Released: National teaching content standards

You may have heard about a movement to create more uniformity in what public school kids in the United States are taught — and on what they are tested. A common criticism of No Child Left Behind is that the content and the difficulty of standardized tests vary greatly from state to state.

map by Norman B. Leventhal Map Center at flickr.com/creativecommonsSo far, I believe, all states but Texas and Alaska are on board with what’s known as Common Core State Standards. Steven Weinberg wrote about the issue earlier this year, saying too few teachers were involved in the drafting process.

Today, a draft of its common K-12 standards was released. I wouldn’t recommend it for your next book club, but maybe teachers will be able to glean more from the document than I could. You may submit your comments to the curriculum-powers-that-be until Friday, April 2.

I hope you submit your comments here as well. Do you think common standards would be good for kids? For the country?

Katy Murphy

Education reporter for the Oakland Tribune. Contact me at kmurphy@bayareanewsgroup.com.

  • http://www.skylinehs.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=77763&type=u&rn=6808095 David Orphal

    Yesterday, I read the proposed National Standards for teaching Literacy in History/Social Studies. I was bowled over by how bold and visionary these standards were.

    First, there was not one mention, not one, of any fact, historical figure, war, event, or date in these standards. I think this is a good thing. Over the next ten years, access to quick and easy information is going to become even more ubiquitous. In my freshmen history class in Oakland CA, it seems like I am the only one without a phone that can access the Internet. My students can Google facts as fast and I can ask questions. Ask them to remember those facts, however, and they seem stymied.

    While their relatively small bank of easily recalled facts makes the digital generation seem less intelligent than their Boomer grandparents, this new generation is intelligent in profoundly new and different ways than any previous. Notice I avoided a qualitative measurement of “better” or “more” to counter the commonly held description of “less intelligent.” It’s not that this new generation will beat or loose to their predecessors in the intelligence game – it’s that this new generation is playing an entirely new game. While it has been the number and accuracy of recalled facts that determined the relative smarts of Boomers and Gen-Xer’s, the digital generation will measure itself based on how individual manipulate information and knowledge to create something new.

    This is where the new National Standards have demonstrated extraordinary vision. As the volume of information continues to grown from a stream to a river to a flood, users of information need to learn how to be more wary in these now-treacherous waters. Anticipating this, the proposed National Standards will ask middle school students to be able to, “identify aspects of a text that reveal an author’s point of view or purpose,” and to be able to, “distinguish between fact, opinion, and reasoned judgment in a historical account.” Later, in the first half of high school, they should be able to, “compare the point of view of two or more authors by comparing how they treat the same or similar historical topics,” and “assess the extent to which the evidence in a text supports the author’s claims.” Finally, by graduation, they should be able to, “evaluate authors’ differing points of view on the same historical event or issue by assessing the authors’ claims, evidence, and reasoning,” and “evaluate an author’s premises, claims, and evidence by corroborating or challenging them with other sources of information.” Given the amount of incorrect and fraudulent information available on the Internet, these are rapidly becoming survival skills for citizens.

    One of the reasons why traditional standards for history have remained dominated by a laundry list of facts is because it is cheap and easy to test the memorization of facts. Despite all of the uproar over testing, test scores and how these measures should give us an accurate picture of how our children are learning, California spends less than three dollars per child, each year testing. Given the sheer number of children to be tested and given the current budget crisis that seems to exist each and every year, it is hard to argue against efficiency. However, it seems reasonable to ask a question, “Isn’t finding a detailed picture of how our children are learning worth more than a latte?”

    “Professional Historians DON’T take quizzes!” is a poster than hangs in my freshmen history class at Skyline High School in Oakland, California. My students pride themselves on the fact that they have never read Section 4 of Chapter 8 of their textbook in order to answer the six questions at the end of the section and study for a quiz on Friday.

    When my freshmen open their textbooks, they turn first to the index. This is because when they open the book they are hunting for more information about ancient Mesopotamia to help them understand Hammurabi’s Code, or more information about the Roman Empire to help them understand Suetonius’ description of the water projects undertaken during the reign of Claudius. They do this work while researching and writing about deep, complex questions such as, “How did the need for a steady supply of water effect the technological, political, economic, and legal development of the world’s first civilizations?”

    Real historians research and analyze primary sources. They determine the relative bias and trustworthiness of their sources and use the information they find to create and publish answers to deep questions. This is what we train our freshmen to do at Skyline High School and this is what is being asked of history teachers under the proposed national standards for teaching literacy in history/social studies.

    Alaska and Texas did not send delegates to create the new national standards. Texas’s governor decried that no one other than Texans should determine what Texan children learn.

    The same day the proposed National Standards were published, Texas’s School Board entered what will become a fierce debate about the state’s new standards for History and Social Studies.

