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I Love The Smell Of NAEPalm In The Morning
Our history and civics problems predate the pandemic - and don't have to be this way.
Jed and I did a new WonkyFolk this week. We talk about history, Nation At Risk history, and why Randi Weingarten is hoping people forget history (and why Jed wants to forget the NBA playoffs). We also note the loss of Mike Smith, some charter news, and the real game the teachers’ unions are playing – it’s about Janus not Covid policies). Thanks for the feedback and please send topic ideas.
Available wherever you get your podcasts, also here if you want to listen.
In other podcast news, I also sat down with the team at Fordham on the Gadfly Podcast to talk about Virginia’s new History and Social Science Standards and the process of revising them. Amber Northern, who knows standards work and lives in Virginia, joined as well. Cause for optimism!
In related news, new NAEP data on history and civics out today, it’s not good news. Some of the data suggest our social divides are getting worse with students furthest from opportunity more impacted.
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona made the following statement:
“The latest data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress further affirms the profound impact the pandemic had on student learning in subjects beyond math and reading. It tells us that now is not the time for politicians to try to extract double-digit cuts to education funding, nor is it the time to limit what students learn in U.S. history and civics classes. We need to provide every student with rich opportunities to learn about America’s history and understand the U.S. Constitution and how our system of government works. Banning history books and censoring educators from teaching these important subjects does our students a disservice and will move America in the wrong direction.”
This stirred up a little tempest on Twitter. People are doing gymnastics to try to argue this isn’t a politicized response. NAEP expert Tom Loveless thinks it’s a sign of coming attractions with the new timing on NAEP releases. I hope he’s wrong but he’s probably right. Marty West says stop worrying, they’re on it.
I think you can make a case that people freaking out over a book about Ruby Bridges doesn’t make it any easier to address these issues. But the idea that Republicans wanting to ban “Gender Queer,” or in some cases even Toni Morrison or other authors, is the cause or even related to these declines we’ve seen over the past decade is unserious, whatever you happen to think on the various book questions. It sounds chic, polls pretty well (for now…), but it makes no sense in this context and is a distraction. It does nothing help us address the problem.* Federal budget cuts, debates over what’s taught, etc…these are not the core issues with these results.
What is? Here are a few causes to look at:
First, in large parts of the education world there is a longstanding and deeply held belief that content is secondary to “skills” or that it is superfluous altogether. You hear people say, you don’t need to know “mere” facts when you can Google them. AI will reignite this debate. (These same people were aghast at January 6th, without seeing the possible link there).
If you really want to blame someone for America’s educational woes then Rousseau isn’t the worst target…conservatives for the most part loathe him but it’s weird American ed schools so revere someone who would be a #Metoo problem if they were around today. His basic idea that we largely can learn of our own accord undergirds much of the resistance to a focus on content in K-12 schools and systematic reading instruction. It’s a romantic idea but a lousy way to run a school.
In this instance, these ideas lead to vague standards that are not useful for teachers, open the door for ideology of all kinds in the classroom, can lead to weak curriculum, and fail to give students essential knowledge. Fordham has done excellent work documenting this issue.
Knowledge is key to comprehension, critical thinking, and literacy. We have devalued it to our detriment. ** If you haven’t seen the work of the Knowledge Matters Campaign they are trying to highlight these issues and solutions.
Second, we don’t train or support educators well. Teachers are often left to fend for themselves on high-quality curriculum and teaching materials and are not given quality professional development or training. That’s on the ed schools and teacher prep programs but also on states and school districts. The situation is so confused that sometimes efforts to promote high quality materials are castigated for being anti-teacher – by teachers unions! (For a long time a focus on content and curriculum was a key distinction between the Al Shanker infused AFT and the larger but more progressive NEA but in recent years the differences are starting to blur).
Third, this issue is keenly linked with literacy and reading. The kind of rich content kids need in history, civics, or social studies drives literacy and vice versa. Blue states and red states are trying to address reading and curriculum and Secretary Cardona could have used today to give those efforts a little cover. Instead we got 2024 talking points.
If you haven’t yet, check out this new study on Core Knowledge. This isn’t a theoretical issue. It’s in our grasp to do better. It’s an analysis that should be getting more attention.
And many of these divides are not nearly as wide as people think or various culture warriors claim. Stoking them is only good business for advocates.
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*Nobody asked, but in the spirit of being solution oriented, here’s how I would have written that statement, there are plenty of places for politics but this isn’t one of them:
“The latest data from the National Assessment of Educational Progress further affirms the profound impact the pandemic had on student learning in subjects beyond math and reading. But we must also remember these challenges long predate the pandemic. We need to provide every student with rich opportunities to learn about America’s history and understand the U.S. Constitution and how our system of government works. Knowledge rich curricula are essential to student learning about these and Stoehr issues, and are also instrumental to improving literacy in America. The lack of access to this sort of high quality education isn’t a Republican problem or a Democratic problem – it’s an American problem. And it’s a solvable one if we come together to support educators to do so, which is why the Department will be convening a politically diverse group of leaders to formulate plans to better support history and civics education and reading instruction.”
**I’m biased, but here are some examples from Virginia’s new History and Social Science standards of what content coverage looks like in practice. It’s not ‘mere facts,’ it’s a framework for powerful instruction and learning. These are (unproofed) high school level standards:
Here’s an elementary level civics standard (when students are older they learn more about ideas like peaceful protest and how to change laws you don’t like).