History education in Connecticut in abysmal shape

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For the past 30 years progressive education policies emanating from Hartford have ultimately dictated what is taught in local schools. Apparently, to distance themselves from the damage incurred from these scorched earth policies, some local residents want to believe that Connecticut is a “locally controlled state” educationally.

The implication is that the amount of history taught in local districts is just fine.

Besides defying basic logic, here is a crash course how education works: It starts with standards the state imposes on local districts by way of state mandates covering but not limited to student assessments, teacher evaluations and state tests. Since local districts can’t opt out of these mandates and their parts are inextricably linked to standards, curriculum is essentially set in Hartford by our politicians.

The Thomas Fordham Institute is on point that the only way to increase student achievement in U.S. history is to have clearly defined history standards. For example, if we want students to know about the founding of our nation, specific standards would include contributions from the likes of Washington, Jefferson, Adams, and Franklin.

Standards central to the ideas expressed in the Declaration of Independence and Constitution would be included, and standards relevant to the important events that shaped our country and took place in Boston, Philadelphia and the Constitution state would be stated.

Unfortunately,  progressives in Hartford have given us a blank slate concerning real U.S. history because no such standards exist. After 30 years and generations lost, isn’t it time to straighten out our history standards?

Three citations are noteworthy in this regard. First, for those who question the Fordham Institute’s history standards, let’s acknowledge how they differ from the state’s. Fordham has assigned an F to Connecticut’s history standards. In doing so the Institute offers this for the failing grade:

“Connecticut’s unofficially adopted social studies standards, insofar as they cover U.S. history at all, offer isolated historical scraps which are devoid of context, explanation, or meaning. And even these arbitrary thematic shards are merely ‘suggested’ to teachers, not required.”

It’s clear that the conflict we have with Fordham is this: The Institute values the teaching of U.S. history in public schools and we don’t.

Secondly, The Nations Report Card (NAEP) sounded the alarm in their most recent report concerning abysmal knowledge about U.S. history among students in this country. Apparently such ignorance is widespread.

It’s a national problem many media outlets have covered, and  even the director of the progressive National Council of Social Studies Susan Griffin has responded. She reflects: “The poor grade 12 results (NAEP) indicate that the next cohort of new voters are not well grounded in U.S. history. This is a disservice to our democracy.”

Thirdly, from Connecticut, University of Connecticut Prof. Walter Woodward cited the Fordham Institute’s report on our state’s history standards along and the state’s apparent  attitude that teaching U.S. history in our public schools and at the university level is irrelevant. He reflects. “Connecticut students, who by virtue of their residency in this state inherit one of the richest and historical legacies of any State in the nation, deserve much better from our education leaders.”

It’s hard to pretend U.S. history is being taught in our schools when it isn’t. Research findings prove this. Without clearly defined U.S. history standards and policies that support as much at the state level, how can any district say it is doing a good job teaching history?

Make no mistake. This is NOT our teachers’ fault. Our history teachers are some of the most highly qualified in the nation to carry out the state’s responsibility to educate students about their country. With their expertise we could turn this disgrace around just as we are turning around student achievement in literacy and math with clearly defined standards.

It is now up the State Department of Education to focus on returning real U.S. history to Connecicut’s classrooms.

Susan Harris is an Alternative Route to Certification graduate, a former U.S. history teacher and currently and education reformer.

What do you think?

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