    According to a New York Times article on the Texas proposal will, “include a section on ‘the conservative resurgence of the 1980s and 1990s, including Phyllis Schlafly, the Contract with America, the Heritage Foundation, the Moral Majority and the National Rifle Association.’” Additionally, the article mentions that, “References to Ralph Nader and Ross Perot are proposed to be removed, while Stonewall Jackson, the Confederate general, is to be listed as a role model for effective leadership, and the ideas in Jefferson Davis’s inaugural address are to be laid side by side with Abraham Lincoln’s speeches.”
    While some political conservative may laud replacing what they see as a liberal bias to history with one that is more in line with their values; while political liberals may decry what they see is a biasing of history, I am disappointed on a more fundamental level. Texan children are still going to be forced to memorize discreet facts about history. Additionally, the volume of textbook purchased by Texas may give their standards as much, or perhaps more, weight than the proposed National Standards.

    The proposed National Standards are a step forward into a new generation and a new area of knowledge and learning that acknowledges the reality of easily accessed information and demands that next-generation thinkers are better prepared to find, analyze, and utilize that information. In Texas, the school board is squabbling over which set, or perhaps whose set, of discreet facts we make young people memorize. While Texas remains mired in pre-Guttenberg ways of thinking about education and learning, nationally, we seem be poised to embrace the digital age and prepare our young scholars for the future.

  • Nextset

    What a pile of leftist/collectivist hooey.

    Education is a State Power. The National Government has no power/authority to legislate in that area and cannot create that power with any act of congress.

    For obvious reasons we can’t have a national standard of what children should study in secondary or primary schools. The states are different and the people are certainly different. What is studied in Seattle, or Alabama, or Indian Reservations in New Mexico or Oakland are different, suited to the different needs of their populations. That is how it is and that is how it will always be.

    The needs for IQ levels of 70 and different than 80, and 90, and 115 and so on. You cannot have a national (or even statewide) curriculum without holding back one end of the bell curve as you waste the school years of the other end of the curve. People are different with different needs.

    What is really going on here is persistent efforts of the Liberals to screw over the left side of the Bell Curve while pretending to want to help them. The old “Hurt them with love” thing. The people behind this know exactly what they are doing and they mean harm.

    Brave New World.

  • Ms. J.

    I am interested in these new standards, which from the brief time I’ve spent browsing them do not look very out of line with the California state standards, at least in the primary grades. I also think it makes sense to have a coherent set of standards across the nation.

    However, the minute I saw the headline in the NYT about the standards being published, my first thought was of the dollar signs lighting up in the eyes of the publishers of curricula and tests.

    Reflecting on, and reaching some consensus about, what we think American people need to know and (more importantly) know how to do in order to graduate from high school and be successful, contributing citizens is one thing.

    The next step in the standards movement, however, seems always to be the one where we step into a scripted, test-driven, and yes, standards based (the magic words to justify any text) curriculum. OUSD has just adopted a new math curriculum, so we aren’t ‘free’ to adopt another for several years, but how much money are we going to waste oops I mean spend in our scramble to meet these ‘new’ standards (which aren’t really new, which is part of what’s good about them)?

  • Gordon Danning


    Chillax. The standards were not created by the federal government, nor any organ thereof, but by the Council of State Chief School Officers, i.e., by the states working in concert.

  • Nextset

    Gordon Danning: My mistake. You’re right that standards put together by state associations do not create the issues I referred to.

    The rest of my concerns stand – writing standards purporting to apply to all students do a disservice to those students who are not college material and need to go into the workforce early. College is a luxury requiring years of relatively unproductive time away from the workforce to get advanced skills intended to earn at a high rate to repay the time and energy required. College educated work with their brains rather than their hands and backs – and work longer as the brain (hopefully) holds out longer than the rest of the body. Only a minority of all students have what it takes for advanced study. Everyone else has to work.

    We need greater recognition of the fact that much of our urban student population will make their livings in non-autonomous and closely supervised occupations, if they work at all. In order to survive and thrive at such work they need school training we withhold from them in OUSD such as literacy, basic math skills, respect for authority and discipline. If that is not established by 18 the student faces the job market impaired, suffering long term dimunition in earning capacity and social mobility.

    Simply put they need experience wearing a uniform and using such formal phrases as sir and ma’am. On the job training can teach much of the rest of it. If they can’t ever get a career/trade job in the first place they’re lost.

    Imposing such college prep classes as Algebra (beyond basic solve-for-x math) is another in a series of moves designed to run certain people out of the schools rather than work them harder in appropriate basic classwork then transition them to jobs and job paths at age 15 or 16 (as in the United Kingdom).

  • Steven Weinberg

    David, I agree completely that reducing the number of facts that are included in the standards would be a good thing, and the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies and Science seemed to move in that direction, but when I got to page 5 I noticed that it says, “[these standards] are meant to complement rather than supplant content standards in [history and science].” California could approve the common core standards and leave its entire set of history standards (which are far too detailed) in place.