Equity and diversity are good; CRT is not
JCPS Board member to fellow Kentuckians: "F--- you"

Kentucky's social studies standards get a "C"

Cover-civics-010The Thomas B. Fordham Institute recently issued a report that grades every state based on the quality of the social studies standards teachers are supposed to use to guide instruction in K-12 schools. Sadly, Kentucky’s social studies standards earned a “C,” with significant revisions strongly recommended.

Fordham rated each state’s standards in two areas: civics and history, identifying strengths and weaknesses in both domains. For both areas, Kentucky earned a C.

In terms of civics, reviewers found that many of Kentucky’s civics standards were too vaguely written to provide useful guidance to teachers, especially at the high school level, and that the coverage of critical topics like the Bill of Rights, the electoral process, and federalism were “inexplicably cursory.” In other words, it was astounding to the reviewers how little Kentucky’s standards expected students to learn about these crucial topics.

Kentucky’s history standards suffered in many of the same ways. Fordham found that content coverage in the history standards was “erratic” because the standards place an excessive focus on skills without giving students adequate, factual background knowledge about history. The history standards were also criticized for their overly thematic organization, which undermines students' sense of a clear historical sequence of the past.

Fordham’s reviewers recommended that Kentucky’s standards be significantly revised to offer much more specific guidance to teachers, especially at the high school level. Fordham suggests Kentucky’s standards should provide more detail about the powers, organization, and functions of the three branches of government, the Bill of Rights, elections, and federalism. Historical content should be organized chronologically, and students deserve a full introduction to U.S. history at the elementary level.

These findings from the Fordham report line up exactly with my own concerns about Kentucky’s social studies standards. I’ve written previously about how Kentucky’s standards are unhelpfully vague and light on content, and how this opens the door for all manner of problems, and not just to students not knowing enough about our nation’s history.

This is a topic that is especially personal to me, both because I started my career as a middle school social studies teacher and because I served on the Kentucky Board of Education from 2016-2019 and chaired the board’s Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment Committee that was responsible for reviewing and approving the standards. I provided extensive feedback on these standards and helped shepherd them through the approval process. In fact, the Kentucky Council for the Social Studies recognized me in 2019 with an award for my efforts to get these social studies standards approved.

So why do I now feel like the Fordham Institute may have been too generous in giving these standards a grade of “C?”

At the time I supported these standards mostly because they were infinitely superior to the even vaguer social studies standards that came before them and that went for many years without review or revision. I trusted the teachers who developed these standards using the process developed by the Kentucky Department of Education, and that guidance documents that were still in development would give educators more assistance in how to use them.

And I recognized – and still do – that standards represent a bare minimum expectation of what teachers should present their students. Standards must be supplemented with many curriculum decisions that spell out in far greater detail what students will read, learn, and do, and most of those decisions need to be made at the local level.

But the last year has made me realize that many of the critics of these new standards had it right all along: the standards themselves, while better than before, are still way too vague. There are essential concepts, historical figures, events, and ideas that get no mention at all in Kentucky’s standards.

Meanwhile we have an all-out war on American history underway in K12 education, and it started long before people took notice of the role critical theory was playing in the decisions teachers make about what students get taught and how. We saw the fruits of it on display in the media and in America’s streets over the last year, with statues of abolitionists like Abraham Lincoln and Ulysses Grant being torn down by mobs while authorities did nothing, and ideologically driven pseudo-history like the 1619 Project widely promoting the idea that America’s founding principles are illegitimate and its institutions irredeemably racist.

America is so deeply divided, in part, because American civics and history has been poorly taught and because, in some cases, it is being deliberately mis-taught to indoctrinate students in radical, inaccurate, and negative attitudes toward our country for the express purpose of promoting a Marxist transformation of our economy, politics, and culture.

Improving state social studies standards will not, by itself, fix this problem. In the long run, we need far more transparency about what is being taught in our schools and how, and for parents and the public to be far more engaged with educators in discussions about those topics. But as a bare minimum, Kentuckians should insist core concepts like the Bill of Rights – and essential figures like Abraham Lincoln, should have a place in our classrooms.

It’s time for Kentucky’s lawmakers to heed the kind of feedback the Thomas B. Fordham Institute has provided in their new report and insist that improvements be made.

Update: A posted a video on this topic as an abbreviated presentation of this topic:


Related posts:


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been saved. Comments are moderated and will not appear until approved by the author. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Comments are moderated, and will not appear until the author has approved them.

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)