State Curriculum Standards and the News from Texas

Most people who have taught K–12 school—whether in a public or private school or a homeschool—have run across their state curriculum at one point or another.
And not a few concerned parents have had a look, too. Teachers have to hew to this curriculum, which is usually stated in fairly broad terms, leaving a lot of room for interpretation at the district, school, and classroom level.

For example, in the Vermont State History and Social Sciences Standards, students in PreK–4 are expected to “Recognize voluntary and involuntary migration factors (e.g. drought, famine, economic opportunity, conflicts, slavery).” Compare this to the specificity of Texas mandating that the curriculum reference a singer named Julius Lorenzo Cobb who sang “Old Man River” in Showboat.

Yesterday, Rod Paige, former U.S. Education Secretary, and once a superintendent of schools in Houston, addressed this point, critiquing the proposed standards for being too specific, as well as skewing history.

Others agree with Mr. Paige. Often state curriculum issues stay within the state, but the Texas State curriculum, and the Texas Board of Education who vote on it today, have steadily been in the news for making detailed and what some have called “politicized” changes to the Texas social studies curriculum. That the vote was expected to fall along party lines, speaks to this. So does the Wall Street Journal’s characterization of the new curriculum as conveying that America is characterized by its promotion of “low taxes, limited regulation and free enterprise.”

That the issue may escape the Texas borders and affect textbooks for other states concerns people because of the practice known as textbook adoptions. A number of states, including three with large populations—California, Texas, and Florida—use committees to mandate which textbooks can be used in, and therefore purchased by, public schools in the state. There are some variations in the system, but that’s the basic idea. Therefore, for the textbook publishers to be able to make their largest sales, they adapt the material to suit the state curriculum. However, to save money, the textbook publishers then try to reuse as much material from the specialized versions.

Because of this, people in other states have voiced concern that the voice of the Texas Board of Education will be evident in textbooks offered to other states. It has been pointed out, however, that Texas legislation regarding digital learning materials, may change things somewhat, but that’s not clear.

Until it is, it’s worth paying attention to what’s going on in Texas, both if you live in Texas, and if you don’t.

The Texas Social Studies process is documented here.

If you live in Texas and think that the Board of Education is being too specific and/or skewing history, you might want to get involved in the debate. And no matter where you live, you may want to become better acquainted with your state’s curriculum standards.

Both parents and teachers may also be interested in these resources for teaching social studies:

PBS Teachers Pages—A drop-down menu at the top helps you choose grade level and subject area to access activity packs, television programming, lesson plans, and more.

National History Standards from the National Center for History in the Schools

Strategies for Teaching Social Studies from Delaware Social Studies Education Project

Using Music to Teach Social Studies—song titles list by topic area: click through for free lyrics; there’s a fee to download

And homeschooler may enjoy this article about creating a “HomeSchool Social Studies Curriculum.”