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History Instruction Looks Bleak in K-12

 

Diane Ravitch

Diane Ravitch

(Editor: www.thereportcard.org ISIS has destroyed the ancient site Assyrian of Nimrud, and reportedly bulldozed the historic city of Dur Sharrukin. So why is ISIS taking valuable time away from their favorite pastime of murder and terror? Because, like all brutal totalitarian societies, they must rewrite history to suit themselves. Communist governments did the same thing. In Nazi Germany, Hitler uses his propaganda machine to muzzle universities and churches. He replaced those histories with fabricated stories about the pure Aryan race. In America, the College Board is busy rewriting American history in the Advanced Placement Framework as a long tale of racism, homophobia and class oppression. However, most Americans students are simply ignorant of history period. According to the US Department of Education’s own NAEP survey, only 12% of high school seniors are proficient in US history. Without rigorous history instruction, Americans cannot become informed citizens, and they will never appreciate what we call “American Exceptionalism.” Diane Ravitch wrote the attached warning 26 years ago, and things have just gotten worse).

 

by Diane Ravitch –

 

Futuristic novels with a bleak vision of the prospects for the free individual characteristically portray a society in which the dictatorship has eliminated or strictly controls knowledge of the past. In Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World, the regime successfully wages a “campaign against the Past” by banning the teaching of history, closing museums, and destroying historical monuments. In George Orwell’s 1984, the regime routinely alters records of the past; it rewrites newspapers and books to conform to political exigencies, and offending versions are destroyed, dropped “into the memory hole to be devoured by the flames.”

 

If knowledge of the past does in fact allow us to understand the present and to exercise freedom of mind—as totalitarian societies, both real and fictional, acknowledge by dictating what may be studied or published—then we have cause for concern. The threat to our knowledge of the past arises, however, not from government censorship but from our own indifference and neglect. The erosion of historical understanding among Americans seems especially pronounced in the generation under thirty-five, those schooled during a period in which sharp declines were registered in test scores in virtually every subject of the school curriculum.

 

Based on the anecdotal complaints of college professors and high school teachers about their students’ lack of preparation, there was reason to suspect that the study of history had suffered as much erosion and dilution as other fields. To test whether students had a secure command of the “foundations of literacy,” the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) administered the first national assessment of history and literature in the spring of 1986.

 

One object of the test was to ascertain whether students had ready command of essential background knowledge about American history.

 

The results were not reassuring. Presumably there is certain background information about American history so fundamental that everyone who goes to school should have learned it by age seventeen (and nearly 80 percent of those who took the assessment were enrolled in the second semester of their high school American history course). In What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?, Chester Finn, Jr., and I pointed out that there had never been a test of this kind on a national basis and that there was no way to know whether students were learning more or less about history than in the past.

 

Nonetheless, we found it disturbing that two-thirds of the sample did not know that the Civil War occurred between 1850 and 1900; that nearly 40 percent did not know that the Brown decision held school segregation unconstitutional; that 40 percent did not know that the East Coast of the United States was explored and settled mainly by England and that the Southwest was explored and settled mainly by Spain, that 70 percent did not know that the purpose of Jim Crow laws was to enforce racial segregation, and that 30 percent could not find Great Britain on a map of Europe.

 

Since the test had never been given before, critics were quick to quarrel with our judgment that student performance was disappointing. Perhaps, they suggested, students thirty or fifty years ago might have done worse on a comparable test. Others complained that the test should also have been given to a representative sample of the adult population, because if adults don’t know such things, then high school students should not be expected to know them either.

 

Still others complained that we should not expect students to know or care about history because our society does not reward people who value learning, whether teachers or professors. And there were critics who insisted that the test relied too much on factual knowledge, which is insignificant compared to learning how to think. The most repeated criticism was that the results were of no importance because the study of history itself was of no importance, of no utility whatever in the world today. Again and again, the questions were posed, “What can you do with history? What kind of job will it get you?”

 

Polemics can be both endless and frustrating because there is almost always some truth in every assertion and counter-assertion. Everything the critics said was true to some extent. But it was also true that the assessment revealed that students were not learning some important things they should know about American history. Whether their counterparts in the past knew less, and whether adults today know less, is beside the point. Three wrongs don’t make a right.

 

Plainly, a significant number of students are not remembering the history that they have studied; they are not integrating it into their repertoire of background knowledge, either as fact or as concept. In reality, as every student of history ought to recognize, facts and concepts are inseparable. Some information is so basic, so essential that all students must know it in order to make sense of new learning. Nor can students be expected to think critically about issues unless they have the background knowledge to support their reasoning. Insisting that facts have a rightful place in the study of history does not mean that history must be learned by rote.

