Our long-term readers will recall the fiasco that occurred in 2014 when the Kentucky Department of Education (KDE) floated a gruesomely bad revision to the state’s social studies standards. Here at BIPPS we jumped on the mess, and we were far from alone. Kentucky’s History Teacher of the Year from 2011, Donnie Wilkerson, absolutely skewered the department’s miserable offering during the October 7, 2014 meeting of the Kentucky Board of Education, as you can hear in this video.
In any event, after generating tons of pushback from multiple sources, that 2014 draft quickly disappeared into the KDE woodwork. It didn’t reappear until recently, and now it looks like another October revolt might be necessary at the Kentucky Board of Education’s upcoming meeting, because the new Draft Kentucky Social Studies Standards, while not quite as completely vacuous as the 2014 version, still lack a ton of material.
Furthermore, a provision in Senate Bill 1 from the 2017 Regular Legislative Session makes the omission of material even more crucial than before. This new legal stipulation appears on Page 20 in Section 3 (c) of the bill and says:
“The statewide assessments shall not include any academic standards not approved by the board under subsection (2) of this section.”
So, if something isn’t in the new standards as approved by the Kentucky Board of Education, it cannot appear on the state’s assessments.
This legal requirement raises several issues:
- After more than a quarter of a century of high stakes testing in Kentucky, it’s the rare Kentuckian who doesn’t understand that if it isn’t on the assessment, it either won’t get taught, or it might get taught in a really wild and improper way because the state won’t be checking anything regarding instruction in such areas.
- If something isn’t clearly in the standards, putting it on the state assessments raises the possibility of a successful legal challenge leading to the setting aside of those important and expensive assessments.
Bottom line: Thanks to Senate Bill 1, the revised social studies standards need to be clear and complete, or else trouble is very likely going to follow.
But, the draft social studies standards are anything but complete.
For example, consider just a few of the things I can’t find with a word search of the current PDF form of the draft standards.
For reasons that absolutely escape me, no important persons are listed in the document – none. Just a few of the many important names never mentioned at all include:
- John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, King George III, and George Washington from the revolutionary period;
- Important presidents such as (but not limited to) Abraham Lincoln, Theodore Roosevelt, Franklin D. Roosevelt, Harry Truman and President Dwight Eisenhower;
- Key inventors like the Wright Brothers and Thomas Edison; and
- Other important individuals such as Martin Luther King, Jr.
I heard a lame excuse for this that these people will be covered because very general topics like the revolutionary war (Not mentioned until Grade 5, by the way) are listed and people have to be discussed as a result. But, that doesn’t work for me. A hugely broad topic like the revolution doesn’t guarantee much of anything about the important individuals will necessarily be discussed, and it sure doesn’t tell us enough to know what might be fair game on a state assessment, either.
For example, I don’t see how a very broad topic like the revolution will insure our students learn much specifically about George Washington. Will our kids learn how Washington walked away from a chance to become dictator at the end of the war? Will they know he owned slaves? Or, that he stipulated those slaves would be freed after his wife died?
And, with terms like “Invention” and “Inventor” totally absent in the document, I see nothing to trigger a discussion of people like the Wright Brothers or Edison, either. Will Kentucky’s children be left ignorant of who developed the electric light bulb, practical motion pictures, or the airplane? These inventors are explicitly mentioned in standards from Massachusetts, by the way, and Indiana’s standards spend time on inventions, as well.
Moving forward in time things get no better. What will our kids learn about the major responsibility thrust upon Harry Truman after he suddenly became the president late in World War II? Will Kentucky’s students’ knowledge be limited to whatever they get from one of those mock Truman war crimes trials our schools conduct today?
And, how could we even contemplate conducting such mock trials when the Kentucky draft standards totally omit the “Atom Bomb,” too!
Will Kentucky’s kids learn about what the Japanese military did in Nanking (not mentioned in the standards draft)? Will Kentucky’s students ever learn about the gruesome loss of life our armed forces encountered with the capture of every island taken back from the Japanese and how that weighed on Truman’s thinking? In fact, will Kentucky’s children even learn there was an island campaign in the Pacific in World War II? The standards only include very vague references World War II, but beyond that offer no details.
Moving still a bit more forward, can you believe the term “Middle East” does not show up in a word search of the PDF version of the draft? How are Kentucky’s children supposed to learn about important current events that can have major impacts on their lives when the entire region is left off the agenda?
And, exactly what will our kids learn about geography when the Middle East isn’t included in the standards.
By the way, I looked at the highly regarded Massachusetts social studies standards document and the terms “Middle East” or “Middle Eastern” appear nearly two dozen times.
Are you beginning to get the picture?
Also, to review, if something isn’t in the standards, it cannot be on state assessments, either. If the draft standard gets adopted, the first time a question about the Middle East shows up on a Kentucky assessment, that assessment would likely violate the law.
Speaking about geography in general, the coverage is terrible. Here’s just one example: a word search of the PDF draft document shows the terms “Latitude” and “Longitude” do not appear. Kentucky’s kids could be left ignorant of this important mapping subject, but Kentuckians won’t learn that from their state’s social studies assessment scores. That’s because the Kentucky Department of Education can’t ask questions about these basic and important mapping concepts under Senate Bill 1’s restrictions if the draft standards are adopted.
Oh, by the way, Indiana’s standards introduce latitude and longitude in Grade 3, which is one year earlier than kids in Massachusetts learn about these concepts. Got that?
So, here is what you need to do (unless you want Kentucky’s high school kids to know less about maps than third graders in Indiana). Get on the phone to your state board of education members (find their contact information here) and let them know the vacuous proposal they apparently are going to review in early October better get sent back again for more work – a lot more work. Because if anything close to these draft standards gets approved, the October surprise this time is going to be on our kids, and it will hurt.