Common Core Puts Much Needed Emphasis on Civics and History

The emphasis on civics and social studies has been on the decline in the US for many years.

According to the 2010 civics test results, less than a quarter of eighth and twelfth graders are above proficiency. The results were even worse on the U.S. history test, where only 18 percent of eighth graders and 13 percent of twelfth graders scored above proficient. On the NAEP, which is an international test, only 1 percent of eighth graders and 4 percent of twelfth graders were deemed “advanced” in civics.

One reason for American students’ poor performance is the decline in time devoted to civics and history education since the 1980s. According to the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, schools devote less time to social studies because of a greater emphasis on increasing student achievement in math and reading:

“Where did this time go? In short, because of a nationwide push to improve student reading and math achievement, schools have shifted time from science, history, and the arts to English language arts and math.

Then a funny thing happened: student reading achievement stagnated. In 1971, the average reading score on the twelfth-grade NAEP was 285. In 2008, it was 286…”

The Fordham Institute continues, explaining the decline:

“While the goal of improving reading achievement is noble, our efforts to do so have been misguided and have inadvertently undermined our efforts to improve civic education for two reasons.

First, student reading comprehension will not improve unless we teach content.

Research tells us that, once students have learned how to read, the best way to improve reading comprehension is to broaden students’ content knowledge and to expand their vocabulary. That means that, rather than shifting time away from history and civics, if we really want to improve reading achievement, we should redouble our efforts to teach important content. And that includes teaching U.S. history and civics…”

Opponents of the Common Core have accused the new standards of narrowing curriculum –specifically in civics and social studies. According the Fordham Institute, however, the Common Core will encourage schools to devote more time to civics and history:

“To that end, the Common Core and the College Board are poised to help jump-start a renewed commitment to civic in a number of important ways.

1. The Common Core literacy standards emphasize the importance of content and vocabulary to reading comprehension. That is why they explicitly call for teachers to use a “content-rich curriculum” to drive teaching and learning.

2. There are only five readings explicitly required by the Common Core: One is a Shakespearean play, and the other four are The Declaration of Independence, the Preamble to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, and Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address.

3. The Common Core emphasize the importance of reading important American historical documents, including the Federalist Papers and other seminal U.S. texts.

This emphasis on the Founding Documents and the Great Conversation is explicit and can not only help drive reading gains, but it can also help ensure that our students graduate with a far better and deeper understanding of American history, civics, and government…”

To read full article: [Common Core Watch, 11/19/2013]


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