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Texas History Education Standards Receive Dismal Reviews In Recent Report

Texas History Standards

First Posted: 11/11/11 05:46 PM ET Updated: 12/09/11 01:39 PM ET

A recent report says Texas K-12 standards in history are inadequate, ineffective and "fail to meet the state's college readiness standards," and the report's authors are pointing the finger at Gov. Rick Perry's State Board of Education.

In the report, author Keith Erekson, an assistant professor of history at The University of Texas at El Paso, says that Texas' K-12 system is "founded upon an inadequate set of standards." Erekson analyzes in the report the entire process of Texas' history standards -- from board approval to the curriculum itself.

The report notes that the Fordham Institute gave the state's history standards a grade of "D," calling it a "politicized distortion of history," that is "both unwieldy and troubling" while "offering misrepresentations at every turn."

These misrepresentations, Erekson writes, include excluding Native Americans from the standards curriculum until recently and citing states' rights as a cause of the Civil War when Texas did not cite it in their historical "Declaration of Causes."

The Texas State Board of Education last May adopted its most recent social studies and history curriculum that revises its teachings of the rationale for the separation of church and state, among hundreds of other topics. The curriculum underwent a contentious monthslong revision process, and will be used in Texas for the next 10 years.

Erekson's report comes after a separate report by the Southern Poverty Law Center in September called education about the civil rights movement in the U.S. "dismal." Just 2 percent of the 12,000 12th graders who took the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress U.S. History Exam were able to correctly identify two basic points about the historic Brown v. Board of Education case to earn a score of "complete."

The NAEP also released a report in June that showed dismal history test scores in what U.S. Secretary of Education called an impending "slow-motion train wreck": just 9 percent of 4th graders could identify a photograph of Abraham Lincoln and state two reasons for his importance.

"People tend to think that history is only memorizing facts," Linda Salvucci, vice chair of the National Council for History Education, told HuffPost. "More importantly, it's a way of thinking and organizing the world."

Texas' failures, as well as the poor national performance, contribute to a low level of college readiness among the state's high school students, to the extent that Erekson's report says college readiness was almost completely ignored in Texas' revised history standards, "Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills" -- presenting history as a series of factual memorization and one-sided analysis.

"These examples are not meant to say that the TEKS do not contain any bright spots," Erekson writes. "The examples are meant to illustrate a widespread pattern of neglect of college readiness skills. No student will succeed in college or the workplace if he confuses writings with speeches, conducts a one-sided analysis, or simply spits back a string of memorized information. No Texas parent would desire this for her child and no profit-minded Texas business leader would hire a graduate who had attained only these abysmal standards."

The report also notes that In 2006, when the College Readiness Standards were created, 40 percent of Texas college students weren't prepared. Last year, 48 percent of those entering community college and 14 percent of incoming college freshmen needed remedial courses in at least one subject, and the gap is only widening.

To remedy the standards and curriculum, Erekson offers a series of recommendations, including analytical thinking through making connections, evaluating historical arguments, engaging in modern debates and drawing global comparisons, pointing to and utilizing primary sources as well as even directly challenging the TEKS by pointing out their controversies and omissions.

National figures released in August echo the Texas readiness report: just 25 percent of ACT test-takers met college preparedness standards for English, math, reading and science, whereas nearly one-third didn't meet any of those standards. And now, parents and students are looking to new and alternative ways of college remediation.

New York's High School Progress Reports released last month revealed that just a quarter of students graduating from New York City high schools this year were prepared for college coursework, and fewer than half of all students enrolled in college four years after entering high school.

Clarification: An earlier version of this piece connected the report to the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board Social Studies Faculty Collaborative. The TECB has released a statement noting that the report was not requested, reviewed or approved by the agency and the findings represent the sole viewpoints of the author. The TECB copyright has been removed from the report.
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Filed by Emmeline Zhao  |