Standards, Testing, & Accountability

One of the biggest problems with most states' U.S. history standards is their liberal bias. So found historians Sheldon and Jeremy Stern in their new Fordham study, The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011.

In 2003, at the time of the last Fordham review, many state U.S. history standards were plagued by overtly left-wing political tendentiousness and ideological indoctrination. There has been some retreat from such open bias since then. Nonetheless, more recent standards provide abundant evidence that political correctness remains alive in American classrooms. Lists of specific examples are routinely little more than diversity-driven checklists of historically marginalized groups. North Dakota, in one typical case, offers this slanted, chronologically muddled, and historically nonsensical selection of famous Americans in the early grades: ?George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, Susan B. Anthony, Abraham Lincoln, Harriet Tubman, Martin Luther King, Jr., Rosa Parks, C?sar Ch?vez, [and] Sacagawea.?

Also widespread in state history standards is politically correct ?presentism??encouraging students to judge the past by present-day moral and political standards, rather than to comprehend past actions, decisions, and motives in the context of their times. Several states, for example, prod students to fault the revolutionary generation for denying full equality to women and blacks?without explaining that in the context of the late eighteenth century, the idea of government based even on the votes of white, property owning males was itself radical and untested.

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Liam Julian

Texans ought to take a look at Fordham's recent assessment of their state's history standards, which, according to the ?State of State U.S. History Standards 2011,? ?inculcate biblical principles, patriotic values, and American Exceptionalism,? making for a document that teaches an unfortunately politicized version of the national story. The Houston Chronicle reports that the chair of Texas's state board of education said that Fordham's evaluation ?is based on misinformation.? ?Fordham,? she said, ?obviously does not know that the Texas Education Code requires us to teach the free enterprise system and its benefits. That's the primary reason the free enterprise system is emphasized throughout our document, rather than just relegated to a high school economics class.? Well, perhaps the Texas Education Code could?stand some tweaking? Texas Education Commissioner Robert Scott defended the standards not by actually defending their content but by impugning Fordham's motives: ?Given its funding sources,? he said of Fordham, ?it is not surprising that it would attack a state that has opposed national standards.? This would be more convincing were Texas's history standards themselves not so bad; never, for instance, does the Chronicle quote Scott addressing the report's criticism that the standards document ?distorts or suppresses less triumphal or more nuanced aspects of our past that the Board found politically unacceptable (slavery and segregation are all but ignored, while religious influences are grossly exaggerated).? Come on, Texans! You're better than that!

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow ...

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Foreword by Chester E. Finn Jr. and Kathleen Porter-Magee

Presidents’ Day 2011 has come and gone, but George Washington would be dismayed by the findings of this new study by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute. Reviewers evaluated state standards for U.S. history in grades K-12. What they found is discouraging: Twenty-eight states—a majority—deserve D or F grades for their academic standards in this key subject. The average grade across all states is a dismal D. Among the few bright spots, South Carolina earns a straight A for its standards and six other jurisdictions—Alabama, California, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York, and the District of Columbia—garner A-minuses. (The National Assessment's "framework" for U.S. history also fares well.) Read on to learn how your state scored.

 
Amy Fagan

As Presidents' Day approaches, we at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute have a wake-up call for many states regarding our country's history. A new study, which we published today, examines state standards for U.S. history and finds that the majority of states ? 28 to be exact ? have mediocre-to-terrible standards in this critically important subject. History standards in these 28 states receive D or F grades. And the national average across all states is a D. That's not exactly a pretty picture.

Among the few bright spots in the study, South Carolina was the only state to receive a straight A. And six others ? Alabama, California, Indiana, Massachusetts, New York and the District of Columbia ? receive A-minuses. States with weak standards would be wise to look to these seven.

Academic standards, of course, set forth what a state's young people are expected to learn in a given subject as they pass through grades K-12. As we've said many times, standards in and of themselves are not a cure for our education ills. But they are certainly an essential place to start. And this study shows that many states have a great deal of work to ensure that they have solid standards for U.S. history.

Please check out the study. You'll see that we have broken out the individual state reviews for your convenience. Find out...

