The Texas standards controversy: You decide

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Gilbert King notes in his blog that

Ironically, it was textbooks that brought Thurgood Marshall to Texas more than sixty years ago. Heman Marion Sweatt was an African American mail carrier in Houston who wanted to become a lawyer, but was denied admission to the University of Texas law school in 1946 on the sole basis of his race. With the NAACP representing him, Sweatt sued the University of Texas on the grounds that the state had no law school that would admit blacks.

That’s because Thurgood Marshall went on to represent Sweatt, seeing in the case an opportunity to take up a civil rights case that could have broad impact on the law of the land.

This spring, after much debate and controversy, Texas changed its Social Studies academic standards for K-12 public schools. The Texas standards controversy was everywhere this spring. Chris McGreal opened his May 2010 piece in The Guardian railing against the Texas Board of Education with talk of “Christian evangelists and social conservatives grasp[ing] control of the state’s education board” and of the state’s academic standards. Many friends read James McKinley’s piece in the New York Times in March after the Board’s vote to approve the standards, which focused on the strict constitutional constructionists and personal views of board members.

I still hear people talk about the terrible Texas standards, yet almost no one I have talked to has actually read the standards. I certainly didn’t have the chance to review the Texas standards given all the shenanigans going on in our dear Bay State on academic standards for K-12 public schools. So, here’s a chance to do that.

And I am going to set them out without comment, because (1) in a blog there is no way to summarize all aspects of standards meant to cover 13 years of education, and (2) I’d like to hear from people what their thoughts are. Standards are always a great thing to talk about back and forth, because different people see different things in them. That’s necessarily so, because they seek to capture threads of learning. The whole set of standards is here. As that’s a lot to mull through, I randomly picked a grade (Grade 5) and have summarized the standards for you to peruse — the idea is to let you make up your mind as to whether they are politically loaded, distorted, etc.

Under Knowledge and Skills required for Grade 5 students, there is a Geography strand that insists that students

  • use geographic tools to collect, analyze, and interpret data; understand the concept of regions in the United States; understand the location and patterns of settlement and the geographic factors that influence where people live; and understand how people adapt to and modify their environment.

An Economics strand that insists that students

  • understand the basic economic patterns of early societies in the United States; the development, characteristics, and benefits of the free enterprise system in the United States; the impact of supply and demand on consumers and producers in a free enterprise system; and the patterns of work and economic activities in the United States.

A Government strand that insists that students

  • understand the organization of governments in colonial America; important ideas in the Declaration of Independence; and the framework of government created by the U.S. Constitution of 1787.

A Citizenship strand that insists that students

  • understand important symbols, customs, celebrations, and landmarks that represent American beliefs and principles and contribute to our national identity; the importance of individual participation in the democratic process at the local, state, and national levels; the importance of effective leadership in a constitutional republic; the fundamental rights of American citizens guaranteed in the Bill of Rights and other amendments to the U.S. Constitution.

A Culture strand that insists that students

  • understand the relationship between the arts and the times during which they were created; and the contributions of people of various racial, ethnic, and religious groups to the United States.

A Science, Technology, and Society strand that insists that students understand the impact of science and technology on society in the United States.
A Social Studies Skills strand that insists that students

  • apply critical-thinking skills to organize and use information acquired from a variety of valid sources, including electronic technology; communicate in written, oral, and visual forms; and use problem-solving and decision-making skills, working independently and with others, in a variety of settings.

Then there is the critically important History strand, which insists that students understand the causes and effects of European colonization in the United States beginning in 1565, the founding of St. Augustine. The student is expected to:

  • explain when, where, and why groups of people explored, colonized, and settled in the United States, including the search for religious freedom and economic gain; and
  • describe the accomplishments of significant individuals during the colonial period, including William Bradford, Anne Hutchinson, William Penn, John Smith, John Wise, and Roger Williams.

understand how conflict between the American colonies and Great Britain led to American independence. The student is expected to:

  • identify and analyze the causes and effects of events prior to and during the American Revolution, including the French and Indian War and the Boston Tea Party;
  • identify the Founding Fathers and Patriot heroes, including John Adams, Samuel Adams, Benjamin Franklin, Nathan Hale, Thomas Jefferson, the Sons of Liberty, and George Washington, and their motivations and contributions during the revolutionary period; and
  • summarize the results of the American Revolution, including the establishment of the United States and the development of the U.S. military.

understand the events that led from the Articles of Confederation to the creation of the U.S. Constitution and the government it established. The student is expected to:

  • identify the issues that led to the creation of the U.S. Constitution, including the weaknesses of the Articles of Confederation; and
  • identify the contributions of individuals, including James Madison, and others such as George Mason, Charles Pinckney, and Roger Sherman who helped create the U.S. Constitution.

understand political, economic, and social changes that occurred in the United States during the 19th century. The student is expected to:

  • describe the causes and effects of the War of 1812;
  • identify and explain how changes resulting from the Industrial Revolution led to conflict among sections of the United States;
  • identify reasons people moved west;
  • identify significant events and concepts associated with U.S. territorial expansion, including the Louisiana Purchase, the expedition of Lewis and Clark, and Manifest Destiny;
  • identify the causes of the Civil War, including sectionalism, states’ rights, and slavery, and the effects of the Civil War, including Reconstruction and the 13th, 14th, and 15th amendments to the U.S. Constitution;
  • explain how industry and the mechanization of agriculture changed the American way of life; and
  • identify the challenges, opportunities, and contributions of people from various American Indian and immigrant groups.

understand important issues, events, and individuals in the United States during the 20th and 21st centuries. The student is expected to:

  • analyze various issues and events of the 20th century such as industrialization, urbanization, increased use of oil and gas, the Great Depression, the world wars, the civil rights movement, and military actions;
  • analyze various issues and events of the 21st century such as the War on Terror and the 2008 presidential election; and
  • identify the accomplishments of individuals and groups such as Jane Addams, Susan B. Anthony, Dwight Eisenhower, Martin Luther King Jr., Rosa Parks, Cesar Chavez, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Ronald Reagan, Colin Powell, the Tuskegee Airmen, and the 442nd Regimental Combat Team who have made contributions to society in the areas of civil rights, women’s rights, military actions, and politics.