Report says Iowa civic education and American history standards are inadequate


DES MOINES, Iowa – Fordham Institute freed their grades of each state’s academic history and civic education standards. Iowa’s standards were deemed insufficient.

According to their website, the Thomas B. Fordham Institute is a nonprofit organization based in Washington, DC and Ohio that, according to their website, promotes “educational excellence for every child in America through research, analysis and commentary by quality”.

Five jurisdictions have been considered exemplary in US history and civics: Alabama, California, Massachusetts, Tennessee, and the District of Columbia. Iowa joined 19 other states with standards deemed inadequate.

The State of State Standards for Civics and History of the United States in 2021 assesses the Kindergarten to Grade 12 civics and history standards adopted by the fifty states and the District of Columbia for the quality, completeness and thoroughness of their content and the clarity of its presentation. The reviews were conducted by a bipartisan team of seasoned educators and subject matter experts with in-depth knowledge of civics education and US history, ”the Fordham Institute said in its announcement of the report. .

Iowa received a “D” for its civic education standards and an “F” for its US history standards.. The report preview read: “Iowa’s current standards of civic education and US history are inadequate. The vagueness and overbreadth results in a dearth of specific content in both disciplines, and there is no discernible coverage of US history at the K-8 level. A complete revision of the standards is recommended.

The Iowa State Board of Education adopted the Iowa Social Studies Standards in 2017, aligning them with C3 Framework for Social Studies Standards.

“The Iowa Academic Standards provide a set of common expectations for school districts across the state while allowing local decisions to be made about the program and how it is delivered. Local districts decide what specific historical content best meets the needs of the communities they serve, while using the approach to teaching critical thinking skills that are reflected in the Iowa Social Studies Standards ” , Heather Doe, spokesperson for the Iowa Department of Education, Told The Iowa Torch in an email.

“Iowa uses a collaborative process with stakeholders to establish and update the Iowa Academic Standards, including for Social Studies, which have undergone an extensive review process, d Development and adoption of standards starting in 2015. This work culminated in the approval of the revised Iowa Board of Education. Iowa Academic Standards for Social Studies, which was conducted by educators and social studies professionals from Iowa. As a result, we have social studies standards that reflect the values ​​and needs of Iowa, which prioritizes teaching our students to be critical thinkers on the information they encounter, as opposed to memorizing a list of facts, ”she added.

The Fordham Institute found Iowa’s civic standards too vague.

“Iowa’s civic standards are written so broadly that it is often impossible to say what students are expected to learn, and what elementary civic education content exists is not ambitious,” they wrote. .

“Education standards should educate. Yet Iowa’s civic standards only seem to silently point in the direction of content, hoping that districts and teachers get back on their way, ”complained the report’s authors.

They provided examples of overly broad secondary school standards:

“(L) Standard 1 calls on students to” assess the powers and responsibilities of local, state, tribal, national and international civic and political institutions, how they interact and the role of government in policing “( SS.Gov. 9-12.12.13). This wording does not alert anyone to the fact that the powers of the federal government are limited, the powers of the states are general, the local powers are delegated, the tribal powers are authorized, and the powers are international political bodies are seldom supported by force. Some government “responsibilities” are constitutional duties, while others result from the exercise of discretionary “powers.” How governments “interact” depends on a network of regulatory, expenditure, legal and policy relationships that could constitute a course in itself. Yet the existing standard does not provide any guidance on how to navigate or prioritize these issues. Indeed, a teacher who teaches anything about government could claim to satisfy it.

So what:

“(The) third standard asks students to“ analyze the origins of government with attention to the goals of government ”(SS.Gov.9-12.15). The wording does not specify whether the class should study the political theory of Thomas Hobbes and John Locke, the origin of the cities of Mesopotamia and Greek city-states, or the founding debates and documents of the United States.

The report’s authors credited Iowa with “paying attention to the citizenship skills and arrangements in Kindergarten to Grade 5,” and intentionally developing critical thinking skills in Grades 6 through 12.

They also noted that while state law requires high school students to learn about the Bill of Rights and receive voter education, neither topic is included in the standards.

The harshest criticisms of the Fordham Institute are directed against the standards of American history of Iowa.

“Iowa’s social studies standards basically ignore US history before 8th grade, and the college / high school plan is almost without substance. There is little effort to promote shared exposure to essential historical content across the state, ”write the report’s authors.

“There is no discernible content in US history in the K-5 grades,” Fordham notes, and it doesn’t improve in grades six and seven. However, after hitting eighth grade, Fordham says the standards finally include content about U.S. history:

“Of the five content standards for the history strand, four are general, asking students to study” connections between early American historical events and developments in broader historical contexts “(SS.8.21), changes in” the prevailing social, cultural, and political perspectives’ in early American history (SS.8.22), ‘the causes and effects of events and developments in early American history’ (SS.8.23), and the structure of government from Iowa. Only one item, under the “historical sources and evidence” anchor standard, actually mentions historical details – a bare and scattered list of documents that students could study, “such as the Declaration of Independence, the Bill of Rights. , Constitution, Farewell Speech, Louisiana Purchase Treaty, Monroe Doctrine, Indian Abduction Act, Missouri Compromise, Dred Scott v. Sanford and the Treaty of Guadalupe-Hidalgo ‘”(SS.8.24).

“This is the entirety of the substance of US history up to the 8th grade.”

It doesn’t improve in high school.


Fordham describes the High School US History standards as “scattered thematic points and a handful of decontextualized details offered as seemingly random examples without meaningful description or even a clearly defined course scope.”

Fordham provided five recommendations for Iowa:

  1. Offer a rigorous initiation into civic education in elementary and middle school
  2. Provide more specific and detailed guidance in high school, especially in standards that relate to civic and political institutions.
  3. Provide a substantial description of U.S. history to encourage shared exposure to essential content.
  4. Organize content as the content itself dictates, not by fixed thematic categories.
  5. Provide an introductory survey of US history before eighth grade.

Chairs of the Iowa Legislature’s Education Committee had different opinions on the report.

State Representative Dustin Hite, R-New Sharon, chairman of the Iowa House Education Committee, defended the Iowa standards but expressed willingness to study the criticism further.

“I believe the state of Iowa’s standards are intentionally vague to allow teachers and school districts to be flexible in order to provide the best education for their students. We trust our teachers to do a great job, ”he said. The Iowa Torch. “To resolve any issues that might arise, we focused on ensuring that parents have a voice in their child’s education rather than dictating a strict checklist to state teachers. This is something we can look at to determine if changes are needed. “

State Senator Amy Sinclair, R-Allerton, chair of the Iowa Senate Education Committee, said the report sounds the alarm bells.

“While I greatly appreciate the efforts of many social science educators in Iowa to develop state standards, this ‘F’ grade highlights our need to focus on foundational fundamentals. of our nation and the basic civic knowledge needed by every citizen. Reading, math and science are definitely priorities, but ignoring a basic understanding of our country’s history is a big mistake for educating the next generation, ”she said. The Iowa Torch.

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