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Raising the Standards in History Education
posted by: Melissa | January 23, 2017, 03:15 PM   


For decades, historical literacy in the United States has been on the decline, a result of nearly a century of de-emphasizing the teaching of history in US schools. Starting with the combining of history and several other subjects into the "social studies," it eventually led to lowering the number of required classes and the waning of how important the subject has been perceived. It has continued up through the modern era. Social studies was one of the few non-tested subjects in the No Child Left Behind bill, and as a consequence had less class time devoted to it. In recent years, as efforts were made to unify standards in other subjects, social studies instead received a 'framework,' and there was no significant effort made by states to adopt it.



This is not the whole story, though. As realization has dawned on the disservice done to our students in this area, groups have put pressure on lawmakers to strengthen their weak history standards. Notable in this area is the Fordham Institute, which has reported on the strength of history standards for decades.


Finally, this effort may be yielding results. A new study from the Pioneer Institute has found that several states havesignificantly improved their history standards in recent years. These states include Massachusetts, New York, California, Indiana, South Carolina, and Alabama. Not content to merely cheer these states onfor their progress, the bulk of the report is spent examining what these states did, and the lessons that other states can learn from them.


A key finding was a renewed focus on content. This is a reversal of recent trends where the focus has been on soft skills and not the knowledge gained. According to the Pioneer Institute, the focus on content will help students attain skills like critical thinking and problem solving, and the two do not have to be mutually exclusive, especially when the standards also put an emphasis on reading and writing, another recommendation of the report.


The report also found that strong standards came from a participatory process that included many different voices in the drafting. By including a variety of voices, it was possible to help ensure that the standards were fair and non-partisan, along with providing the ability to hone in on issues of importance rather than just the fad concepts of the day.

How do you teach history in your classes?


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