Most States Earn Poor Grades for World-History Standards

By Kathleen Kennedy Manzo — June 13, 2006 1 min read
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Only a few states expect schools to give students a grounding in world history, this at a time when more policymakers and business leaders are calling on high schools to prepare students for competing in a global economy, an analysis of state academic standards concludes.

Eight states—California, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, New York, South Carolina, and Virginia—earned A’s for their academic standards in world history, while 33 states earned D’s or F’s.

“The State of State World History Standards 2006" is posted by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

“A handful of states did really well, and two-thirds of states did really badly,” said Walter Russell Mead, a historian and foreign-policy expert who conducted the study for the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation, a research organization that advocates strong academic course content and school choice. “This does not bode well for students’ future [in the global marketplace] or for their world literacy.”

Mr. Mead, a senior fellow for U.S. foreign policy at the Council on Foreign Relations, analyzed state standards in world history as well as the content of exams in the subject for the Advanced Placement program, the SAT II, and the New York state regents. Those exams received high ratings.

Eurocentric Content

Most standards documents, the study found, are vague in the content that students are expected to learn, and they are organized around themes instead of the chronological approach that the Washington-based foundation and many historians favor. Moreover, most state standards emphasize European history while neglecting content on Latin America, Asia, the Middle East, and Africa.

“At a time of intense national debate about immigration and assimilation, many states do not seem aware that there are countries and cultures south of the Rio Grande,” according to the report.

The report brings some needed attention to the inadequate focus on world history in the curriculum, said Peggy Altoff, the president-elect of the National Council for the Social Studies. But the deficit is part of a larger problem in history and social studies education, she said.

“They’ve brought attention to the fact that world history is not being taught,” said Ms. Altoff, a K-12 social studies supervisor in Colorado Springs, Colo. “But it’s part of a larger package of social studies subjects that is not being taught either.”

A version of this article appeared in the June 14, 2006 edition of Education Week as Most States Earn Poor Grades For World-History Standards


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