Idaho’s Civics Education and US History Teaching Standards “Inadequate”



Idaho students filled the gallery when House Bill 377 was debated and passed by the Idaho Senate on April 26 at the Idaho Statehouse. Idaho needs to do a better job creating standards for teaching civics and history, according to a new report.

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The history of Idaho K-12 in the United States and civic standards are “inadequate” and should undergo a complete overhaul, according to a new report.

The report, titled “The State of State Standards for Civics Education and United States History in 2021,” from the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, awarded each state in the country and Washington, DC, a grade for assessing the quality of their Kindergarten to Grade 12 civic education. and US history standards.

Idaho earned a D for its civic education standards and an F for its American history standards. Both subjects scored low for clarity and organization, as well as for content and thoroughness.

David Griffith, senior research and policy associate at the institute, said a general lack of specificity and rigor in state standards, as well as the way they were presented, resulted in Idaho such low ratings.

The state social studies standards document is over 50 pages long and reviews a number of goals and objectives that K-12 students should learn.

“It’s a long document. It’s almost impossible to navigate, ”Griffith told the Idaho Statesman over the phone. “Overall it’s kind of a mess and it’s hard to imagine anyone taking any useful advice from the document.”

Overall, the report found that Idaho’s standards need to have more content and more clearly spell out what students are expected to learn.

“Decent civic content in the early years is overshadowed by awful presentation and organization, a relatively weak high school class, and two passes in US history that somehow manage to impart almost no knowledge.” historic, ”according to the report.

The story standards include “extremely broad injunctions and thin, disjointed, and thematically scattered content.”

The report recommended that American history and the state’s civic standards be rethought.

“Sometimes it’s easier to start from scratch,” Griffith said. “I think there are a lot of things that can be done to make this more useful.”

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, which published the report, is an appreciation organization for ideologically conservative education policies that provides analysis and research and advances “high quality charter schools and other proven models of choice. educational ”.

“General guidelines”

The state Department of Education has defended Idaho’s standards, saying the state gives “great latitude to local councils to determine additional standards as well as models for the organization of education.”

“Idaho’s content standards provide general guidelines and set the minimum threshold for public school districts and state charter schools,” said Kristin Rodine, public information manager for the department, in an email in response to the report. “The municipalities are free to supplement them and make them more stringent. “

The department also highlighted the strengths of state standards that were identified by the report.

“The report praised Idaho’s elementary content standards as being reasonably in-depth and age-appropriate. And the report noted that Idaho’s content standards related to American Indians show thoughtfulness and in-depth knowledge, ”Rodine said.

The report noted that Idaho’s civic education guidelines were “clear and precise,” but in middle and high school, civic education standards are “vague and completely lacking,” with poor organization, according to the report. report.

The State Department of Education also cited another 2018 civic education study titled “A Look at Civics Education in the United States.” This report highlighted Idaho for teaching civics education in schools at an early age. He also said Idaho “incorporates civic education standards” into social studies classes for all grade levels, which better prepares students for the civic education class offered in high school.

How Idaho Stacks Up To Other States

The report examined the standards of the 50 states as of May 1 and ranked them according to “content, thoroughness, clarity and organization.” It focused on core content, which includes topics such as the three branches of government and civil war, but also looked at the skills and dispositions “that we expect children to acquire if they want. become successful citizens and thoughtful citizens ”. Griffith said.

The report ranked four states and Washington, DC, as “exemplary” in both areas, and 10 other states as “good” in both areas. Three states received a “good” grade in one subject and a “poor” grade in another.

Idaho wasn’t the only one with bad grades. The report found that 20 states had “inadequate” US civic and historical standards.

For states classified as exemplary, the report identified a number of areas they had in common, including that the standards set out what students should know about the country’s “democratic institutions, traditions and history” and that ‘they created documents.

States classified as exemplary also focused on “skills essential for informed citizenship, such as critical thinking, problem analysis and evaluation, interpretation and argumentation from evidence”, indicates the report.

Among states classified as inadequate, the standards were often vague and did not include all of the topics important to creating informed citizenship, according to the report.

“There has been a narrative for some time now that Americans don’t know a lot about civics, they don’t know a lot about their own history,” Griffith said. “And then on top of that, there is a lot of concern about the state of our politics and what passes for public discourse. There is therefore a growing interest in strengthening civic education and history from Kindergarten to Grade 12.

States encouraged to ‘state’ what students should know

The purpose of the report, Griffith said, was to strengthen state standards and improve civic education and history across the country.

“These are not pleasant subjects. Knowing how the US government works is not fun to have if you want to be a thoughtful citizen. Knowing our own history is not nice to have, ”he said. “And so it is not inappropriate for states to require these subjects in high school. It is not inappropriate for them to spell out a really rigorous sequence.

He added: “We have failed in this area for far too long. “

If students don’t get the education they need, the country will not have an informed electorate and citizens, Griffith said.

“We encourage states to state as clearly as possible what children should know,” he said.

The report comes as government officials in Idaho and several states across the country discuss critical race theory in the context of education.

Earlier this year, state lawmakers passed Bill 377, which prohibits funding for schools that require students to “affirm, adopt, or adhere” to the idea that any gender, race, ethnicity, religion, color or national origin is “inherently superior or inferior” or that people of a certain race or identity are “inherently responsible for actions committed in the past”. The bill was enacted by Governor Brad Little.

Griffith said the debate over critical race theory seems purely political.

“I am not convinced that anyone knows what critical race theory is,” he said. “Fundamentally, having such a polarized buzzword debate is damaging the cause of raising children in a thoughtful and nuanced way over US history.”

Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin also created a task force earlier this year to examine allegations of “indoctrination” in Idaho schools.

When McGeachin first announced the task force, she said the problem was “one of the most significant threats our society faces today.” The task force, according to an April press release, was intended to “protect our young people from the scourge of critical theory of race, socialism, communism and Marxism.”

The task force held its second meeting last week, where members heard from a number of parents and presenters, all of whom appeared to support the task force and did not take issue with the idea of ​​indoctrination in the Idaho schools.

The task force has yet to receive public comment, but McGeachin said he will hear from the public once he has proposals.

Students from Idaho recently told the Statesman they were concerned about how the task force and its demands might affect their education. Several students said they didn’t think they’d ever learned critical race theory in schools, adding that they wanted to learn more history, not less.

Becca Savransky covers education for the Idaho statesman in partnership with Report for America. The position is funded in part by community support. Click here to donate.

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Becca Savransky covers education for the Idaho statesman. She is a member of the Report for America Corps whose position is partially funded by donations from the community. Click here to donate to help fund her position. Becca is a graduate of Northwestern University and previously worked for and The Hill.
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