 

However one learns about the Civil War, however innovative or unorthodox the teacher’s methodology, the student should know that it took place in the latter half of the nineteenth century, not because of the singular importance of that isolated fact, but because that fact connects the events to a particular place in time, to a larger context, and to a chronological setting in which it is possible to make judgments about causes and consequences and relationships among events in the same era.

 

Was there once a golden age in the study of history? There may have been, but I know of no evidence for it. In 1943, The New York Times reported the results of a test given to seven thousand college freshmen in thirty-six institutions. It was an open-ended test, not a multiple-choice test. Only 45 percent could name four of the specific freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights; fewer than 25 percent could name two achievements of Abraham Lincoln, Thomas Jefferson, Andrew Jackson, or Theodore Roosevelt; less than 15 percent could identify Samuel Gompers as a leader of organized labor or Susan B. Anthony as an advocate of women’s rights; and only 6 percent could name the thirteen original colonies.

 

Compared to the college freshmen of 1943, today’s high school juniors do well; after all, 50 percent of today’s sample identified Gompers and 69 percent identified Susan B. Anthony. But our test takers had some critical advantages: first, they took a multiple-choice test, which limits their options and jogs their memory with the right answer; second, Gompers and Anthony are included in their high school textbooks, but were not always included in the textbooks of forty years ago; third, the multiple-choice format virtually guarantees that a minimum of 25 percent will guess the right answer.

 

The search for comparability may be a blind alley. After all, the historical knowledge that seems most important will differ with each generation, because the salient issues are different for each generation. Today, we expect youngsters to learn about the history of civil rights and minorities, and we stress social history as well as political history. On the NAEP test, there were a number of questions about recent history, like Watergate and Sputnik. Such questions obviously could not have been asked forty years ago, and some of them may seem unimportant forty years from now.

 

The questions we may reasonably ask about history instruction in the schools are whether students are learning what schools are trying to teach them; whether the history that schools are teaching is significant, current, and presented in ways that encourage student engagement; whether enough time is provided to study issues and events in depth and in context; whether students learn to see today’s issues and events in relationship to the past; whether events are studied from a variety of perspectives; whether students understand that the history they study is not “the truth,” but a version of the past written by historians on the basis of analysis and evidence; and whether students realize that historians disagree about how to define the past.

 

I first became concerned about the condition of history in the schools while visiting about three dozen campuses across the country in 1984-1985, ranging from large public universities to small private liberal arts colleges. Repeatedly, I was astonished by questions from able students about the most elementary facts of American history. At one urban Minnesota campus, none of the thirty students in a course on ethnic relations had ever heard of the Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision of 1954.

 

How were they learning about ethnic relations? Their professor described the previous week’s role-playing lesson. The class had been visited by a swarthy man who described himself as an Iranian, made some provocative statements, and then launched into a tirade, chastising them for being prejudiced against him (in reality, he was an Italo-American from Long Island, and not an Iranian at all). This “lesson” hardly compensated for their ignorance about the history of immigration, of racial minorities, of slavery and segregation, or of legislative and judicial efforts to establish equality in American life.

 

As a Phi Beta Kappa Visiting Scholar, I lectured at various campuses on the virtues of a liberal education and its importance to society today. After one such speech at a university in the Pacific Northwest, a professor of education insisted that high-school students should concentrate on vocational preparation and athletics, since they had the rest of their lives to learn subjects like history “on their own time.” Time and again, I heard people wonder why even prospective teachers should have a liberal education, particularly if they planned to teach below the high school level. The younger the children, according to the skeptics, the less their teacher needs to know; they seemed to think that knowing and nurturing were incompatible.

 

In my meetings and talks with students, who were usually the best in the education or the history program, I was surprised to find that most did not recognize allusions to eminent historical figures such as Jane Addams or W.E.B. DuBois. As I traveled, I questioned history professors about whether their students seemed as well prepared today as in the past. None thought they were. Even at such elite institutions as Columbia and Harvard, professors expressed concern about the absence of a common body of reference and allusion to the past; most said their students lacked a sense of historical context and a knowledge of the major issues that had influenced American history. As a professor at Berkeley put it to me, “They have no furniture in their minds. You can assume nothing in the way of prior knowledge. Skills, yes; but not knowledge.”

 

Those who teach at non-elite institutions perceived an even deeper level of historical illiteracy. Typical were comments by Thomas Kessner, a professor of history at Kingsborough Community College in Brooklyn, New York: “My students are not stupid, but they have an abysmal background in American or any other kind of history.” This gloomy assessment was echoed by Naomi Miller, chair of the history department at Hunter College in New York. “My students have no historical knowledge on which to draw when they enter college,” she told me.

