October 19, 2006
By Robert Townsend
As arguments rage about curricular reforms in the school system and the proper balance between “teaching to the test” and classroom innovation, a new web site from the Department of Education on State Education Reforms provides some basic information on the status of such efforts at the state level.
Unfortunately, the report lumps our discipline into a “social studies/history” category, which muddles things a bit. But if you are curious about content standards, the site offers a table that allows for some cross-disciplinary comparison. And the differences are quite striking. Only eight states have social studies/history standards considered “clear, specific, and grounded in content” at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. That compares to 31 states that have such standards in English, 41 in science, and 47 in math.
Given the various interpretations of what constitutes social studies, it seems likely that the number of states that could be counted with standards specifically in history would be much higher. Nevertheless, this does provide a useful indicator. According to Department of Education report, 14 states lack any standards for social studies/history, 19 have them just for the middle and high school levels, and the rest have a hodgepodge of standards at the elementary, middle, and/or high school level.
Standards only tend to gain their bite in assessments, so the report also offers a useful table on state level assessment. Here again, the social studies/history field is substantially different from the other disciplines. Only 10 states have “student assessments aligned to state standards” at the elementary, middle, and high school levels. This compares to 23 states with assessments at all levels for science, 48 for math, and 49 for English.
Ten other states had standards at just one or two levels for social studies/history, while 31 lacked any state level assessments in the field.
The Department of Education promises to keep this up to date in the coming years. While this information is rather vague for the purposes of those interested specifically in the teaching of history, this may provide a useful snapshot for those interested in knowing how these issues are playing out on the state level.