Study Says Common Core ELA Standards Will Further Harm U.S. History Instruction

States and schools should offer separate standards and courses of instruction for English and U.S. History rather than follow Common Core approach of merging academic disciplines

BOSTON – If you attempt to incorporate U.S. History in English language arts (ELA) standards, Common Core will further damage history instruction, according to a new study created by a preeminent Founding-era historian, a content expert, and a high school history teacher with standards-writing experience.

Imperiling the Republic: The Fate of U.S. History Instruction under Common Core

“Imperiling the Republic: The Fate of U.S. History Instruction under Common Core,” authored by Pioneer Institute, analyzes literacy standards for U.S. History which are included included in Common Core's English language arts standards.

“Common Core dramatically cuts down on the amount of classic American literature and poetry students will read in favor of non-fiction or so-called 'informational texts,'” said co-author Sandra Stotsky. “Consequently, the writers of the national standards tried to shoehorn little odds and ends of decontextualized U.S. History texts in to the English standards. The simultaneous result damages instruction for both English and U.S. History classrooms.”

The co-authors of the Pioneer paper urge schools instead to provide separate standards and courses of instruction for English and U.S. History. There is little, if any, research to support the efficacy of English teachers teaching U.S. History or informational texts.

Common Core's standards writers also call for the “cold reading” of historical documents with no background knowledge to place them in the appropriate historical context. David Coleman, the principal author of the Common Core ELA standards, states that excluding texts' historical context helps “level the playing field.”

Coleman is now president of the College Board, that has issued a new Advanced Placement (A.P.) U.S. History curriculum. The College Board's A.P. curriculum is a continuation of the “progressive education” approach, which took hold after The second world war. The A.P. curriculum limits history instruction and replaces it with social studies courses about current events and problems.

The College Board's new A.P. U.S. History curriculum further mirrors the ideological biases of progressive education. It starts with a number of negative and divisive themes which are heavily focused on the balkanizing formation of gender, class, racial, and ethnic identity politics.

“It's such as the bad and also the ugly of American history, without any from the good,” said co-author Anders Lewis.

For example, there aren't any themes on federalism, separation of powers, the Federalist Papers, or even the Gettysburg Address. The curriculum doesn't ask teachers to teach about Benjamin Franklin and contains no reference to Thomas Jefferson or James Madison. The events of September 11, 2001 will never be referred to as a terrorist attack.

“Federalism as an essential principle of American government stands as the creative organizing indisputable fact that allows the fulfillment of the basic beliefs in republicanism, liberty, and also the public good,” said Founding-era historian and co-author Ralph Ketcham. “Any group of K-12 standards or curriculum that sidesteps or excludes this constitutional and civic reality damages students' understanding of our republic and its history.”

The co-authors recommend that local education authorities replace the College Board's new A.P. U.S. History curriculum with the common civic core spelled out in Educating Democracy, that was published in 2003 through the Albert Shanker Institute.

Progressive educational approaches have produced poor results; that assertion holds especially true using its insistence on reducing emphasis on the teaching of history. By 2010, only 12 percent of senior high school seniors scored proficient on National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) civics tests. NAEP has since eliminated the 4th and 12th grade civics tests.

Ralph Ketcham is professor emeritus ever, Public Affairs, and Political Science at Syracuse University. His National Book Award-nominated James Madison: A Biography (1991) is the definitive single-volume biography of the “father of the Constitution.” Ketcham is a former editor of the papers of both James Madison and Benjamin Franklin and also the author of several books on the Founding era and American constitutionalism, including: From Colony to Country: The Revolution in American Thought, 1750-1820 (1974); Presidents Above Party: The First American Presidency, 1789-1829 (1984); Framed for Posterity: The Enduring Philosophy from the Constitution (1993); and also the Idea of Democracy in the current Era (2004).

Anders Lewis is really a history teacher and art and history department head at the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School in Marlborough, Massachusetts. Sandra Stotsky is professor emerita at the University of Arkansas, a nationally renowned expert on K-12 academic standards, along with a former member of Common Core's Validation Committee. While serving in state government, Stotsky and Lewis were driving intellectual forces behind Massachusetts' K-12 U.S. History standards, that are considered a national model.