Proposed Indiana Social Studies Standards: A Step Down!

March 9, 2014 4 Comments

If you haven’t heard that the Indiana State Board of Education is scheduled to vote this coming Wednesday, March 12, 2013, on new proposed Social Studies Standards, you aren’t alone.  Even though we are fairly watchful, it was not until last week that we discovered this information.  Upon googling it this morning, guess what?  As was the case when Indiana adopted the Common Core Math and ELA Standards back in 2010, there were virtually NO media report about this scheduled vote.  (Admittedly, some may exist, but they didn’t surface with my search.)

Fortunately, Hoosier citizens have a diligent and committed State Board of Education member in Andrea Neal, who teaches 8th Grade U.S. History and 6th and 7th Grade English at St. Richards Episcopal School in Indianapolis.  Neal became so concerned when she looked over the new “draft” Social Studies Standards, that she personally commissioned an independent review of them.  This past Friday Neal issued the following press release, entitled “Proposed Indiana Social Studies Standards “A Needless Step Backwards”:

On Wednesday, the State Board of Education will be asked to approve new academic standards for Social Studies, including U.S. History, Government, and World History and Civilization. As a teacher of Eighth Grade U.S. History, I will be voting no. Although less visible to the public than the Common Core fiasco, the rewriting of our Social Studies standards is cause for concern. The draft standards forwarded to the board from the Education Roundtable are inferior to our current excellent standards. They are “a needless step backwards,” according to one national expert. They are an example of changing standards for change’s sake. And they are not in the best interests of Hoosier children.

Jeremy A. Stern, (Ph.D. in history, Princeton University 2010), has analyzed the draft standards at my request and warns that they are inconsistent in approach, less substantive, and lack the rich examples that earned our current standards an “A-” rating from the Fordham Institute in 2011. Stern was primary author of the state reviews published as part of that report. “Indiana’s state history standards have long been regarded as leaders in substantive rigor and meaningful guidance for teachers,” Stern says. “ ‘Don’t mess with success’ is a sound adage… yet Indiana has now decided to alter its hitherto successful approach. The results are a needless step backwards.”

Stern’s evaluation raises serious questions about the quality of Indiana’s current standards writing process. At the Sept. 4 board meeting, I raised these concerns and strongly urged contracting with an independent expert to evaluate the draft for quality and consistency. Neither Superintendent Ritz nor the Education Roundtable was willing to do so. Our reluctance to seek or accept outside help is a blind spot in our efforts to achieve the highest academic standards in the country.

As we approach the state’s bicentennial, our goal should be A+ history standards, yet the proposal before us moves us back into the “B-” range. Stern notes, “Indiana has long been a leader in providing rigorous, substantive content standards for history in its schools. It should not retreat from that worthy educational objective in the name of local control or teacher flexibility: identifying core historical content places no meaningful constraint on teachers or districts, since unlimited choice of focus or subject-matter is not compatible with the study of history itself.”

Please take the time to contact the other State Board of Education Members, whose contact information can be found here, and ask them to vote against the proposed Indiana Social Studies Standards.  This is the last thing Hoosier students need!  Also, take the time to thank Andrea Neal for going far above and beyond the call of duty.

To read Stern’s complete report, check back tomorrow.  It will be added to this post.  (This author admits she is unsure of how to link to a pdf!)

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