Study: Common Core ELA Standards Will Further Harm U.S. History Instruction

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Study Says Common Core ELA Standards Will Further Harm U.S. History Instruction

States and schools should offer separate standards and classes for English and U.S. History rather than follow Common Core approach of merging academic disciplines

BOSTON – By trying to include U.S. History in English language arts (ELA) standards, Common Core will further damage history instruction, according to a new study authored by a preeminent Founding-era historian, a content expert, and a high school history teacher with standards-writing experience.

Imperiling the Republic: The Fate of U.S. History Instruction under Common Core

Imperiling the Republic: The Fate of U.S. History Instruction under Common Core,” published by Pioneer Institute, analyzes literacy standards for U.S. History that are included as part of Common Core’s English language arts standards.

“Common Core dramatically reduces the amount of classic American literature and poetry students will read in favor of non-fiction or so-called ‘informational texts,’” said co-author Sandra Stotsky.  “Consequently, the writers of the national standards attempted to shoehorn little bits and pieces of decontextualized U.S. History texts into the English standards. The simultaneous result damages instruction for both English and U.S. History classrooms.”

The co-authors of the Pioneer paper urge schools instead to offer separate standards and classes for English and U.S. History.  There is little, if any, research to support the efficacy of English teachers teaching U.S. History or informational texts.

Common Core’s standards writers also call for the “cold reading” of historical documents without any background knowledge to place them in the appropriate historical context.  David Coleman, the principal author of the Common Core ELA standards, says that excluding texts’ historical context helps “level the playing field.”

Coleman is now president of the College Board, which has issued a new Advanced Placement (A.P.) U.S. History curriculum.  The College Board’s A.P. curriculum is a continuation of the “progressive education” approach, which took hold after World War II. The A.P. curriculum limits history instruction and replaces it with social studies courses about current events and problems.

The College Board’s new A.P. U.S. History curriculum further mirrors the ideological biases of progressive education.  It begins with a series of negative and divisive themes that are heavily focused on the balkanizing formation of gender, class, racial, and ethnic identity politics.

“It’s like the bad and the ugly of American history, without any of the good,” said co-author Anders Lewis.

For example, there are no themes on federalism, separation of powers, the Federalist Papers, or the Gettysburg Address.  The curriculum doesn’t ask teachers to teach about Benjamin Franklin and contains no mention of Thomas Jefferson or James Madison.  The events of September 11, 2001 are never referred to as a terrorist attack.

“Federalism as an essential principle of American government stands as the creative organizing concept that allows the fulfillment of the basic ideals of republicanism, liberty, and the public good,” said Founding-era historian and co-author Ralph Ketcham. “Any set of K-12 standards or curriculum that sidesteps or excludes this constitutional and civic reality damages students’ understanding of our republic and its history.”

The co-authors recommend that local education governing bodies replace the College Board’s new A.P. U.S. History curriculum with the common civic core spelled out in Educating Democracy, which was published in 2003 by the Albert Shanker Institute.

Progressive educational approaches have produced poor results; that assertion holds especially true with its insistence on reducing emphasis on the teaching of history. By 2010, only 12 percent of high school seniors scored proficient on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics tests.  NAEP has since eliminated the 4th and 12th grade civics tests.

Ralph Ketcham is professor emeritus in History, Public Affairs, and Political Science at Syracuse University. His National Book Award-nominated James Madison: A Biography (1991) is the definitive single-volume biography of the “father of the Constitution.”  Ketcham is a former editor of the papers of both James Madison and Benjamin Franklin and the author of numerous books on the Founding era and American constitutionalism, including: From Colony to Country: The Revolution in American Thought, 1750-1820 (1974); Presidents Above Party: The First American Presidency, 1789-1829 (1984); Framed for Posterity: The Enduring Philosophy of the Constitution (1993); and The Idea of Democracy in the Modern Era (2004).

Anders Lewis is a history teacher and art and history department head at the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School in Marlborough, Massachusetts.  Sandra Stotsky is professor emerita at the University of Arkansas, a nationally renowned expert on K-12 academic standards, and a former member of Common Core’s Validation Committee.  While serving in state government, Stotsky and Lewis were driving intellectual forces behind Massachusetts’ K-12 U.S. History standards, which are considered a national model.

Pioneer Institute has actively promoted rigorous, content-based academic standards that include U.S. History and civics instruction. The Institute has published recent reports and polling on the lack of understanding of U.S. History that has resulted from the current neglect of teaching it in public schools, and hosted numerous events featuring Pulitzer Prize-winning U.S. historians and nationally-recognized experts, including: Dr. Gordon Wood of Brown University, Dr. James McPherson of Princeton University, Dr. Jack Rakove of Stanford University, Dr. Howard Dodson of Howard University, Dr. E.D. Hirsch, Jr. of the University of Virginia, Dr. Joan Hedrick of Trinity College, and Dr. Catherine Clinton of Queen’s University Belfast, as well as Taylor Branch, Diane McWhorter, Robert P. Moses, Jeff Shesol, Willard Sterne Randall, Ron Powers, Jocelyn Chadwick, and Cokie Roberts.