Letter: Comment on Idaho Academic Standards for Social Studies

National Association of Scholars and The Civics Alliance

Editor’s Note: The National Association of Scholars (NAS) and the Civics Alliance work to ensure that every state has academic standards that promote first-rate education and protect school children from political indoctrination. We promote reform of content standards in every state, along the lines modeled by the Civics Alliance’s American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards, and we have been asked by Idaho citizens to comment on the Idaho Department of Education’s proposed Idaho Academic Standards for Social Studies. We conclude that Idaho’s Standards are far better than those of far better than those of states such as Connecticut, Minnesota, and Rhode Island, and that the draft Standards provide a solid basis for social studies instruction, although they would still benefit from systematic revision.

We have sent the following letter to the Idaho State Board of Education.


Idaho State Board of Education
650 W State St., 3rd floor
Boise, ID 83720

May 16, 2024

Dear Idaho State Board of Education,

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) and the Civics Alliance work to ensure that every state has academic standards that promote first-rate education and protect school children from political indoctrination. We promote reform of content standards in every state, along the lines modeled by the Civics Alliance’s American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards,1 and we have been asked by Idaho citizens to comment on the draft Idaho Academic Standards for Social Studies2 (Hereafter Standards.) We conclude that Idaho’s Standards are far better than those of states such as Connecticut, Minnesota, and Rhode Island,3 and that the draft Standards provide a solid basis for social studies instruction, although they would still benefit from systematic revision.

Solid Basis for Social Studies Instruction

Idaho’s Standards include fair amounts of factual content throughout, largely unpoliticized, which provide clear expectations for teachers and students. It presents its material as clear, bullet- pointed statements of fact, albeit distributed in many different files rather than collected in one file for easy review. We endorse Idaho’s overall structure for its Standards, and generally endorse its content. Where we disagree in detail about the choices and omissions, we would suggest revision along the lines of American Birthrightabove all, to add more rigor and factual content. Idaho’s draft provides a good start for systematic revision of its Standards—but does not provide it an excuse not to engage in that systematic revision.

Shortcomings and Recommendations

Absent Reading and Writing Expectations. Idaho’s Standards should have firm and clear expectations, which parents may use to hold their schools and their teachers accountable. Social studies instruction should include: Reading Expectations, which build toward students capable by graduation from high school of reading an intellectually and stylistically sophisticated 200-page history book, which demonstrates that they are prepared for an undergraduate history course; and Writing Expectations, which build toward students capable by graduation from high school of writing an intellectually and stylistically sophisticated 10-page history paper, which demonstrates that they are prepared for an undergraduate history course.

Recommendation: Provide firm and clear reading and writing expectations, which parents may use to hold their schools and their teachers accountable.

Politicization: The Standards includes politicized instruction and vocabulary. K.SS.4.4 says “Indigenous People’s Day” instead of “Columbus Day”—and it is telling that the Standards never mentions Christopher Columbus, and habitually uses the fashionably radical term “Indigenous” instead of Indian, American Indian, or Amerind. 6-9.WG.5.3 requires students to define “ethnocentrism,” which is essential vocabulary in radical polemic. Identity politics ideology informs standards such as 6-12.US1.12: “Compare the roles of Indigenous people, women, African Americans, and immigrants in the Revolution Period.” The Standards contain enough politicized language and instruction to give pause—and require revision.

Recommendation: Remove all politicized language and instruction from the Standards.

Absent Core Disciplinary Concepts: Liberty, Documents of Liberty, and Common American Culture: Idaho does not include Liberty, Documents of Liberty,4 or Common American Culture5 as core instructional focuses. These should be included explicitly as instructional focuses, to ensure proper organizing principles for social studies instruction—and to ensure that social studies instruction does not casually cast these aside.

Recommendation: Add core instructional focuses of Liberty, Documents of Liberty, and Common American Culture to the Standards, and revise it accordingly throughout.

World History Substituted for Western Civilization: The Standards cannot provide a coherent presentation of Western Civilization’s ideals and institutions of liberty, which Idaho students need if they are to understand the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, because they substitute a vague World History course for dedicated instruction in the history of Western Civilization.

Recommendation: Idaho should revise the Standards to contain discrete, sustained coverage of Western Civilization throughout K-12 instruction, to provide students the coherent narrative of the ideals and institutions of liberty contained within the histories of the ancient Middle East, Israel, Greece, Rome, Medieval Christendom, the Renaissance, the Scientific Revolution, the Enlightenment, and medieval and early modern England. This instruction should include a dedicated and required class in high school.

Recommendation: Idaho should revise the Standards to contain discrete coverage of World History, either as an elective or as a required course, to introduce students to the histories of Asia, Africa, and Latin America.

Recommendations: Accompanying Measures

Social studies standards reform should work in tandem with broader support for education reform. We urge Idaho to undertake several broader measures:

Licensure Requirements, Professional Development and Textbooks: We suggest that Idaho policymakers work to update the state’s licensure requirements, professional development, and textbook standards to align with the revisions we propose for the Standards.

Dual Enrollment Course Standards Revision: We suggest that Idaho policymakers enact laws that ensure that dual enrollment social studies courses (dual course, dual credit, concurrent enrollment) align with the revisions we propose for the Standards.

Statutory Reform: We suggest that Idaho policymakers enact laws that provide statutory underpinnings for the revisions we propose for the Standards.6

Conclusion

Idaho has done a good work in producing these draft Standards—but it still should engage in systematic reform of the Standards, to address the criticisms we have made. We urge you to engage in this systematic reform. The draft Standards are acceptable, but Idaho’s citizens deserve excellent social studies standards.

 

1American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards, Civics Alliance, https://civicsalliance.org/american-birthright/.

2 Content Standards Review, Idaho Department of Education, https://sde.idaho.gov/academic/standards/standards-review.html.

3 David Randall, Disowned Yankees: How Connecticut’s Social Studies Standards Shortchange Students (National Association of Scholars, 2024), https://www.nas.org/reports/disowned-yankees; Wilfred M. McClay, National Expert: Minnesota’s Academic Standards Among the Nation’s Worst: Review of the 2021 Minnesota K-12 Academic Standards in Social Studies, Draft Three (Center of the American Experiment, 2022), https://files.americanexperiment.org/wp-content/uploads/2022/10/Among-The-Nations-Worst.pdf; David Randall, Taken for a RIDE: How Rhode Island’s Social Studies Standards Shortchange Students (National Association of Scholars, 2023), https://civicsalliance.org/wp-content/uploads/2023/02/Taken-for-a-RIDE.pdf.

4 E.g., KRS 158.196 Instructional materials standards and concepts -- Documents and speeches to be included., https://apps.legislature.ky.gov/law/statutes/statute.aspx?id=53057utm_medium=emailutm_source=govdelivery.

5 For the history of American culture, see American Birthright, pp. 124-25, 130, 132, 136-37, 141 [Grade 11: United States History: Items 15, 39, 49, 63-64, 78].


Photo by Danny Grizzle on Unsplash

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