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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.

As for resources, if students are to achieve the understandings and thinking skills specified in these 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 Goals 2000 and of the systemic educational reform program it has launched requires the provision of high quality professional development in 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 curricular materials needed to support these standards.

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

One of the major commitments called for in Goals 2000 and in the reform movement supported by this legislation is the need to allocate considerably more time in the school day to the core academic subjects, history among them. The "drill the skills" and "minimum competencies" approaches of the 1970s virtually extinguished content studies in elementary schools, with the result that not only did content languish, so too did the higher-order thinking and reading skills that are dependent upon rich subject-matter content, if students are to have something to "think about."

The schools today are in the process of remediating those lacks and the high costs they exacted in students' intellectual development. In doing so, it is especially important that schools provide adequate time for history in all grades, K-4. Linking these historical studies to related studies in geography, civics, literature, and the arts is one important way to do so, and is considered below.

Linking History to Related Studies

in Geography, Civics, Literature, and the Arts in an Integrated or Interdisciplinary Curriculum for Grades K-4

Two factors encourage linking history to related studies in the social studies, literature, and the arts in grades K-4:

  1. History itself is a highly integrative field, engaging children in studies not only of the people and events in the history of their community, state, nation, and world, but opening as well the study of the geographic places in which these events occurred; the ideas, beliefs, and values that influenced how people acted in their daily lives; the rules, laws, and institutions they established and lived by; the oral traditions and literature, music, art, architecture, and dance they created; and the technological and scientific developments they invented, or adopted, in their quest to improve daily life. In short, studies in history necessarily include geographic, economic, political, social, and scientific studies, as well as studies in the arts.
  2. Teachers of grades K-4 normally are responsible for the entire curriculum and therefore are uniquely able to schedule activities that cut across subject lines and develop standards from two or more fields in a single lesson. Thus, lessons in literature can include literary selections from historical fiction, biography, and other readings important to the history curriculum as well as to the language arts. In turn, activities in creating group stories in history (K-1) and individual historical narratives, letters, journals, and so on (grades 2-4) in children's studies of history are important in furthering standards in English as well as in history. So, too, can lessons simultaneously develop certain standards in history and in civics, in geography, in economics, in the arts, and-to some degree-in mathematics and science.

Developing the interdisciplinary or integrated curriculum is not without pitfalls. Teachers should be aware of some of the problems that led to the widespread withdrawal from these approaches in the curriculum reform movement of the 1960s. One safeguard is to keep clearly in mind the unique characteristics of each field, and to respect those characteristics in any curriculum plan that seeks to capitalize upon the natural affinities among these fields. The National Standards being separately developed in these various fields as well as in history provide an important contribution to that end.