Thursday, September 25, 2003

Ky. gets an 'F' in history teaching


Institute slams its lesson plans

By Charles Wolfe
The Associated Press

FRANKFORT - Kentucky and 22 other states got an "F" in history - or rather, the standards used for teaching American history - in a "report card" issued Wednesday by an education research institute.

In sometimes biting prose, the report takes Kentucky to task for having "extremely general" guidelines encouraging "simplistic interpretation" of events.

"As far as Kentucky's standards are concerned, history is descriptive rather than analytical," the report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute concludes.

"Kentucky's students are expected to focus on facts without any real understanding of what is involved in interpreting those facts," it said.

The report was drawn primarily from the institute's critique of two guideline documents - the Kentucky Core Content for Assessment, which attempts to spell out what's essential for students to know, and the state Program of Studies, which outlines the minimum that students should know before graduating from high school.

Of Kentucky's neighboring states, Indiana got an A, Virginia a B, Tennessee a C and Ohio a D. Missouri, Illinois and West Virginia also got F's.

Indiana was especially praised for its teaching of World War II and the comparison of civic and political values of the United States and Nazi Germany.

Lisa Gross, spokeswoman for the Kentucky Department of Education, said the report seems to assume, incorrectly, that the documents make up a state-mandated curriculum.

For example, the report says fifth-graders studying Thomas Jefferson are told to create time lines of his life, make "Jefferson silhouettes" with his contributions to American life and "participate in trivia contests to reinforce these contributions."

"Surely, 10-year-old students are capable of more than 'trivial pursuit' and shallow hero-worship," the report said.

Gross said the Jefferson example was a suggestion for teachers, not a mandate. The two documents "have many such examples and guidelines. ... Using that as an example of how we teach history is misleading," she said.

The report said teachers "should have wide latitude" in selecting materials, points of view and in making interpretations. "But that latitude does not include a lack of knowledge of essential historical material," it said.

Justin Torres, a spokesman for the Fordham institute, said a state got a higher score "if it had a very specific set of standards ... specific directions to teachers about what kids need to know." The report especially looked for history teaching to have a high biographical dimension, among other things.

The report "basically looked for (state) standards that provided standards for teachers, rather than kind of left it to teachers to cover periods or aspects of history that the teacher thought appropriate," Torres said.




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