s, its resultant political instability, and the subsequent worldwide response.
…the social, economic, and political events that influenced the United States during the Cold War era.
…developments in the United States since the fall of the Soviet Union and its satellite states in 1992.
That's a sturdy outline of main standards, and the original backs each one up with indicators in moderate detail.  I like it.  Believing that history makes most sense as the main unifying backbone for social studies, I'd be happy to see Kentucky convert to something this firmly narrative.

And now the surprises.

First, half of these standards, through the Civil War, are for fourth grade, with the other half aimed at grade five.  There's another, deeper set for the high school "core area" of "United States History and Constitution."

Second, they're from South Carolina.  Long-time blog readers will remember me cheerfully quoting of Commissioner Holliday explaining the social studies delay with a quip about his own Palmetto State roots and opinions there about the Civil War.

Well, these standards sure look like South Carolina's public schools are done playing with secession. The indicators behind these two years of standards and the high school versions are invested in being part of a great nation.  They're firm and clear about slavery, segregation and discrimination on the one hand and the struggle for liberty, equality, and inclusion on the other.  Kindergarten standards begin with the Pledge of Allegiance and the National Anthem, and eighth grade centers firmly on "South Carolina: One of the United States."

Most importantly, if South Carolina is committed to this clear a version of our shared history, that's a good sign for our chances of coming to share history standards as well.

A background note: I checked out the South Carolina standards because the Fordham Foundation's new report on history standards gave them the only A this year.  In general, I am wary of Fordham's approach to grading states: they don't distinguish standards without teeth and standards actually tied to accountability like Kentucky's; their work does not seem anchored in care about what's feasible for students at each age-level; and they take pride in a kind of acerbic wit that I find counter-productive in public discourse.  So I use their grades only as a very broad indication of what might be interesting to explore.  I'm glad to see that Kentucky's grades moved up from an F for the pre-2007 core content to a D for the current edition, but I wouldn't want Kentucky to set policy based on satisfying this particular set of critics.

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