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Iowa had no published U.S. history standards before 2009, and for all practical purposes, it still has none. Its â€œcontent areasâ€ contain no content, and its hopelessly broad and theoretical expectations lay out no specifics whatsoeverâ€”not even defining the basic historical material to be taught in different grades. Iowaâ€™s history standards are, in short, almost devoid of history.
Goals & Organization
Iowaâ€™s social studies standards are divided among â€œfive core social studies content areas,â€ or strands: behavioral sciences, economics, geography, history, and political science/civic literacy.
Each core content area is further divided into broad grade ranges: Primary (Kâ€“2); Intermediate (3â€“5); Middle (6â€“8); and High School (9â€“12). Within each, conceptual or thematic content headings are presented, called â€œEssential Knowledge and/or Skillâ€ (these headings are frequently identical for a given strand across the different grade blocks). Under each such heading, various conceptual examples are supplied. Suggested classroom exercises, described as â€œillustrations,â€ appear under selected â€œessential knowledgeâ€ headings.
For example, one high school heading directs students to: â€œUnderstand the role of culture and cultural diffusion on the development and maintenance of societies.â€ So-called â€œexamplesâ€ under this heading include: â€œUnderstand the ways groups, societies, and cultures have addressed human needs and concerns in the pastâ€ and â€œUnderstand societal patterns for preserving and transmitting culture while adapting to environmental or social change.â€ Finally, an illustration provided for this heading suggests various ways in which students might examine 1920s consumerism.
Since no specific content is assigned to any particular grade block, no course scope can be discerned at any grade level.
â€œThe history component of social studies,â€ Iowaâ€™s core curriculum document declares, aims to â€œbuild upon a foundation of historical knowledge,â€ in order to â€œdescribe the relationship between historical facts, concepts, and generalizations. History draws upon cause and effect relationships within multiple social narratives to help explain complex human interactions. Understanding the past provides context for the present and implications for the future.â€
If, however, Diogenes searched with his lamp through the Iowa standards for an honest attempt to create this substantive â€œfoundationâ€ he would discover a startling fact: There is no history whatsoever in the Iowa â€œcore curriculum.â€
Instead, the state offers little more than a series of vapid social studies concepts and skills. Students are expected to understand these concepts without having to bother with historical information.
At the high school level, for example, students are expected to analyze macro-historical questions such as change over time, cultural diffusion, promotion of change or stasis, the effects of economic needs or wants, and the effects of geography and innovation. Yet the examples provided under these headings are entirely divorced from any knowledge or subject-specific historical content.
Teachers and students are directed to respond to such vague directives as the following: â€œAnalyze the actions of individuals and groups in the development of historical events,â€ â€œIdentify significant individuals who have affected historical development in positive or negative ways,â€ â€œAnalyze the ways various societies have met their economic needs and wants over time,â€ and â€œIdentify and analyze the role geography has played during historical events.â€ Students are to â€œunderstand cause and effect relationships and other historical thinking skills in order to interpret events and issues,â€ but they are evidently to do so with whatever substance a particular teacher may happen to introduce.
The closest we come to specifics in the standards is a reference to a few of the founding documents in the civics section. Otherwise, the only references to actual history are random and isolated examples mentioned in suggested classroom exercises. For example, students might examine historic railroad maps, make a worksheet on â€œmajor events of the Civil War,â€ or list their most important rights and responsibilities.
In short, students are to analyze and understand history without being required to actually learn anything about it.
Clarity & Specificity
Iowaâ€™s purported standards are an affront to the stateâ€™s teachers, parents, and students. The state offers no clear historical guidance and lays out no specific curriculum for any grade, never even beginning to define a workable scope or sequence. With no specifics to examine, clarity is not a meaningful category: The state earns a zero out of three for Clarity and Specificity. (See Common Grading Metric.)
Content & Rigor
The so-called â€œcore curriculumâ€ contains neither core nor curriculum. No subject matter is clearly assigned to any grade, resulting in no measurable grade-specific levels of substance and/or rigor. The standards do not even make a meaningful distinction among American, world, and other histories. As a result, there is no Iowa U.S. history curriculum to assessâ€”or indeed any historical curriculum at allâ€”and the stateâ€™s standards cannot be awarded more than a zero out of seven for Content and Rigor. (See Common Grading Metric.)
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