 

“They have no point of reference for understanding World War I, the Treaty of Versailles, or the Holocaust.” She expressed dismay at her students’ indifference to dates and chronology or causation. “They think that everything is subjective. They have plenty of attitudes and opinions, but they lack the knowledge to analyze a problem.” Professor Miller believes that “we are in danger of bringing up a generation without historical memory. This is a dangerous situation.”

 

In search of some explanation for these complaints, I visited social studies classes in New York City. In one high school, where most of the three thousand students are black, Hispanic, and/or recent immigrants, a teacher said to me, “Our students don’t see the relevance to their own lives of what a lot of dead people did a long time ago. American studies means more to them than American history.”

 

I observed a class in American studies, where the lesson for the day was state government, its leaders and their functions. When the teacher asked whether anyone knew what the state attorney general does, a girl answered tentatively, “Isn’t he the one that says on the cigarette box that you shouldn’t smoke because it gives you cancer?” The teacher responded, incorrectly, “Yes, but what else does he do?” The teacher went on, earnestly trying to explain what New York’s secretary of state does (“he keeps the state’s papers”) and to find some way to connect the work of these officials to the students’ daily lives. The youngsters were bored and apathetic. Watching their impassive faces, I thought that a discussion of the Crusades or the Salem witchcraft trials or Nat Turner’s rebellion would be infinitely more interesting, and relevant, to their adolescent minds.

 

In another American studies class the topic for the day was the Dred Scott decision. Ah, I thought, I will now see how historical issues are dealt with. The class began with ten minutes of confusing discussion about how students would feel if they were drafted and told they had to serve in Vietnam. The teacher seemed to think this was relevant to the students (since it was relevant to her own generation), although it was not clear that the students had any idea what the war in Vietnam was about. What she was trying to do, I finally realized, was to get the students to wonder who is a citizen and how citizenship is defined. It was a worthy aim, but the rest of the lesson shed little light on the meaning of the Dred Scott decision. The students were told he was a slave who had been brought into a free territory and then sued for his freedom; they were also given a brief definition of the Missouri Compromise. With this as background, the teacher divided them into groups, each of which was a miniature Supreme Court, where they would decide whether Dred Scott should be a slave or go free. Ten minutes later, no surprise, each little Supreme Court recommended that Dred Scott should be a free man, and the class ended. They did not learn why Chief Justice Roger B. Taney decided otherwise, nor did they learn the significance of the Dred Scott decision in the antislavery agitation, nor its importance as a precursor to the Civil War. Since the course was law studies, not American history, the students had no background knowledge about sectional antagonisms, about slavery, or about anything else that preceded or followed the Civil War.

 

When I expressed surprise about the complete absence of traditional, chronological history in the social studies curriculum, the chair of the social studies department said, “What we teach is determined by guidelines from the State Education Department. In the late 1960s the state decided to deemphasize chronological history and to focus instead on topical issues and social science concepts. We followed suit.” A teacher chimed in to explain, “We don’t teach history, because it doesn’t help our students pass the New York State Regents examination in social studies.” This teacher claimed to have compiled a list of concepts that regularly appear on the Regents examinations; his students prepare for the Regents by memorizing the definitions of such terms as “cultural diffusion” and “social mobility.”

 

What happened to the study of history? Many factors contributed to its dethroning; some relate to the overall American cultural situation, others to specific institutional forces within the schools and changes in the social studies field. Those who claim that American culture devalues history make a strong case. Despite the fervor of history buffs and historical societies, Americans have long been present- and future-oriented. I suspect that it has never been easy to persuade Americans of the importance of understanding the past. Trends in recent years have probably strengthened popular resistance to historical study. Even in the academy, rampant specialization among college faculties has made professors less willing to teach broad survey courses, less concerned about capturing the attention of non-majors or the general public by tackling large questions.

 

Within the schools, the study of history has encountered other kinds of problems. During the past generation, history was dislodged from its lofty perch as “queen” of the social studies by the proliferation of social sciences, electives, and other courses. Many in the social studies field say that history still dominates the social studies, since almost all students take the traditional one-year high school course in American history, and about half the students take a one-year course in world history. However, even though the high school American history course may be secure, researchers have found “a gradual and persistent decline in requirements, courses and enrollments” in history at the junior high school level, as well as a reduction of requirements and course offerings in world history in high schools. Indeed, the only history course that is well entrenched in the curriculum is the high school survey of American history.

 

To some teachers, social studies means the study of the social sciences, and many schools offer electives in sociology, political science, economics, psychology, and anthropology. Some see the field as primarily responsible for the study of current social problems. Others see it as a field whose overriding objective is to teach students the essentials of good behavior and good citizenship. Still others declare that the goal of the social studies is to teach critical thinking, or values, or respect for cultural diversity.

