kitchen table math, the sequel: I remember nothing

Sunday, February 20, 2011

I remember nothing

in The Economist:
History teaching is far from the biggest crisis in American education. But it is a problem nevertheless, and a neglected one. A broad effort to create voluntary national standards does not include history. No Child Left Behind, George Bush’s education law, tests pupils on maths, reading and science. On February 14th Barack Obama stressed the importance of teaching science, technology and 21st-century skills. Meanwhile America’s schoolchildren score even more poorly in history than in maths: 64% of high-school seniors scored “basic” on a national maths test in 2009, but only 47% reached that level on the most recent national history test.

One problem, a new report argues, is that states have pathetic standards for what history should be taught...A study from Fordham, published on February 16th, grades each state for the quality of its history standards. Twenty-eight states received a “D” or an “F”.

Many states emphasise abstract concepts rather than history itself. In Delaware, for example, pupils “will not be expected to recall any specific event or person in history”.

Don't know much about history
The dismal state of a vital subject
Teaching standards
Feb 17th 2011 | CHICAGO | from PRINT EDITION
 Will not recall any specific event or person in history ----

Is that a standard?

15 comments:

ms-teacher said...

As a result of NCLB, many school districts have chosen to focus on reading & math, meaning that emphasis is placed on test skills that will ensure higher test scores.

This has meant that in school districts such as where I teach, elementary schools have virtually eliminated both history & science. When students enter middle school, those who continue to score below basic or far below basic usually have a semester of science & a semester of history, where they are expected to read from on grade level (or above) expository text.

It is no surprise to me that our students are not performing well in history. Until we start emphasizing the value of all subject matters, even when they are not tested, you can expect that schools will continue to deemphasize those subjects that they don't believe boost their test scores.

Teachers hate it & yet, our hands are tied.

Anonymous said...

But being unhappy with the history skills of the average student is nothing new. Just like being upset with their math and reading skills isn't new, either.

On April 4, 1943 the New York Times ran a front page headline of "Ignorance of U.S. History Shown by College Freshmen." Going by internet summaries of this article (getting a copy is on my list of "things to do"), 94% of the tested incoming freshmen could not identify all 13 original colonies. And college was a bit more exclusive back then.

In 1987 Diane Ravitch and Chester Finn published "What do our 17-year-olds know? : a report on the first national assessment of history and literature," which was fairly sad, too.

We can blame the current situation on No Child Left Behind if we like, but those people who pay attention probably aren't any more unhappy today than our counterparts were 20,30,40 years ago.

:-(

-Mark Roulo

Anonymous said...

There wouldn't be a need for NCLB if teachers gave up whole language, Everyday Math and Piagetian 'research.'

ari-free

SteveH said...

"As a result of NCLB, many school districts have chosen to focus on reading & math, meaning that emphasis is placed on test skills that will ensure higher test scores."

"test skills"?

Not actual learning? In our state, the test questions are created and calibrated by teachers. They reflect the problem solving philosophy of the educational world. The whole point is to require knowledge that does not reflect "test skills". The cutoff levels are low, but schools still leave many kids behind.

Our schools do a good job of getting kids over the state minimum, but the teaching of history (social studies) and science still stink. Am I to believe that a school which struggles to get kids over a simple minimum for reading and math can somehow shift resources to do history and science well?

lgm said...

If any NYers would like to give the Regents feedback on College & Career Readiness, their survey is here: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/ccr/
Several questions ask about the various diplomas and there is plenty of room for comments.

Catherine Johnson said...

There wouldn't be a need for NCLB if teachers gave up whole language, Everyday Math and Piagetian 'research.'

I need a like button for this!

Catherine Johnson said...

btw, unless things have changed in the past couple of years, which I don't think they have, NY has terrific history standards.

They're the same standards written back in the 1980s that Lynne Cheney ambushed.

Ed was peripherally involved in writing them.

ms-teacher said...

My district has not used whole language or every day math for years. The test questions for both state tests & district benchmarks are neither created nor calibrated by teachers.

Allison said...

What do they use for reading and math?

SteveH said...

Once again I ask whether schools that struggle to get kids over a simple minimum for reading and math can somehow shift resources to do history and science well?


"Teachers hate it & yet, our hands are tied."

Don't expect parents to hop on that bus. Parents don't want to hear stories about how teachers' hands are tied. I've had so many preemptive strikes over the years from both teachers and administrations about staying out of their business. You can't have it both ways.

The problem is that parents' hands are tied.

ms-teacher said...

Steve H., I have seen parents speak out in support of teachers because guess what? Many teachers talk to parents & (gasp!) many teachers are parents themselves!

Sorry that you've had bad experience with teachers wanting you to "stay out of their business" as for me, I want parental involvement.

Several of our school sites which have struggled with their reading & math scores have been given directives from the District to focus on language arts & math. We have some principals who follow that directive to the "T", whereas we have others' who are a bit more "mavericky" & allow teachers the freedom to stray away from district mandated pacing guides & district mandated curriculum.

(Of course, the second type of principal has usually been in the district for a while.)

A couple of our principals have directly told teachers NOT to teach history or science as these are not tested.

Allison said...

Ms-teacher, what is your district mandated curriculum? What textbook is supporting it?

Glen said...

As a result of NCLB, many school districts have chosen to focus on reading & math, meaning that emphasis is placed on test skills that will ensure higher test scores.

So without NCLB, those many school districts would not have chosen to focus on reading and math. Do you believe that focusing on reading and math harmed their students' skills at reading and math? Or, no, it helped, but they were already so good they didn't need any help?

Or, maybe you think it helped, which they needed, but at the expense of history and science, which they also need, and you would like to see history and science helped, too? In that case, would it make more sense to eliminate a program that you believe has such power to draw attention to the subjects it covers, or to extend it to cover more subjects?

SteveH said...

"Steve H., I have seen parents speak out in support of teachers because guess what? Many teachers talk to parents & (gasp!) many teachers are parents themselves!"

That's not my point at all. You are trying to make a general case about teachers versus administrations and some sort of problem with teaching history and science. You introduce the idea of "emphasis is placed on test skills that will ensure higher test scores".

Are you arguing the case that doing well on your NCLB state tests is a matter of learning test taking skills rather than real learning? If so, then you will have to make that case. That would be more of a problem than reducing history and science.


Could it be that middle school teachers don't like the idea of having to deal with problems that have been passed along to them from the lower grades? Are those problems just the fault of the administrations, not the "teachers"? I've met few K-6 teachers who shared my idea of a proper education. Many of them want to go through the motions of teaching without any expectations of effectiveness. They trust the spiral.


NCLB does force schools to shift resources to the low end of ability or effort spectrum, but that could be a good thing for many kids. It's not good if the solution is too late and remedial. It's also not good if kids are never separated by ability or willingness to learn. If that is the problem, then you have to be clear about it.


"Teachers hate it & yet, our hands are tied."

Teachers hate what, exactly? Do they hate the fact that education has been reduced to choices like this, or do they just hate what affects them personally? Is the solution is to hope for some "mavericky" principal? Is the problem just that you can't continue with the status quo?

CassyT said...

Again, I am thankful for the Core Knowledge & classical charter schools my sons have attended. The emphasis on history & geography is phenomenal. And he always tests well on standardized tests.

NCLB or not, it is possible to teach kids content as well as pass a relatively basic standardized state assessment.