‘Exemplary’ school taught only reading, math

A Dallas elementary school with “exemplary” math and reading scores taught no science or social studies to third graders, district officials charge. It was all reading and math all the time.  The music teacher taught math instead. Teachers were told to fabricate grades for students in courses they weren’t taught, reports the Dallas Morning News.

Field Elementary principal Roslyn Carter is on paid administrative leave for falsifying grades.

While the investigation has focused on third grade, other grades also may have been affected.

“I do not know of science being taught in 3rd or 4th grade,” school counselor Laura McMillin said in an e-mail to an investigator. “And I am unaware of social studies being taught at all.”

Third- and fifth-grade students who were failing certain classes were assigned to tutoring instead of enrichment classes such as music, art and P.E., the principal admitted. Ninety percent of third graders missed “specials” to prep for the state exam, a math coach said.

Once students had taken the state exam, teachers were allowed teach science, social studies and enrichment classes for the remaining three weeks of the school year.

Schools must teach gay, disabled history

California’s new law adding gay history to the curriculum also requires teaching the history of disability rights activists, reports Sign On San Diego.

Helen Keller is an icon in the blind and deaf community and, thanks to “The Miracle Worker,” hers is one of the most recognizable names in American history.

But few social studies courses relate the role activist Justin Dart played in passing the landmark Americans With Disabilities Act that has changed the lives of millions of those who are blind, use wheelchairs or cannot hear.

It’s only the gay part that’s controversial, but what I can’t stand are the mentioning mandates. Mention disabled heroes, mention noble gays (“Frank Kameny . . . fired from the Army Map Service because he was gay”),  mention labor leaders (also specified by California law), mention business leaders (added to balance labor), mention women and listed minorities . . . And after all this hagio-trivia, be sure to teach critical thinking.


California textbooks will include gays

California public schools will be required to teach students about the “contributions” of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender Americans — and Americans with disabilities — as part of the social studies curriculum in all grades, under a new law signed by Gov. Jerry Brown.

California law already requires schools to teach about women, African Americans, Mexican Americans, entrepreneurs, Asian Americans, European Americans, American Indians and labor. The Legislature over the years also has prescribed specific lessons about the Irish potato famine and the Holocaust, among other topics.

Those helpful legislators!

The state can’t afford to buy new textbooks till 2015 at the earliest, but eventually the requirement could affect social studies textbooks sold nationwide.
Advocates hope teaching students that Walt Whitman and Willa Cather  were gay will prevent bullying and suicides. It’s a real problem, but not a real solution.


Teaching compassion for refugees

In New York’s South Bronx, a ninth-grade social studies teacher is spending five weeks on curriculum based on Iraqi refugees’ experiences, reports Learning Matters. The show aired on PBS Newshour this week and will be rebroadcast.

The teacher wants her tough-shelled students to learn to empathize with people who have even worse problems than their own. Students look at photos of refugees and imagine their lives. They’re told to list the 10 things they’d take with them if they had to leave home in five minutes. Later, told they have to dump half their possessions, one boy gives up his electronics in favor of “my mom, my sister, my other sister.”  It’s sweet, but is it social studies?

I can’t help wondering what the students aren’t learning in those five weeks. The teacher is skipping the standard curriculum. What’s the trade-off?

As far as I can tell, students aren’t asked to read literature that deals with the refugee experience, such as The Kite Runner (Afghanistan), which could be a powerful empathy builder. Dave Eggers’ What is the What? (Sudan) is supposed to be good. Too difficult to read?

What social studies teachers think and do

Social studies teachers share the values of ordinary Americans, concludes High Schools, Civics, and Citizenship: What Social Studies Teachers Think and Do, a new American Enterprise Institute study.

Eighty-three percent of high school teachers surveyed believe that the United States is a “unique country that stands for something special in the world,” and 82 percent say high school students should “respect and appreciate their country but know its shortcomings.” This tracks closely with surveys of the general public.