 

Because of the ill-defined nature of the social studies field, it is easily (and regularly) invaded by curricular fads, and it all too often serves as a dumping ground for special-interest programs. Whenever state legislatures or interest groups discover an unmet need, a new program is pushed into the social studies curriculum. Each state has its own pet programs, but under the copious umbrella of social studies can be found courses in such subjects as energy education, environmental education, gun-control education, water education, sex education, human rights education, future studies, consumer education, free-enterprise education and a host of other courses prompted by contemporary issues.

 

This indiscriminate confusion of short-term social goals would have dismayed those historians who first took an active interest in history in the schools. In 1893 a distinguished panel of historians, including the future President Woodrow Wilson, recommended an eight-year course of study in history, beginning in the fifth grade with biography and mythology and continuing in the following years with American history and government, Greek and Roman history, French history, and English history. Criticizing the traditional emphasis on rote learning, the Committee of Ten argued that history should teach judgment and thinking, and should be conjoined with such studies as literature, geography, art, and languages. The historians’ recommendations were aimed at all children, not just the college-bound: “We believe that the colleges can take care of themselves; our interest is in the schoolchildren who have no expectation of going to college, the larger number of whom will not enter even a high school.”

 

In 1899 the Committee of Seven, a group of historians created by the American Historical Association (AHA), recommended a four-year model high school curriculum: first year, ancient history; second year, medieval and modern European history; third year, English history; and fourth year, American history and government. It was expected that students would read biographies, mythology, legends, and hero tales in the elementary years, and that this reading would provide a foundation for their subsequent study of history. The Committee of Seven’s proposal set a national pattern for American high schools for years to come. Like the Committee of Ten, the Seven believed that history should be the core of general education for all students in a democracy.

 

This four-year model history curriculum came under increasing attack, however, from the newly emerging field of social studies, whose major purpose (according to a 1918 report known as The Cardinal Principles of Secondary Education) was “social efficiency.” Characteristic of the progressive effort to make education socially useful, the new report, which for decades has been considered the most influential document in American education, rejected those studies that seemed not to contribute directly to the goal of training students to take their place in society.

 

Moreover, The Cardinal Principles broke sharply with the findings and recommendations of earlier committees. It endorsed differentiated curricula, based on students’ future vocational goals, such as agriculture, business, clerical, industrial, and household arts programs. Much of the history that had been taught had no immediate social utility and thus its advocates had difficulty claiming a place in the curriculum. In the decades that followed, as the curriculum incorporated more courses that seemed socially useful or were intended to teach social skills, the time available for history shrank. Many schools collapsed their courses in ancient history, European history, and English history into a single, and optional, one-year course called “world history” or “Western civilization.”

 

The new emphasis on short-term social utility also affected the curriculum in the early grades. The various reform reports of the early twentieth century had recommended that young children read exciting stories about remarkable people and events that changed the course of history. In most city and state curricula, children in the early grades studied distant civilizations and read their myths and legends in addition to learning the stories about heroes and the folktales of their own country. They also celebrated holidays and learned about their local community through field trips, an emphasis called “home geography.” But by the 1930s this curriculum began to be replaced by studies of family roles and community helpers. Instead of thrilling biographies and mythology, children read stories about children just like themselves.

 

The new curriculum for the early grades, called “expanding environments” or “expanding horizons,” was factual and immediate, ousting imaginative historical literature and play from the early grades. Increasingly, time in the early grades was devoted to this fixed pattern: kindergarten, myself; first grade, my family; second grade, my neighborhood; third grade, my city. There was no evidence that children preferred to read about postal workers over tall tales, stories of heroes, or ancient Egyptians. Nonetheless, the new curriculum gradually swept the country, pushing historical content out of the early grades.

 

Not until the late 1980s did the social studies curriculum in the primary grades attract sustained criticism. According to leading cognitive psychologists, the “expanding environments” approach has no grounding in developmental research. Indeed, there is good reason to believe that it dwells unnecessarily on what the child already knows or does not need to go to school to learn. In 1987, a content analysis of social studies textbooks for the early grades was conducted at the University of Georgia. One of the investigators, Professor A. Guy Larkins, concluded, “If asked to choose between teaching primary-grades social studies with available texts or eliminating social studies from the K-3 curriculum, I would choose the latter. Much of the content in current texts is redundant, superfluous, vacuous, and needlessly superficial.” Larkins also complained that children were reading about taking field trips instead of actually taking field trips, seeing pictures of a generic community rather than investigating their own.