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Rarely do I come home from a school board meeting without wanting to scream, ?Call in the National Guard!??

To change metaphors, I could spin the globe, eyes closed, and put my finger just about anywhere on our little school district map to find what to my eyes looks like a train wreck and to others, based on the reactions,?the regular delivery van.?

Last night, our board received a ?hand carry? sheet titled, ?2011-12 Budget Development Information.?? (A ?hand carry? is always bad news; by definition, it is what the administration wants to spring on the board, at the public meeting, so it has no time to review it or prepare.)? Our tiny New York state district ? 2,000 kids ? faces a budget gap, according to the sheet, of $3,688,033 and a choice ? this is only preliminary, mind you -- between raising local property taxes 14.9% and laying off 32 teachers (16% of the total faculty) or raising taxes 3.9% and shedding 71 teachers (35%).? If it sounds Hobbesian, it's meant to.?

Sure, the district is overburdened with too many overpaid administrators and too many underpaid aides, too many uncoordinated programs, too many bad teachers, too many special ed kids, no curriculum -- but chopping-block budget numbers are always limited to teachers so that?parents will start conjuring up images of classrooms of 50 and 60 students.? Oh horror!

The real horror, however, was on a one-page sheet ? this was not on the agenda...

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Liam Julian

Doug Lasken, writing on FlashReport, says it will cost California $1.6 billion to replace its current educational standards with the newly developed Common Core standards being pushed by President Obama. Lasken writes:

As a consultant for several education research institutes, including Fordham and Pioneer, I was involved in studying the wisdom of replacing individual state standards with one set of national standards . . . I, and virtually everyone involved in this work, considered California's standards to be in the ?no need to replace? category, first because they are among the best in the nation, and second because replacing them would be very expensive.

California's budget deficit is $25 billion. It makes no sense, Lasken argues, to spend another $1.6 billion to supplant its set of perfectly good standards: ?The Governor should ask his new appointees on the state board to keep our world-class standards and save $1.6 billion.?

?Liam Julian, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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In?their continuing drive to ratchet up learning standards, New York State's education leaders?are now sounding the alarm?about high school diplomas. According to a new study, done for NY's State Ed department, fewer than half the kids in the state holding a diploma are ready for college. ?In New York City, 23 percent of graduates (remember 40 percent don't even get that far) are college ready; in Rochester, it's just 5 percent.? Startling numbers.

?Some ethnic and racial groups fared worse than others,? says Barbara Martinez in the Wall Street Journal, ??While statewide the published graduation rate among black students is 62%, only 15% are considered college- and career-ready. In Syracuse, only 1% of Hispanic students graduated from high school at college- and career-ready level.?

This is what we get nearly three decades after being told our nation was ?at risk? because of its mediocre public education system??

Reports?Sharon Otterman* ?in the New York Times,

State and city education officials have known for years that graduating from a public high school does not indicate that a student is ready for college, and have been slowly moving to raise standards. But the political will to acknowledge openly the chasm between graduation requirements and college or job needs is new?.

?Sound familiar?

Last October, Otterman, writing about the state's new efforts to toughen up its grade 3?8 tests, reported?that

[E]vidence had been mounting for some time that the state's tests, which have formed the basis

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?I'm not sure if Atlanta school board members were included in Rick Hess's latest survey of school boards, but if they were, let's hope they aren't representative.??

Atlanta has been embroiled in a school cheating scandal that has brought down its superintendent and caused the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools to put the district on probation. (See my report from January 23 here).? A parent group formed (great name) -- Step up or Step Down ? with 740 members and 62,500 hits on its Facebook page in its first week of existence.? It told the board to get its act together:

Engage the public?. Close the loopholes in Board policy?. Seek expert executive guidance.

Whether the board sought it or not, Arne Duncan, in town for a speaking engagement at Morehouse College, weighed in anyway:

What you have now, frankly, is you have adults who I think have lost sight of why they're doing this work? It is what I call adult dysfunction.?

Adults?? School boards?? This could be a new concept.

--Peter Meyer, Bernard Lee Schwartz Policy Fellow

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