kitchen table math, the sequel: national standards: 1992 edition

Saturday, February 21, 2009

national standards: 1992 edition

History on Trial tells the story.

Ed was tangentially involved in the creation of the 1992 national history standards, which are now used by New York state and receive a grade of "A" from the Fordham Foundation. The entire undertaking was a political fiasco, and having taken a look at Chester Finn's recent description of the standards I have no reason to think things would be different today.

Here is Finn, writing in Troublemaker:
...the quest for standards was instead weakened by the credulous expectation that self-interested experts, mostly free from the discipline of consumers, parents, practicing teachers, and policymakers--and sometimes free from leading university scholars in their own fields--could successfully distill from their own cherished subjects the essential skills and knowledge that kids should learn in school, and could do so while (a) avoiding political correctness, (b) sparing schools from the savage internecine disputes within the field, and (c) producing a manageable document of essential curricular guidance rather than a kitchen-sink tome with the heft of the Los Angeles phone directory.

The dismaying results ranged from incoherent blather (English) to left-leaning political correctness (history) to immense, encyclopedic treatments (geography) that placed the authors' discipline at the center of the intellectual universe and made everything else revolve around it. The U.S. Senate voted 99-1 to condemn the history standards, and an early draft of the English standards was so vapid that Clinton's Education Department cut off further funding.

Troublemaker by Chester E. Finn
p 173
It's always worse than you think.*

Chester Finn is one of the few policy types who has championed liberal education. Yet here we see him dismissing major historians as "self-interested experts" who require the "discipline" of consumers, parents, practicing teachers, and policymakers to produce an acceptable set of history standards.

David Klein got the same treatment.

Worse yet, Finn's glancing mention of the 99-1 vote is obnoxious. The Senate did not vote 99-1 to "condemn" the standards. The Senate voted 99-1 on a bill concerning unfunded mandates to which an amendment condemning the standards had been attached.

Here's Gary Nash:
To well-informed observers in the Senate gallery, it was obvious the action had been hasty and purely procedural. The Senate had held no hearings on the history standards; the Subcommittee on Education, Arts, and Humanities had taken no action; and not one of the teachers and scholars who had produced the guidelines had been consulted. It was also apparent that most of the senators voted on the resolution without having opened a copy of the documents at issue. Patty Murray, Gorton's Senate colleague from Washington, admitted that she voted for the resolution without ever having seen the standarsd "in order to move the debate back to the unfunded mandates bill that was on the floor at the time."


Less than two weeks after the Senate passed the resolution, it voted to strip its Unfunded Mandates Bill of all extraneous provisions, including the resolution disapproving the history standards. Later the House took up the bill but neer introduced the history standards issue at all. Nevertheless, a chill wind blew through the NCHS office in Los Angeles. The world's most powerful deliberative body had intervened in support of the most fervent critics of the standards to tell the nation's teachers and academic historians that its guidelines for schools had been written irresponsibly and malevolently.

p. 235-236
There you have it: how politics work. The Senate voted 99-1, then took it back, but the damage was done and that's the point.


Those were some bad standards!

Nearly 20 years later Chester Finn, champion of quality, can roll out this astonishing number as proof that you don't want historians in charge of history, geographers in charge of geography, or mathematicians in charge of math.

Meanwhile, back at the ranch, the Foundation he leads bestows a grade of 'A' upon these self-same standards and no one's the wiser.

The fact is: parents and college professors cut no ice with anyone, including most of the folks advocating on our behalf.

So I'm not going to be signing on for national standards.

I'm giving Gary the last word:
The standards have been used extensively across the country, and for eight years I have not received a single criticism of the revised volume.
Lynne Cheney's Attack on the History Standards, 10 Years Later

Case in point.

David Klein on IB and AP

Chester Finn on curricular gold
Gary Nash: Reflections on the National History Standards
Lynne Cheney's Attack on the History Standards, 10 years Later
History on Trial Chapter One
History on Trial (Harvard Education Letter)
Whose History? by Linda Symcox

the standards:
National Standards for History Basic Edition
National Center for History in the Schools UCLA
ISBN 09633218-4-6
National Standards for United States History Grades 5-12 Expanded Edition
National Center for History in the Schools UCLA
ISBN: 09633218-1-1
National Standards for World History Grades 5-12 Expanded Edition
National Center for History in the Schools UCLA
ISBN: 0-9633218-2-X

* family motto


Catherine Johnson said...

A couple of things:

I don't know whether many conservative parents would object to the standards. I tend to think not, given the fact that Fordham rates them so highly, but I don't know. I haven't sat down and read them through.

Nor do I know how historians with conservative politics viewed the standards. I gather at least two historians had objections.

I do know that the people writing them had an enormous challenge on their hands dealing with the various constituencies lobbying for this, that, or the other, which Gary managed to do.

I can also tell you that the question of when children can or should hear what negative aspects of their county's history was a guiding question. By no means did the authors assume that 8 year olds ought to be disabused of their patriotic delusions.

Point is: I find the whole saga obnoxious, but that's not to say I think all parents would be out of line to harbor their own doubts.

I don't know the answer to that.

Last but not least, where Chester Finn and the Fordham Foundation are concerned, I am a devoted fan although you wouldn't know it from this post.

Catherine Johnson said...

Well, this morning Ed says he doesn't remember whether NY state used the national standards, which I distinctly recall him telling me two years ago.


I have a horrible feeling this state of uncertainty is going to cause me to compare the two sets.

Because I don't already have enough things to do.