 

Learning again and again about the roles of family members and community helpers in the primary years may well be extremely boring for children who are used to watching action-packed stories on television and seeing dramatic events on the evening news. The me-centered curriculum fails to give children a sense of other times and places, and fails to appeal to their lively imaginations. Children might enjoy the study of history if they began in the early grades to listen to and read lively historical literature, such as myths, legends, hero stories, and true stories about great men and women in their community, state, nation, and world. Not only in the early grades but throughout the kindergarten to twelfth grade sequence, students should read lively narrative accounts of extraordinary events and remarkable people. Present practice seems calculated to persuade young people that social studies is a train of self-evident, unrelated facts, told in a dull manner.

 

By mid-century most American public schools had adopted a nearly standardized social studies curriculum: Children in kindergarten and the first three grades studied self, home, family, neighborhood, and community; children in fourth grade studied state history; in fifth grade, American history; in sixth grade, world cultures; seventh grade, world geography; eighth grade, American history; ninth grade, civics or world cultures; tenth grade, world history; eleventh grade, American history; twelfth grade, American government. While there have been many variations from district to district, this has been the dominant social studies curriculum for the last fifty years. Most cities and states follow the model for the early grades, teach one year of American history in elementary school and again in junior high school, and require a single year of American history for high school graduation. Most, however, do not require the study of world history in the high school years.

 

Despite this format’s persistent emphasis on social relevance and student interest, surveys have repeatedly shown that students find social studies to be less interesting and less important than their other school subjects. Why is this field, whose intrinsic human interest is so compelling, so often perceived as boring? There are many possible answers, including the compendious, superficial, and dull textbooks students are assigned to read. But the curricular pattern itself must be in some measure at fault, as it forces repetition of courses on the one hand and too little time for study in depth on the other. Both problems are surefire formulas for dullness, and curriculum planners have been thus far unable to resolve either of them.

 

When the usual curricular model is followed, American history is taught three times: in the fifth grade, the eighth grade, and the eleventh grade. The question is whether to teach a complete survey course (from pre-Columbian times to the present) at each of the three grade settings. If the survey is taught three times, there is no time to go beyond the textbook, to explore significant questions, to examine original sources or to conduct mock trials or debates. Some districts have broken away from the “coverage” survey by instead teaching major topics and themes in American history, but this approach is clearly insufficient when youngsters fail to understand chronology, the sequence of events, or the causal connections among events.

 

Another alternative to the survey is to devote each of the three years of American history to a different time period. The usual pattern is that the elementary school course concentrates on exploration and settlement and daily life in the colonies; the junior high course emphasizes the nineteenth century; and the high school year carries the student from the Civil War to the present. The advantage of the latter program is that it allows for time to treat issues in depth, without neglecting chronology. The disadvantage is that it allows no time for mature students to examine the Revolutionary era, when the principles of American government were shaped, or to consider the constitutional conflicts that led to the Civil War. It is also problematic in light of population mobility from state to state, as well as the immigrant influx from other countries, which means that newcomers in the middle or later grades will miss out on important events in the life of the early Republic.

 

While there is no easy answer to this problem, the history curriculum adopted in California in 1987 attempts to meld the two approaches; each year concentrates on a different time period, but each course begins and ends with an intensive review of critical issues and events. In the world history program, the most pressing problem is time. In most districts where world history is taught, it is studied for only one year, not nearly enough time to encompass the history of the world. New York State adopted a two-year global studies sequence in 1987 (though not strong on history), and California adopted a mandatory three-year world history sequence in the same year. Most other states, however, do not require even one year of world history.

 

Furthermore, the social studies field is divided about whether world history should emphasize Western Europe or global studies. When the course focuses on Western Europe, it is unified by attention to the evolution of democratic political institutions and ideas, as well as to their betrayal by genocide, war, and racism. When the course is global studies (as, for example, in New York State), equal attention is given to Western Europe, Africa, Latin America, Asia, and other regions. The “Western civilization” course has been criticized by some as “ethnocentric,” while the “global studies” approach has been criticized by others for superficiality, for incoherence, and for minimizing the importance of the West in world history. No matter which approach is taken, a single year is insufficient to study world history.

 

The difficulty of trying to compress the history of the world into an introductory course is exemplified by one widely-adopted text, in which World War II is reduced to a brief summary and the Holocaust to two sentences: “Many millions of civilians also lost their lives. Six million Jews alone were murdered at Hitler’s orders.”

 

Does it matter if Americans are ignorant of their past and of the world’s? Does it matter if they know little of the individuals, the events, the ideas, the forces, and the movements that shaped their nation and others? If the study of history is to gain public support and attention,

historians must directly answer the utilitarian challenge. They must be prepared to argue that the study of history is useful in its own terms. Those who study history learn how and why the world came to be what it is, why things change and why they stay the same.

