In 1987, the state of California’s Department of Education adopted the California History-Social Science Framework. During a follow-up adoption process in 1995, the California History-Social Science Framework was reevaluated for improvement. Read CIE’s 1994 assessment of the California Framework, with its recommendations for changes in the addenda.
In 1994, the National Center for History in the Schools (based at the University of California, Los Angeles) prepared Standards in World History and Standards in U.S. History. This effort was undertaken as part of the National History Standards Project, which was intended to produce standards that would be adopted nation-wide. The final draft of the NHSP documents were completed in the Fall of 1994. However, the National Standards, particularly those pertaining to U.S. history, soon met with political controversy in the mid-90s. As a result, history-social science standards were not promulgated at the federal level, and individual states were left to determine and develop their own academic standards. Despite the decentralized process, the National Standards remained an important model upon which various states’ standards were subsequently based.
In May 1997, CIE was requested to review the History and Social Science Standards of Learning for Virginia Public Schools. In particular, we assessed the draft standards for World History, Grades 8 and 9, and recommended some amendments to the material. The standards that were eventually published by Virginia reflect significant improvements over the draft materials evaluated here.
This assessment identifies several important areas of concern in the Standards of Learning for grades eight and nine on the topic of world history. In addition to presenting the argument that these problems affect the value of the framework as a reflection of excellent scholarship and teaching, alternative wording is suggested that will allow these problems to be substantially corrected with relatively minor changes in wording. Unless these areas of imbalance, inaccuracy and approach in the Standards are addressed and corrected, the various limitations and obstacles imposed upon the study of history in this program will make it very difficult for students to achieve mastery of the later grade nine standards, and those in subsequent grades. Clearly, if students have difficulty understanding the content in grades eight and nine, it will adversely affect their ability to master the standards in grades ten, eleven and twelve. It will also adversely affect their scores on any accountability tests administered by the State of Virginia. Most seriously, poor understanding of the content will not provide them with a sound foundation on which to build later collegiate study. It will affect their ability to make sound decisions as citizens, voters, and in their chosen occupations.
In the second half of the 1990s, many states began earnestly developing standards in various subject areas. In 1998, California policymakers and educators were immersed in drafting new history-social science standards. CIE was requested by state officials to provide feedback on several drafts of the evolving document, beginning with a January draft, followed April and June drafts. CIE’s assessments were intended to help California policymakers develop standards reflecting the state’s ideals and overall educational goals.
This study by the Council on Islamic Education and the First Amendment Center analyzes the standards and program frameworks in seven national curriculum documents, most of which were published in the early 1990s, as well as the academic standards documents adopted or undergoing adoption by most of the 50 states. State standards documents will decisively impact content in teaching, textbooks and testing for the foreseeable future.
While the report shows positive signs for the future of teaching about religion in public schools, it also reveals some important limitations in the standards, raising the question of whether the subject is being pursued with much seriousness or depth. Among the weaknesses in the state standards documents identified in the study:
- Coverage of religion in the early grades is mostly superficial.
- Many American history courses largely ignore religion after the Civil War.
- In world history, the major world faiths each receive a thumbnail sketch, but, with the exception of Christianity, historical developments in religious thought and institutions are often omitted.
The report also warns that the presence of religion in the standards will not necessarily translate into serious academic treatment of religion in the curriculum. The report makes a number of recommendations for reform, including knowledge about religion as test items in assessment, improving treatment of religion in textbooks, and offering in-service and pre-service educational opportunities for teachers in religious studies.
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This assessment was provided to California Curriculum Development and Supplemental Materials Commission members and education policymakers in August 2005, between the preliminary review of materials for legal and social compliance, and the final stages of review that involved state board meetings and public hearings. Availing itself of the public comment component of the adoption process, CIE is provided this assessment as a resource for policymakers in their effort to evaluate the programs submitted for adoption.
In addition to reflections regarding the programs’ conformity to the state-mandated criteria, CIE’s assessment provides insights on how well the submitted programs’ reflect current scholarship on world religions within the world history narrative, and to what extent they reflect constitutional guidelines for teaching about religions, such as those articulated and nationally disseminated by the First Amendment Center. This document addresses how publishers have presented world religions in light of the California History-Social Science Standards, prevailing constitutional guidelines for teaching about world religions, and current world history scholarship. This assessment is intended to help distinguish the substantive and legitimate critiques leveled during the adoption process from those that cloud or detract from the process.