Posts Tagged ‘CCSS’

History Standards Impossible When Math And Reading Standards Elude Us

September 17, 2020 1 comment

I am a member of the local Rotary club and our speaker yesterday bemoaned the fact that whenever he speaks about his experience flying WW II replica planes to HS students they display an astonishing ignorance of the war. I didn’t push back at the meeting, but as the author of the weekly newsletter I intend to share a link to this Time Magazine article by Olivia Waxman which offers a good explanation of why this is true. In a nation where educators have been unable to determine standards for math or reading it is unsurprising that we have been unable to set standards for history where the facts are more numerous and the interpretations far less clear cut. In the final analysis, Ms. Waxman’s quote from Adam Laats, historian and author of The Other School Reformers: Conservative Activism in American Education offers the best insight into why history standards are elusive:

One reason K-12 history education controversies continue to crop up is because of the “unanswered question about what history class is supposed to be for. Is the point of history class to introduce young Americans to their heritage of heroes, the glories of American history? Or is history class supposed to make young people into critical examiners of their society, a true civic education that teaches American young people to question every bit of received wisdom and be ready to change what needs changing?”

Ms. Waxman notes that 71% of the respondents to a Pew poll see history as a means of developing critical thinking about their society… but if 36% of those folks want schools to examine how capitalism contributes to systemic racism and 35% want schools to focus on the benefits of capitalism as compared to socialism you can see where the problems begin. And, as Ms. Waxman infers, history classrooms have been the venue for continued debate over slavery, communist influence, and politics.

The result is that some states, like Florida, ban certain topics altogether because they are too contentious, and those bans are easy to put in place in the name of “teaching the basics” so that all children can learn the fundamental skills like reading or mathematics. HOW those topics are taught, and what those topics ARE in mathematics are STILL contentious… but at least everyone agrees that knowing the alphabet and being able to count from 1 to 100 are important.

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Peter Greene on Why Bill Gates is a Very Bad Choice to Help NYS Schools

May 9, 2020 Comments off

Education writer and public school teacher Peter Greene offers a clear eyed and objective analysis of Bill Gates’ failures as a school reformer. He cites several major flops, all of which have been detailed in this blog over the years: the small schools initiative: a VAM initiative in FL; several tech-based initiatives; and the Common Core. But Mr. Greene rightfully identifies Bill Gates’ biggest failure in this single sentence near the end of the article:

It’s not quite correct to say that Gates has always failed in his educational projects; he has managed to infect much of the education establishment with his belief in a narrow definition of success and a thirst for “data.”

Bill Gates’ Foundation has done good work on many fronts, particularly in the field of international public health. But after reading Peter Greene’s analysis one wonders why Governor Cuomo is making him the face of his Redesign Team… that is unless the team intends to use some form of standardized testing to determine the success of students on a structured curriculum that avoids the inclusion of any content that cannot readily yield data.

NYTimes Article Contrasting CA and TX Social Studies Curricula Underscore Longstanding Reality: Different States— AND Teachers— Have Different Perspectives on History

January 17, 2020 Comments off

As a youngster, I lived in two different states during the years I attended public schools: Oklahoma and Pennsylvania. As a result, I experienced two different courses on state history and two different perspectives on how our country was founded. I learned Oklahoma state history in 5th grade at Robert E. Lee Elementary school in Tulsa, OK and Pennsylvania state history in 8th grade at South Junior High in West Chester, PA where they recently named a high school for Bayard Rustin. The differences in the cultures in the two communities should be self-evident. But the perspectives of the history teachers I had in junior and senior high schools were even more divergent than the perspectives between the two states.

The first difference in perspectives is the result of the culture of each region. Oklahoma being a relatively new state began its history after the Civil War and focussed more on the resettlement of Native Americans from the East to the Oklahoma Territory, the so-called Land Rush when its borders opened to settlers, and on the beef and oil industries. Pennsylvania History also glossed over the treatment of Native Americans, but hardly dealt at all with the era when Oklahoma was founded and made no mention whatsoever of the week and only passing mention of oil since it was “discovered” in Western PA.

The biggest differences in social studies instruction, though, were the result of disparities in the political leanings of the teachers who offered the courses… which makes me less nervous about the findings of a recent NYTimes article contrasting CA and TX social studies curricula. The story goes to great lengths to show how the curricula in each state has been politicized in the way it deals with various topics, but this understated paragraph reinforced by experience as a student, Principal, and Superintendent:

Publishers are eager to please state policymakers of both parties, during a challenging time for the business. Schools are transitioning to digital materials. And with the ease of internet research, many teachers say they prefer to curate their own primary-source materials online.

We had no interest access in the 1960s when I first studied state history, but with one exception I was fortunate to have teachers who preferred to amplify the core texts with their own thoughts and independent readings. Because of those varied perspectives, which were reinforced by dinner table conversations where my parents undercut (or attemptedto undercut)some of the notions presented by teachers I came away with the understanding that history can be viewed through many lenses.

There are two things that DO concern me about the NYTImes article, though. First, the fact that many (if not most) students are educated within one community in one State. The benefit of living in Utah, Michigan, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania during  the years I attended schools meant that I got to see how news reporting varied, how different communities valued different things, and how history is interpreted in different ways. And second, and most importantly at the macro level, teachers need to be allowed to have the latitude to augment what is the textbooks and have the desire to do so. A good social studies teacher will reject the idea that there is one and only one way to interpret history and will make sure that the students in his or her class leave with that understanding.