 

Knowledge of history is both useful and necessary for our society because everyone has the right to choose our leaders and to participate in our civic and social life. All citizens, not just the few, are expected to understand major domestic and international issues. Without historical perspective, voters are more likely to be swayed by emotional appeals, by stirring commercials, or by little more than a candidate’s photogenic charisma.

 

Even between elections, a knowledge of history is vital today for the average citizen and vital for the health of our political system. Politicians and news organizations regularly poll the public to assess their view of domestic and international issues. When public sentiment is clear, the government and the media take heed. When the public is ill-informed or uninterested, policymakers are free to act without the consent of the governed. Americans today require historical background in order to understand complex social and political questions in Latin America, Africa, and elsewhere.

 

Writers and editors in national newspapers and magazines assume the presence of a historically literate public by alluding without further explanation to historic events and individuals. Without a historically literate public, readily able to understand such references,

newspapers and television journalism will have no choice but to simplify their vocabulary, to reduce their coverage of serious topics, and serve as little more than headline and amusement services, devoid of significant context.

 

Those who have a professional commitment to the study of history have a particular responsibility to improve the way it is taught and learned in the schools. Organizations such as the American Historical Association, the Organization of American Historians (OAH), and the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) have a direct responsibility for the quality of history instruction. The teacher-scholar collaboratives sponsored by these organizations are one valuable means to assist professionals in the schools. There are others. For example, professional associations should lobby to ensure that teachers of history have actually studied history in college; in several states, including New York and California, social studies teachers may be certified without ever having studied any history. Professional associations could assist curriculum planners in enriching the study of history at every grade level. The AHA and OAH could provide invaluable support to state curriculum offices that are pressured by powerful interest groups to rewrite or water down the history curriculum; some kind of review mechanism could fend off unreasonable demands.

 

In 1932, Henry Johnson of Teachers College, Columbia University, wrote a delightful review of the teaching of history throughout the ages, somewhat misleadingly entitled An Introduction to the History of the Social Sciences. Johnson quoted a sixteenth-century Spanish scholar, Juan Vives, to explain why it is valuable to study history: “Where there is history,” wrote Vives, “children have transferred to them the advantages of old men; where history is absent, old men are as children.” Without history, according to Vives, “no one would know anything about his father or ancestors; no one could know his own rights or those of another or how to maintain them; no one would know how his ancestors came to the country he inhabits.” Johnson cited the view of the seventeenth-century French oratorians that “history is a grand mirror in which we see ourselves…The secret of knowing and judging ourselves rightly is to see ourselves in others, and history can make us the contemporaries of all centuries in all countries.”

 

History will never be restored as a subject of value unless it is detached from vulgar utilitarianism; it should not be expected to infuse morals or patriotism. Properly taught, history teaches the pursuit of truth and understanding; it establishes a context of human life in a particular time and place, relating art, literature, philosophy, law, architecture, language, government, economics, and social life; it portrays the great achievements and terrible disasters of the human race; it awakens youngsters to the universality of the human experience as well as to the particularities that distinguish cultures and societies from one another; it encourages the development of intelligence, civility, and a sense of perspective. It endows its students with a broad knowledge of other times, other cultures, other places. It leaves its students with cultural resources on which they may draw for the rest of their lives. These are values and virtues that are gained through the study of history, values and virtues essential to the free individual exercising freedom of mind. Beyond these, history needs no further justification.

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Brigitte Gabriel: Muslim Brotherhood Infiltrating US K-12 Education

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By Bill Korach. St. Augustine www.thereportcard.org

 

Last night, Brigit Gabriel, President of ACT for America spoke to a packed auditorium of 600 at Crescent Beach Baptist Church on the topic of the proposed Obama nuclear agreement with Iran, and Islamic efforts to infiltrate US school. Ms. Gabriel stated that the Saudis have channeled hundreds of millions of petro dollars to US universities across the nation for the purpose of putting a positive spin on Islam. She pointed out that Harvard has been endowed with $20 Million and named at least 20 other colleges including The University of Florida.

 

Ms. Gabriel also indicated that indoctrination of America’s K-12 schools include use of 35 textbooks that falsify history in order to portray Islam in a favorable light and as a religion of peace. One fascinating historical fact mentioned was that the Yellow Star of David Jews were forced to wear under Nazi occupation was in fact created by a Muslim Mullah in the Middle Ages Caliph al-Mutawakkil (847–61).

 

Ms. Gabriel indicated that a new teacher’s lesson plan has incorporated requiring student to take Islamic names and discuss issues important to Muslims such as the idea that Israel is an army of occupation, and oppression.

 

An example of that lesson was reported by the Wisconsin Independant about Oak Grove elementary school:

 

Union Grove High School history teacher Beth Urban sent out an e-mail to students describing a future assignment where the student is asked to put themselves in the shoes of a Muslim.

