Pioneer Institute Study: Massachusetts “Eviscerates” Its K-12 History Standards

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education should reject a proposed rewrite of the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework in its entirety and immediately restore the state’s 2003 framework, considered among the strongest in the country, according to a new research paper titled, No Longer a City on a Hill: Massachusetts Degrades Its K-12 History Standards, published by Pioneer Institute.

“The 2018 revision fails to provide effective history education. It must be replaced with a framework that requires much of students but offers them, in return, a share of our common treasure,” wrote the paper’s authors, David Randall, director of research at the National Association of Scholars; Will Fitzhugh, founder of the The Concord Review; and Jane Robbins, senior fellow at the American Principles Project.

The authors argue that the draft of the new framework, released for public comment in January, “eviscerates” the 2003 framework and degrades it in five ways.

  1.  It replaces coherent sequences of American and European history with incoherent fragments.
  2.  It is 50 percent longer than the 2003 framework and presents the standards in “unreadable education-school jargon.”
  3.  It replaces the earlier framework’s full account of our country’s European past and replaces much of it with “the history of politically correct protest movements.”
  4. It allots insufficient time for students to learn European and American history.
  5. It eliminates the already developed 2009 history MCAS assessment and substitutes hollow “expectations” for each grade.

“Each of the 2018 Revision’s failings is sufficient to disqualify it as an adequate standard for K-12 history instruction,” according to the authors. “It should be rejected outright.”

“It’s truly a travesty to see the loss of curriculum standards that helped catapult Massachusetts to national leader in education. First the state replaced its excellent English language arts and math standards with Common Core, and now it discards its stellar history standards in favor of progressive propaganda. This white paper aims to address the heart of these issues and suggest a way the state can reclaim its much lauded educational heritage,” Robbins said in a released statement.

In 2003 the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework was created as part of the Massachusetts Education Reform Act. It contained grade-by-grade standards for core essential learning. While history instruction in K-12 schools has been in decline for decades, according to the authors, history education in Massachusetts has fared better until changes were made in 2009.

In 2009 the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (BESE) suspended the history and social science framework. In 2016 the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) introduced a rewrite of the framework, the result of what the authors called “an exercise in progressive educational propaganda and vocational training for how to be a political activist.” The rewrite was approved by BESE and posted for public comment in January 2018.

Along with rejecting the revised standards outright, the authors made several recommendations on ways that DESE could strengthen civics instruction in the state.

These include turning the 2003 framework’s United States Government elective into a required course; endorsing the Civics Education Initiative, already enacted in 15 states, which requires high school students to pass the same test that immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship must pass; and adding a civics component to the MCAS history test.

The Damage That Common Core Has Caused

Will Common Core kill students' love of reading?Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar (CC-By-2.0)

Will Common Core kill students’ love of reading?
Photo credit: Kate Ter Haar (CC-By-2.0)

Peter Wood of the National Association of Scholars wrote an article last week with the grim prognosis that the damage caused by Common Core will be with us for years to come.

It is like a house with an underwater mortgage: The United States has invested so much in Common Core that it can’t easily get out. The investments include very large amounts spent on textbooks, computers to support the Common Core tests, and teacher training. The investment also includes some hard-to-quantify things: the squandered opportunity, the huge expenditure of political capital, the disaffection of millions of parents, and the psychological harm to students who face spending many more years living out the classroom consequences of a discredited educational experiment.

Students face those extra years of miseducation simply because there is no easy exit from Common Core. The textbooks and computers have been purchased, and the teachers have been trained. Even the states running for the exit door have a long wind-down ahead of them.

He outlines some of the outcomes we’ll suffer through even with a repeal.

  • Demoting literature
  • Slowing down math instruction
  • Promises broken
  • Cutting parents out – this in my opinion is one of the most damaging outcomes from Common Core.

Be sure to read his whole piece.

Common Core’s Serious Flaws

Sandra Stotsky wrote a piece for the National Association of Scholars entitled “Revise or Reject: The Common Core’s Serious Flaws.”

Here is an excerpt she outlines some of the flaws:

First, the ELA standards have many flaws:

Common Core expects English teachers to spend at least 50 percent of their reading instructional time on informational texts at every grade level. It provides 10 reading standards for informational texts and 9 standards for literary texts at every grade level. (An informational text is a piece of writing intending to convey information about something, e.g., gravity, bicycles, nutrition.) However, there is no body of information that English teachers have ever been responsible for teaching, unlike science teachers, for example, who are charged with teaching information about science. As a result, English teachers are not trained to give informational reading instruction—by college English departments or by teacher preparation programs. They typically study four major genres of literature—poetry, drama, fiction, and nonfiction—and are trained to teach those genres.[1]

Common Core reduces opportunities for students to develop critical (analytical) thinking. Analytical thinking is developed in the English class when teachers teach students how to read between the lines of complex literary works. It is facilitated by the knowledge that students acquire in other ways and in other subjects because critical (analytical) thinking cannot take place in an intellectual vacuum. By reducing literary study in the English class, Common Core reduces the opportunity for students to learn how to do critical (analytical) thinking.[2]

Common Core’s middle school writing standards are developmentally inappropriate for average middle school students. Adults have a much better idea of what “claims,” “relevant evidence,” and academic “arguments” are. Most children have a limited understanding of these concepts and find it difficult to compose an argument with claims and evidence. This would be the case even if Common Core’s writing standards were linked to appropriate reading standards and prose models. But they are not. Nor does the document clarify the difference between an academic argument (explanatory writing) and persuasive writing, confusing teachers and students alike.[3]

Most of Common Core’s college-readiness and grade-level standards in ELA are empty skills. Skills training alone doesn’t prepare students for college-level work. They need a fund of content knowledge. But Common Core’s ELA standards (as well as its literacy standards for other subjects) do not specify the literary/historical knowledge students need. They provide no list of recommended authors or works, just examples of levels of “complexity.” They require no British literature aside from Shakespeare. They require no authors from the ancient world or selected pieces from the Bible as literature so that students can learn about their influence on English and American literature. They do not require study of the history of the English language. Without requirements in these areas, students are not prepared for college coursework.[4]

Common Core’s Mathematics standards also have serious flaws.

Common Core does not complete the teaching and use of the standard algorithms of arithmetic until grades 5-6.[5]

Common Core defers the study of many Algebra I concepts to grade 9. This makes it difficult for mathematically able students to complete an authentic Algebra I course in grade 8. As the 2013 NAEP results indicate, over 30% of 13-year-olds nationwide take Algebra I, a percentage that has been increasing regularly since 1970.[6]  This percentage will decrease rapidly if schools choose not to make it possible for able students in mathematics to accelerate in grades 5, 6, and 7 so they can take an authentic Algebra I course in grade 8 and if grade 8 students who have completed Algebra I are not allowed to take an end-of-course Algebra I test at the end of grade 8.

Be sure to read the rest.