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Report Offers Ways To Improve History Standards

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Why would people risk the hardships of leaving home, traveling the high seas, and resettling in a strange new land?

That is one of the questions an independent review panel has recommended that the authors of the U.S. history standards answer about the colonization of North America as a way to strengthen the standards so they can be used by states and local districts.

Filling such a gap is one of numerous recommendations contained in a report the Council for Basic Education released last week that details ways to correct and improve the widely debated U.S. and world history standards.

The report expands upon a list of broad suggestions that two groups impaneled by the Washington-based council, a private, nonprofit group that promotes liberal-arts education, presented last fall. (See Education Week, Oct. 18, 1995.)

The groups, which included historians, teachers, and business and political figures, were underwritten by major foundations in an attempt to determine whether the voluntary national history standards were worth saving.

Though the panelists found the standards lacking, they said the academic benchmarks were deserving of the extra labor it would take to salvage them.

The final report, "History in the Making: An Independent Review of the Voluntary National History Standards," fleshes out the CBE panels' initial suggestions. It does not, however, provide a line-by-line analysis of the standards.

The reviewers had little time to devote to a third set for K-4 students, which was generally spared the criticism that the other two volumes received.

Thematic Proposals

Most of the proposals in the final report are theme-based. For example, the U.S. history panel suggested that the National Center for History in the Schools at the University of California at Los Angeles, which led the standards project, more fully develop how immigration is linked to American identity and social mobility.

Addressing several of the most volatile issues, the panel suggested that the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights be explicitly cited in the overarching standard that deals with the founding of the American political system, and that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson be cited as well.

The world history panel's proposals are also thematic. For instance, the panel recommended that the standards increase opportunities for students to build historical coherence across broad sweeps of time or regions.

As now written, the report says, the standards make it appear as though Africans were the only victims of slavery when, in fact, the slave trade began before 1450 in what is now Ukraine.

Though the panelists found the chronological narrative of the standards appealing, they also stressed that it has such shortcomings as defining periods for the entire globe--a strategy that fits some parts of the world better than others because ideas came to some continents before others.

"Era 2 is marked as the time when civilizations began to rise around great flood plains," the report says. "This organization leaves out South America, where civilizations arose later and not around the flood plain."

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