According to the e-mail obtained by popular radio show host Vicki McKenna, the students were to write a five paragraph essay pretending to be a Muslim.  The student is asked to write about the daily struggles that they would face as a Muslim student in the United States.  The e-mail goes on to remind the students that class has been watching documentaries that have the facts needed to write the essay.

The assignment begs to have a few questions answered.

First of all, what documentaries were watched and who produced them?  The Middle East is known for producing several “documentaries” that are full of propaganda and anti-American sentiment.  Is that truly the type of video that our students should be exposed to?  Were there other videos shown to balance the debate on the subject?

Is this assignment a conflict between separation of church and state?  There have been many documented cases of Christian students being denied the ability to pray in public school and today’s history books have been mostly stripped of Christian history.  Why is Christianity allowed to be shunned in our public schools while teachers are allowed to assign an assignment as religious based as this?

Most importantly, are the parents of Union Grove High School aware that this type of assignment is allowed in the school’s curriculum?  How about the local school board?

The role of a history class is to teach history and not to show sympathy for any religious group.  Hopefully the parents will remind the faculty of this so these type of assignments can be avoided in the future.

Ms. Gabriel stated that ACT had been a force behind Florida  SB 864 that allows school districts to choose their own materials and not be forced to use the state’s recommendation.

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College Board APUSH: “Ronald Reagan a Warmonger”

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(Editor: www.thereportcard.org In January 2014, we published Larry Kreiger’s critique of The College Board’s Advanced Placement US History Framework (APUSH). Mr. Krieger accused The College Board of leaving out key facts about America while taking every opportunity to portray America as the world’s problem and not the world’s last best hope. David Coleman, former author of Common Core is now President of the College Board. Mr. Coleman is responsible for APUSH, so it might be possible to assume that Mr. Coleman is not an admirer of America. Lynne Cheney is the latest in a growing circle of critics of APUSH. She takes particular umbrage with the APUSH portrayal of President Ronald Reagan as a warmonger).

 

 

By Lynne Cheney Wall Street Journal

 

President Reagan’s challenge to Soviet Premier Mikhail Gorbachev remains one of the most dramatic calls for freedom in our time. Thus I was heartened to find a passage from Reagan’s speech on the sample of the new Advanced Placement U.S. history exam that students will take for the first time in May. It seemed for a moment that students would be encouraged to learn about positive aspects of our past rather than be directed to focus on the negative, as happens all too often.

But when I looked closer to see the purpose for which the quotation was used, I found that it is held up as an example of “increased assertiveness and bellicosity” on the part of the U.S. in the 1980s. That’s the answer to a multiple-choice question about what Reagan’s speech reflects.

No notice is taken of the connection the president made between freedom and human flourishing, no attention to the fact that within 2½ years of the speech, people were chipping off pieces of the Berlin Wall as souvenirs. Instead of acknowledging important ideas and historical context, test makers have reduced President Reagan’s most eloquent moment to warmongering.

The AP U.S. history exam matters. Half a million of the nation’s best and brightest high-school students will take it this year, hoping to use it to earn college credit and to polish their applications to competitive colleges. To score well on the exam, students have to learn what the College Board, a private organization that creates the exam, wants them to know.

No one worried much about the College Board having this de facto power over curriculum until that organization released a detailed framework—for courses beginning last year—on which the Advanced Placement tests on U.S. history will be based from 2015 onward. When educators, academics and other concerned citizens realized how many notable figures were missing and how negative was the view of American history presented, they spoke out forcefully. The response of the College Board was to release the sample exam that features Ronald Reagan as a warmonger.

It doesn’t stop there. On the multiple-choice part of the sample exam, there are 18 sections, and eight of them take up the oppression of women, blacks and immigrants. Knowing about the experiences of these groups is important—but truth requires that accomplishment be recognized as well as oppression, and the exam doesn’t have questions on subjects such as the transforming leadership of Martin Luther King Jr.

The framework requires that all questions take up sweeping issues, such as “group identity,” which leaves little place for transcendent individuals. Men and women who were once studied as inspirational figures have become examples of trends, and usually not uplifting ones. The immigrant story that the exam tells is of oppressed people escaping to America only to find more oppression. That many came seeking the Promised Land—and found it here—is no longer part of the narrative.

Critics have noted that Benjamin Franklin is absent from the new AP U.S. history framework, and perhaps in response, the College Board put a quotation from Franklin atop the sample exam. Yet not one of the questions that were asked about the quotation has to do with Franklin. They are about George Whitefield, an evangelist whom Franklin described in the quote. This odd deflection makes sense in the new test, considering that Franklin was a self-made man, whose rise from rags to riches would have been possible only in America—an example of the exceptionalism that doesn’t fit the worldview that pervades the AP framework and sample exam.

