Hawaii’s public schoolchildren score above the national average in knowledge of U.S. history, but that is likely to drop with the reduction of social studies classes required in order to graduate from high school. A sagging of civic interest is likely to be the unfortunate consequence of a proposal moving forward at the state Board of Education.
The board’s Student Achievement Committee has approved lowering the credits in social studies required from four to three; the full board votes in August on the issue, which is part of a proposed new diploma policy.
Proponents of the social studies change said it is in line with requirements in other states, but that doesn’t make it acceptable. It could well take Hawaii’s high schools down to a lower level.
With the goal of strengthening graduation standards, the old elected school board sought to create two levels of diploma, the top one aimed at those planning on college. But the new board appointed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie rightly reversed the dual track, and now is trying to craft standards for a single, but more-rigorous diploma. This would require all high school students to pass Algebra 1, geometry and one other math course, and would require two lab science classes.
Essentially, it has moved up math and science while reducing social studies requirements, underestimating the importance of knowledge in areas such as political science and history.
The Thomas B. Fordham Institute’s first review of the quality of states’ U.S. history standards resulted this year in an average grade of D. Hawaii scored a C and was criticized for the lack of historic detail in a single course spread over the fifth, eighth and 10th grades.
The reduction in requirements for social studies, which includes history, political science/civics, cultural anthropology, geography and economics, comes a week after a national report reflecting a deplorable level of knowledge of U.S. history by public school students. Among the eight subjects in the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress, called the Nation’s Report Card, students performed the worst in U.S. history.
Only 13 percent of high school seniors who took the test showed a solid grasp of the subjects. Those in two other grades performed little better, as just 22 percent of fourth-grade students and 18 percent of eighth-graders demonstrated proficiency.
Most fourth-graders, when shown a picture of Abraham Lincoln, were unable to give two reasons why he was important. Only 2 percent of 12th-graders correctly answered a question about Brown v. Board of Education, even when given a U.S. Supreme Court excerpt including, “We conclude that in the field of public education, separate but equal has no place, separate educational facilities are inherently unequal.”
“These results tell us that, as a country, we are failing to provide children with a high-quality, well-rounded education,” said Education Secretary Arne Duncan.
Much of that has resulted from the federal No Child Left Behind Act of 2002, which emphasizes reading, languages, mathematics and science as “core academic subjects.” That obviously has resulted in stagnant performances by students in social studies.
“Math and science gave us the atomic bomb, but the ethics and morals of using it is what students get in social studies,” teacher Paul Stader told board members to no avail.
The proposed diploma policy is targeted to start with the class of 2016. The board should reject decreasing social studies, and instead prepare students adequately to become not only capable members of the nation’s workforce but also good American citizens.