Only 36 percent say it is absolutely essential to teach high school students “facts (e.g., location of the fifty states) and dates (e.g., Pearl Harbor).” Factual knowledge ranks last on list of 12 items. Knowing what’s guaranteed by the Bill of Rights ranks first. (One could argue that’s factual knowledge.)

Only 56 percent of teachers agree that “by graduation, virtually all students in my high school have carefully read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution.”

Teachers split on whether their school districts sees social studies as “an absolutely essential subject area.”

  • Seven in ten (70 percent) say social studies classes are a lower priority because of pressure to show progress on statewide math and language arts tests.
  • Yet social studies teachers want to hop on the testing bandwagon: 93 percent say “social studies should be part of every state’s set of standards and testing.”
  • Teachers stress things that embody a certain spirit of America,” such as the Bill of Rights, “but not about how that spirit is translated into governance” through concepts like federalism and the separation of powers, writes Rick Hess.  Only 24 percent of teachers are “very confident” their students can identify the protections in the Bill of Rights by the end of high school; 15 percent think their students understand federalism and the separation of powers, and 11 percent believe their pupils understand the basic precepts of the free market.

    If teachers with “some confidence” are factored in, half say their students are graduating with an adequate understanding of civics and citizenship.

    What does Texas want?

    Texas’ newly approved social studies standards swing to the right to counter perceived liberal bias, writes the Washington Post.

    The new standards say that the McCarthyism of the 1950s was later vindicated — something most historians deny — draw an equivalency between Jefferson Davis’s and Abraham Lincoln’s inaugural addresses, say that international institutions such as the United Nations imperil American sovereignty, and include a long list of Confederate officials about whom students must learn.

    Not true, writes Ann Althouse, who links to the text of the standards.

    The students are required to “describe how McCarthyism, the House Un-American Activities Committee (HUAC), the arms race, and the space race increased Cold War tensions and how the later release of the Venona Papers confirmed suspicions of communist infiltration in U.S. government…” . . . One can be informed of the reality of what the Venona Papers revealed about communist infiltration into the U.S. government and still understand and deplore the excesses of “McCarthyism.”

    Students are required to “analyze the ideas contained in Jefferson Davis’ inaugural address and Abraham Lincoln’s ideas about liberty, equality, union, and government as contained in his first and second inaugural addresses and the Gettysburg Address,” Althouse quotes.  “Analyze” is the key word.

    On the United Nations and American sovereignty:

    What I’m seeing is “explain the significance of the League of Nations and the United Nations” and “analyze the human and physical factors that influence the power to control territory, create conflict/war, and impact international political relations such as the United Nations (UN), the European Union (EU), or the control of resources.” Where is the language that can be paraphrased “imperil American sovereignty”?

    On the “long list of Confederate officials” students must learn:

    Students are required to “explain the roles played by significant individuals and heroes during the Civil War, including Jefferson Davis, Ulysses S. Grant, Robert E. Lee, Abraham Lincoln, and congressional Medal of Honor recipients William Carney and Philip Bazaar.” Only Davis and Lee were Confederate officials! There is also this: “describe the role of individuals such as governors George Wallace, Orval Faubus, and Lester Maddox and groups, including the Congressional bloc of southern Democrats, that sought to maintain the status quo [in the Civil Rights Era].” That’s obviously not from the Civil War, but I can see why it’s annoying to Democrats.

    I’m always queasy about standards that go into excruciating detail about what to teach, often falling victim to “mentionism.” But Althouse’s critique of the Post’s analysis is devastating: You can’t pan the standards without referring to what the standards actually say.

    Update: Althouse has updated her post to concede that last-minute changes to the Texas standards — mentioned in an earlier Post story – did require students to be taught a list of Confederate generals and about how international groups threaten U.S. sovereignty. Those changes were not posted on the Texas board of education web site.

    Texas history standards: Have your say

    Rhymes With Right provides a link to the proposed Texas Social Studies standards, which are expected to affect what goes in textbooks used nationwide.

    The 30-day public comment period is open.

    I’m told the responses of Texas social studies teachers will be given particular consideration, but social studies teachers from other states and the parents of Texas public school students are also likely to get serious consideration.

    Anyone may comment.

