Banning Standards That Don’t Exist

By Catherine Gewertz — February 08, 2011 1 min read
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Say you’re sitting in a state legislature somewhere. In South Dakota, for instance. And you managed to swallow the new common standards in math and English language arts that most states, including your own, have adopted. But now you hear tell that maybe some national history standards are coming your way from the same folks that organized the set in math and ELA. That gets you pretty hot under the collar; you think that history is one area that shouldn’t be dictated by some guys outside your state. What do you do?

You draft up a law barring the state board of education from adopting those history standards, whenever they might come down the pike. Maybe you rustle up some testimony about it before a committee of your legislative chamber, and even get your committee to back you up and send it on to the full House for debate.

That’s exactly what happened this week in South Dakota, according to local news reports. Funny thing is, the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, which organized the drive for common math and ELA standards, aren’t working on an initiative like that for history/social studies standards. Wade Pogany, from the South Dakota department of education, said as much to the House education committee. But no matter; the committee agreed that it was best to be cautious, and sent the bill on to the full House for debate.

Bloggers jumped in with views and analysis (here and here, for instance, from a few days before the committee approved the measure), noting, among other things, that Pogany had said that it’s “bad policy to write statutes about a problem that doesn’t exist.” (They also noted that he quoted his mother as saying, “Never trouble trouble until trouble troubles you.”)

Another intriguing aspect to the Associated Press story on this: it mentions that the lawmaker behind the bill, Jim Bolin, “has no problem with South Dakota’s decision to adopt common core standards for teaching math and science,” (added emphasis mine) but that he would draw the line at history. Perhaps it’s just a typo there, but there aren’t any common standards in science, so the state board couldn’t possibly have adopted them. True, folks are working on a set, as my colleague Erik Robelen has reported. But they’re not done yet.

Just makin’ sure we’re keeping the record clear here.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.