Panel Agrees To Revise National History Standards

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The embattled developers of the voluntary national standards for history agreed late last week to revise their documents outlining what K-12 students should know and be able to do in that subject.

The agreement followed a meeting here between leaders of the National History Standards Project and some leading critics.

After the meeting, Gary B. Nash, the co-director of the project, said he and other historians and teachers on the panel will examine and revise the three documents that make up the standards. Those revisions would include changing some of the content standards themselves.

What the changes will be and how much the panel will accede to critics, however, was not divulged.

Mr. Nash said the revised standards will be published in a basic version that will exclude the hotly debated teaching activities and in an expanded three-volume set. Both will be available sometime this spring.

Mr. Nash said his group will scrutinize the standards and the teaching activities to insure they are balanced and free of the ideological bias that critics say they have found in the documents for U.S. and world history, which were released last fall. (See Education Week, 11/02/94 and related story)

He said the third part of the national standards, the consolidated K-4 history document, which has been relatively free from criticism, will also be reviewed and revised.

"Not every issue is resolvable, but I think we can go a long way towards accommodating the criticisms," Mr. Nash said.

But he also said the group would not make any changes that were inconsistent with sound historical scholarship.

Friction Continues

While the large majority of participants at the session, which was closed to reporters, said they believed that progress had been made to resolve their differences, the friction had not disappeared.

In a move that seemed to take some participants by surprise, John Fonte, the executive director of the Committee to Review National Standards, an independent panel, disputed the characterization that progress had been made or that the developers of the history standards had committed themselves to making changes.

"We believe the standards are seriously flawed...from start to finish," said Mr. Fonte, who represented Lynne V. Cheney, the former head of the National Endowment for the Humanities. Ms. Cheney has been both the chief benefactor of the history-standards project--through funding she provided while at the N.E.H.--and their chief critic.

"There's nothing today that would change that," said Mr. Fonte, whose group was established by Ms. Cheney to counterbalance a Congressionally mandated standards-certification panel that has yet to be named.

"There is no commitment to change," he charged.

"That's not true," replied Charles N. Quigley, the executive director of the Center for Civic Education, which brokered last week's session.

Most of the others who attended the press briefing following the session also defended the developers' commitment to improving the history standards.

But most of the standards' critics who attended, including Diane Ravitch, a former assistant secretary of education, and Albert Shanker, the president of the American Federation of Teachers, were unavailable for comment.

In the past, however, Ms. Ravitch has generally been critical of the teaching activities rather than the standards themselves.

Gilbert T. Sewall, the director of the American Textbook Council and a member of Ms. Cheney's group who has also expressed reservations about the benchmarks, portrayed the debate as open and honorable.

"The fact that we all sat down is a kind of progress after the friction and ill feelings of the last few months," he said.

Vol. 14, Issue 17

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