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Policy Issues

Ensuring Equity for All Students

The purposes of the national standards developed in this document are threefold: (1) to establish high expectations for what all students should know and be able to do; (2) to clarify what constitutes successful achievement; and (3) most significantly, to promote equity in the learning opportunities and resources to be provided all students in the nation’s schools.

Standards in and of themselves cannot ensure remediation of the pervasive inequalities in the educational opportunities currently available to students. The roots of these problems are deep and widely manifested in gross inequities in school financing, in resource allocations, and in practices of discriminatory “lower tracks” and “dumbed down” curricula that continue to deny large sectors of the nation’s children equal educational opportunity.

What the national commitment to high achievement standards for all students can do is to serve as an engine of change: (1) defining for all students the goals essential to success in a rapidly changing global economy and in a society undergoing wrenching social, technological, and economic change; and (2) establishing the moral obligation to provide equity in the educational resources required to help all students attain these goals.

If students are to achieve the understandings and thinking skills specified in the United States and World History Standards, they must have equal access to well-prepared history teachers and to engaging, balanced, accurate, and challenging curricular materials. For these reasons the success of these standards requires the provision of high quality professional development in United States and World History and in pedagogy for teachers who are not prepared to teach the content or thinking skills presented in this document. Equally important, all students must be provided with the best available textbooks and other curricular materials in history.

As Robert Hutchins said many years ago: “The best education for the best should be the best education for all.” Every child is entitled to and must have equal access to excellence in the goals their teachers strive to help them achieve and in the instructional resources and opportunities required to reach those ends. Nothing less is acceptable in a democratic society; no commitment is more essential to meeting the challenges-economic, social, and ethical-confronting this nation in the years ahead.

Providing Adequate Instructional Time for History

In developing these standards, the National Council for History Standards kept in mind the purposes of the National Education Goals adopted by the nation’s fifty governors in 1989. Developing the internationally competitive levels of student achievement called for in this reform movement clearly cannot be accomplished by limiting the study of the nation’s history to one year (or less) over the eight years of middle and high school education. Excellence in history requires the instructional time to pursue an era in some depth and to engage students’ active learning through the higher processes of historical thinking.

For these reasons it is important that the schools devote no less than three years of instruction to United States History and three years of instruction to World History over the eight years of students’ middle and high school education, grades five through twelve. Currently, seventeen states provide three years of United States history, though under a variety of curriculum plans. Fourteen states provide two or more years of world history and six of these states provide three years, again, under a variety of curriculum plans. In formulating national standards for excellence, the Council argued, we should not be setting our sights lower than those of the numerous states that have already committed three years of instruction to this field.

Accommodating Variability in State and Local Curriculum Plans

Schools today vary widely as to when and how they offer their courses in history, and therefore the National Council sought a flexible approach to history standards which would accommodate local variability rather than impose a single national curriculum on the nation’s schools. As illustrated in Figure 2 on page 53, we have tried to indicate appropriate grade levels for study of each elaborated standard. Deciding when these eras should be studied, whether in grades 5-6, 7-8, or 9-12, is a curriculum decision, and should remain under local or state control.

Thus, under Florida’s state course of study, United States history is developed in relation to world history over two successive high school years-grades 10 (to World War I) and 11 (the modern world)-in addition to two successive years of study of state and national history in grade 4 (beginnings to 1880) and grade 5 (the years since 1880). Teachers of grades 4 and 10 following this plan will draw on the U.S. history standards developed for the earlier eras in U.S. history while teachers of grades 5 and 11 will draw on the standards developed for the later eras. In all cases teachers will focus on the standards designated for their particular grade levels, whether grades 5-6 or 9-12. None will use the standards developed for grades 7 or 8-two years in Florida’s curriculum devoted to studies other than history.

In California, by contrast, where the state framework suggests concentrating upon the study of the early eras of U.S. history in grade 5, the 19th century in grade 8, and the 20th century in grade 11, teachers following this plan will turn to the standards in a different way. Teachers of grade 5 will turn to the standards developed for U.S. history through the Civil War; teachers of grade 8 will selectively draw upon these same standards in their initial review but will concentrate upon the standards developed for the 19th-century history of the United States. Teachers of grade 11 will again selectively draw upon the standards for the earlier eras in their initial reviews, but will concentrate upon the standards developed for the 20th-century history of the nation. In all cases, teachers will focus within any of these eras upon the standards developed for their particular grade level.

Likewise, under Florida’s state course of study, world history is developed in relation to United States history over three successive high school years-grade 9 (birth of civilizations through the 18th-century democratic revolutions); grade 10 (through World War I); and grade 11 (from 1848 until today). In addition, Florida begins a three-year sequence in history with grade 3 in which students are engaged in humanities-enriched studies of significant developments of the ancient world, the middle ages, and the Renaissance. Teachers of grade 9 following this course of study will draw upon the world history standards developed for Eras 1 through 6; teachers of grade 10 will draw upon the world history standards developed for Era 7; and teachers of grade 11 will draw upon the world history standards developed for Eras 7 and 8.

California’s state framework recommends concentrating upon the study of the early Eras 1-3 in world history in grade 6, Eras 4-6 in grade 7, and Eras 7-9 in grade 10; therefore, teachers following this plan will turn to the standards in a different way. Teachers of grade 6 will turn to the standards developed for the ancient world. Teachers of grade 7 willselectively draw upon the standards developed for eras beginning with the fall of the Roman and Han empires and continuing through 18th-century world history. Teachers of grade 10 will again selectively draw upon the standards for the earlier eras in their initial reviews, but will concentrate upon the standards developed for the 19th and 20th centuries of world history. Again, in utilizing these voluntary standards, teachers may choose to focus within any of these eras upon the standards developed for their particular grade level, whether for grades 5-6, 7-8, or 9-12.