Higher Standards Don’t Drown Out History & Social Studies Instruction, They Reinforce It


States’ implementation of rigorous, comparable education standards and assessments aligned to them has pushed out instruction of U.S. history, columnist Karol Markowicz claims in the New York PostMarkowicz quotes a Brooklyn teacher, who says, “All the pressure in lower grades is in math and English language arts because of the state tests and the weight they carry.”

Like allegations that higher standards have removed literature from classrooms (also untrue), Markowicz’s claim that states’ commitment to raising academic expectations has edged out history and social studies instruction is not new. But that doesn’t make it any less misinformed.

As states implement higher standards, educators have begun to incorporate more non-fiction texts and materials across all subjects. Overwhelmingly, educators indicate that the transition helps them teach students to think critically and to grapple with challenging material.

Rigorous, comparable standards “are a significant step in the right direction in terms of expecting students to engage in more historian-like activities in history classrooms,” Jeffery Nokes, an assistant professor of history at Brigham Young University, explains. “In short, the common standards expect students to begin to read, reason and think more like historians.”

Comparable education standards are not a means to rewrite history or a tool of the federal government to indoctrinate students with certain ideologies, either – as some have claimed. Standards outline the skills and knowledge students should reasonably be expected to master at each grade level. How educators help students reach those goals (curriculum, lesson plans, materials, instruction, etc.) is entirely the purview of teachers, administrators and local school boards.

If parents are concerned their children aren’t getting a strong education in history and social studies, they need only to raise those concerns with their teachers and administrators. “Local control, local decisions are almost always the best. It turns out that is exactly what is happening in our schools,” former Alabama Governor Bob Riley wrote previously.

As teachers point out, rigorous, consistent learning goals also help to facilitate greater collaboration across subject areas. Eric Slifstein, a New York teacher, explains: “Within schools, educators are encouraging students to apply skills across subjects and helping to reinforce foundational skills by integrating concepts from one class to the next.”

Retreating from more challenging education standards, as Markowicz suggest, would put students at a disadvantage and undo the gains states are beginning to achieve. As New Mexico Education Secretary Hanna Skandera put it, the improvements that states are making “send a clear message that it’s a mistake to retreat from high standards or go back to low-quality tests.”