Op-Ed: Common Core’s social studies element is flawed

After the midterm elections in which the Democrats nationwide got a thumping, I was heartened with Gov. Dannel Malloy’s tone and message.

He promised to be the governor of all the people of Connecticut those who supported him and those who did not. He added that he looked forward to working together to solve Connecticut’s problems. Well, Mr. Governor, can we continue to take politics out of education reform, work together and do what is best for students?

Op-ed submit bugI know that this is an issue important to you and your legacy. But there is a thorn among the roses of standards in education reform, the C3 social studies framework.

Nationwide, according to a new Pew Research Poll, teachers and parents in growing numbers are supporting the Common Core standards in reading and math. The Common Core is proving its worth in closing the gap in urban areas and in addressing the problem of 60 percent of Connecticut students who graduated high school without basic competency in math and reading. This was due to faulty state standards and their tests for the past 30 years.

I supported you in the clarion call to do what was needed, best and right for Connecticut students.  You insisted upon the Common Core. It wasn’t easy but necessary.

In contrast, the C3 social studies framework from which the standards are due out next month is flawed and dangerous to those who value the liberty and freedom that our U.S. history insists upon. The Fordham Foundation, a notable non-profit in standards education has dubbed it “poisonous gas” for its lack of content.

It is deeply troublesome that two non-partisan state organizations, the National Governor’s Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers, both signed off in support of the Common Core in reading and math. They did not do so on the C3 social studies framework.

What conclusion can be drawn except that the C3 is flawed and deeply partisan. As such, the curriculum that will develop from it has no place in our classrooms.

Diane Ravich, Ph.D. history, Columbia, and noted education historian, recently visited Quinnipiac University. She spoke about education reform. During her address she advised parents to demand that real history be taught in their children’s public schools.She added that parents who send their children to private school would accept nothing less.

I like her advocacy. A few months back in an AFT mailing to teachers there was an in- depth article about the importance of using content in teaching  to give clarity, understanding, and context to a subject area like history.  This, too, was right in the mark for what needs to be done in reforming history education in our schools.

Make no mistake about it after 25 years of not teaching history in our schools, reform is needed — reform that focuses on teaching real history.

What are we to make of the C3 social studies framework and standards making their way to every classroom in the state?  For one thing Connecticut is the first state to write its own standards and implement them.  What non-partisan group is going to do a thorough vetting of these standards?

The most telling part about the C3 framework itself, however, is the fact that there is no content listed in history, geography or civics that might be taught. I am trying to visualize 2000 years of western thought expressed in art and writings, ideas, history and civilization, including our own, being reduced by a framework –a framework that merely uses history as a tool for the C3’s own social studies ends of globalization, relevancy, and inquiry.  A framework that relies on group work and technology as the means for the transformational change the C3 demands.

This can’t be good. It isn’t real history. Education reform in Connecticut should demand that real history be taught. It’s a discipline like math, reading and science that can stand on its own.

Here’s the bottom line. Parents should not have to send their children to private school in order to assure they get a basic education in reading, math, history, and science. Another way to put it is this: What is good for the Clintons and Obamas at the Sidwell Friends School in D.C. is good enough for the public schools in the Constitution state.

Gov. Malloy, put partisan politics aside and instead insist on history reform that gives our students the background in history they deserve and that our country depends upon.

 Susan Harris is an Alternate Route to Certification graduate, a former U.S. history teacher and currently an education reformer. She has twice addressed the Education Sub-committee of the Connecticut legislature.

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