    Don't know much about history

    American students don’t know much about history, writes Robert Holland for the Lexington Institute.

    In the most recent round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, only one fourth of American schoolchildren tested as proficient in their knowledge of U.S. history.

    Only a small minority of history teachers have majored in history, Holland writes.

    . . . history is often tucked under the umbrella of social studies – a mishmash of everything from global studies to sociology, in which critical figures and lessons from American history are often overlooked. Indeed, in some cases, it is possible to gain certification as a social studies teacher without having studied any history.

    However, Holland praises the Teaching American History Grant Program, adopted in 2001, which has enabled schools “to partner with colleges, libraries, museums, and nonprofit history and humanities organizations to enhance history teachers’ knowledge and appreciation of American history.”

    How essential is the essential question?

    In 1995, a series of articles by Jamie McKenzie appeared in Technology Connection. They discussed the role of “essential questions” in a research cycle. These “essential questions” supposedly reside at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy, as they require students to evaluate, analyze, or synthesize.

    Bloom’s Taxonomy? At the very top? Well, then, we must have them! say the districts. And so they sweep them up. Schools plan curricula around them, post them on the wall, discuss them throughout every unit, and encourage students to talk and write about them. The “essential question” is supposed to motivate students by fostering ongoing inquiry.

    This sounds like a good idea, but we should be mindful of Robert Pondiscio’s First Law of Bad Education Practice, which states that “there is not a single good idea in education that doesn’t become a bad idea the moment it hardens into orthodoxy.”

    When does an essential question go wrong? First, when it is so vague that you can’t wrap your hand or mind around it–when it resembles a moon-sized sphere of cotton candy–wispy, fluffy, enormous, and awfully sticky. Second, when it is required at specific times and places (in every unit, in every classroom), without variation or exception. Mandated vagueness can be troublesome.

    Here are some examples of “overarching essential questions in social studies”, compiled by Jay McTighe, coauthor of Understanding by Design.

    What happened in the past?
    In what ways is the past about me?
    What causes change?
    How do patterns of cause/effect manifest themselves in the chronology of history?
    How are governments created, structured, maintained, and changed?
    How is power gained, used, and justified?
    What makes places unique and different?
    What happens when cultures collide?
    How and why do we celebrate holidays?

    It wouldn’t hurt to make these questions a tad more specific. There’s no satisfaction in lolling on the peak of Bloom’s Taxonomy if you can’t do anything up there.

    Texas adds Huerta, Winfrey, drops FDR

    Texas’ social studies textbooks may get browner, reports the San Antonio Express-News. A draft of the new curriculum standards adds “Dolores Huerta, Dr. Hector P. Garcia, Sandra Cisneros, Henry B. Gonzalez and Irma Rangel to the list of important Hispanic figures Texas schoolchildren might be discussing in the future.”

    Huerta, a co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America, would join Helen Keller and Clara Barton to show third-graders examples of good citizenship.

    Under the proposal, third-graders also would be introduced to Dr. Garcia, a civil rights leader and founder of the American GI Forum who received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Reagan.

    The late Henry B. Gonzalez of San Antonio could end up in fourth-grade history books as an example “of individuals who modeled active participation in the democratic process.” Gonzalez, who once stood for 22 straight hours on the Texas Senate floor to fight segregation bills, was later a member of the U.S. House for 38 years.

    But there isn’t room for everyone. Peter Morrison, a school board member on the grade 5 review panel, “complained that Presidents Eisenhower and Roosevelt were characterized as ‘dead white guys’ during a committee discussion,” reports the Express-News.

    On Curriculum Matters, Mary Ann Zehr notes that Franklin D. Roosevelt has been cut  from the list of “significant political and social leaders in the United States,” though he does appear in a section on the Depression.

    Henry B. Gonzalez, Thurgood Marshall, Sandra Day O’Connor, and Billy Graham have been added.

    . . .  Bill Gates, Sam Walton, and Oprah Winfrey have been added as examples in the U.S. history standards of “American entrepreneurs.”

    A majority of Texas students will be Hispanic by 2013, when the new books will come out.