Saturday, August 27, 2011

Something I missed: Texas School Board Attack on Social Sciences

Earlier this year 15 elected members of the Texas School Board balderized the draft standards for the teaching of social studies in Texas schools. More.....

School text books are written to help teachers teach to the standards, and since the Texas-wide school system is the largest in the country, textbook publishers work hard to assure that their books fit the Texas standards. Other school districts across the country, with a variety of standards, to some degree are stuck with books written to satisfice the Texas School Board and its standards.

A letter signed by 800 historians, the vast majority teaching at universities and many in Texas universities wrote an open letter protesting the action pushed by the right wing majority of the School Board. I quote:
Those of us who teach and conduct research in colleges and universities have grown concerned, however, that social studies curriculum standards in Texas do not meet student needs. We also believe that the Texas State Board of Education has been derelict in its duty to revise the public school curriculum. In short, recent proposals by Board members have undermined the study of the social sciences in our public schools by misrepresenting and even distorting the historical record and the functioning of American society.

Some of the problematic revisions that they have proposed include:
  • Weakening the study of constitutional protections for religious liberty that keep government out of matters of faith;
  • Minimizing the struggle of women and ethnic minorities for equal and civil rights;
  • Striking Thomas Jefferson from a world history standard about the influence of Enlightenment thinkers on political changes since the 1700s; and
  • Excluding an important historical figure from Latin America because some board members did not recognize him
I have in the past posted my concerns about the balderization of curricula in the evolution and climate change curricula, and the effort to change social science curricula to suit a conservative ideology is equally or more worrisome. I want the best available knowledge of economics, sociology, anthropology, political science and history used to inform the school social science curricula, not the most correct conservative ideology!

Fortunately, the mathematics curriculum is not subject to this revisionism, and there is a national mathematics curriculum available from the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.

Perhaps we should seek to have as many school districts as possible subscribe to a national curricula in science and to a national curriculum in social studies and history so that they will outweigh the Texas school system in the decision making of the text book publishers.

The International Science and Mathematics Study looks at student performance in 41 countries, based on a very large sample of students. I quote from an article on U.S. student performance in these tests:
In short, the tests showed U.S. fourth-graders performing poorly, middle school students worse. and high school students are unable to compete. By the same criteria used to say we were "average" in elementary school, "we appear to be "near the bottom" at the high school level. People have a tendency to think this picture is  bleak but it doesn't apply to their own school. Chances are, even if your school compares well in SAT scores, it will still be a lightweight on an international scale.
  1. By the time our students are ready to leave high school - ready to enter higher education and the labor force - they are doing so badly with science they are significantly weaker than their peers in other countries.
  2. Our idea of "advanced" is clearly below international standards.
  3. There appears to be a consistent weakness in our teaching performance in physical sciences that becomes magnified over the years.
I suspect that a major reason for this poor performance is that too many school districts accept second rate education for their students, having underpaid teachers in inadequate facilities teaching to poor curricula and weak standards. Perhaps we need real national standards and serious national testing, and a system that holds all U.S. school systems and U.S. school boards accountable for the education they provide their students!

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