Evangelist Whitefield, an Englishman who preached in the colonies, was a key figure in the Great Awakening, an evangelical revival that began in the 1730s. Here, however, he is held up as an example of “trans-Atlantic exchanges,” which seems completely out of left field until one realizes that the underlying notion is that we need to stop thinking nationally and think globally. Our history is simply part of a larger story.

Aside from a section about mobilizing women to serve in the workforce, the sample exam has nothing to say about World War II, the conflict in which the U.S. liberated millions of people and ended one of the most evil regimes in the history of the world. The heroic acts of the men who landed on Omaha Beach and lifted the flag on Iwo Jima are ignored. The wartime experiences that the new framework prefers are those raising “questions about American values,” such as “the internment of Japanese Americans, challenges to civil liberties, debates over race and segregation, and the decision to drop the atomic bomb.”

Why would the College Board respond to criticism by putting out a sample exam that proves the critics’ point? Perhaps it is a case of those on the left being so confirmed in their biases that they no longer notice them. Or maybe the College Board doesn’t care what others think.

 

Some states are trying to get its attention. The Texas State Board of Education, noting that the AP U.S. history framework is incompatible with that state’s standards, has formally requested that the College Board do a rewrite. The Georgia Senate has passed a resolution to encourage competition for the College Board’s AP program. If anything brings a change, it is likely to be such pressure from the states, which provide the College Board with substantial revenue.

Some 20 years ago, as chairman of the National Endowment for the Humanities, I made a grant to a group to create voluntary standards for U.S. history. When the project was finished, I had standards on my hands that were overwhelmingly negative about the American story, so biased that I felt obliged to condemn them in an op-ed for The Wall Street Journal called “The End of History.”

I learned an important lesson, one worth repeating today. The curriculum shouldn’t be farmed out, not to the federal government and not to private groups. It should stay in the hands of the people who are constitutionally responsible for it: the citizens of each state.

 

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Common Core Forces MA Schools to Cut History

Gorman Lee

Gorman Lee

 

(Editor: www.thereportcard.org In Massachusetts, one of America’s oldest and most historically important states, history and social studies are being marginalized while “English language arts” is being expanded. The latest Department of Education NAEP survey showed that only 12% of high school seniors were proficient in American history. According to Gorman Lee, President of the Massachusetts Council for Social Studies, that number is destined to grow even smaller as Common Core continues to squeeze history instruction in K-12. We may sadly anticipate a future where children learn of their glorious heritage through family word of mouth or through veterans who may be neighbors or family).

 

By Gorman Lee

 

The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education’s decision to indefinitely suspend the History and Social Science MCAS in 2009 has placed social studies education in a high risk of marginalization in K-12 public school districts across the Commonwealth. The problem has only exacerbated with increased emphases of English language arts and mathematics in the Common Core State Standards that was adopted in 2010. Therefore it comes to no surprise that once school districts have started to face budgetary constraints, social studies is now among the subject areas first on the chopping block… and it’s already happening.

 

There have been recent concerning reports of K-12 school districts reducing social studies departments in order to secure support to “high stakes” subject areas, despite the promised commitments to uphold civic ideals and to prepare students to become active and productive adult citizens as described in their mission statements. Many school districts have begun to merge social studies and English language arts departments into a Humanities department, where the social studies [including history] curriculum takes a secondary role to support the English language arts curriculum. In some schools, teachers whose primary subject area is other than social studies have been assigned to teach one social studies class; it now appears that “highly qualified” is no longer applicable when it comes to social studies. In some elementary schools, social studies instruction has been reduced to no more than twenty minutes per week so that classes can spend more time for instructions in literature, mathematics, and science.

 

If we continue to allow social studies education become marginalized in our K-12 schools, our students will continue to graduate from high school with limited knowledge and understanding of their nation’s heritage, government, economy, and role in international affairs. The deterioration of a rigorous social studies curriculum will limit our students’ appreciation of community and national identity. The absence of a comprehensive K-12 social studies education will deny our students crucial learning opportunities to learn and apply higher-order critical thinking skills to address and find solutions to real world problems and issues.

 

We would like to hear the current status of the K-12 social studies program in your school district. Please go to our online survey and tell us what’s happening in your school district and building. The results of the survey will be collected on March 31, 2015. http://goo.gl/forms/UpJ0yFXOE6 or you can email me at president@masscouncil.org.

 

Social studies educators must unite and let our elected representatives know that social studies education is facing a serious civic crisis. As President of the Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies, I am recommending that we coordinate a statewide Advocacy Day, where K-12 social studies educators schedule a meeting with their respective elected representatives at their local offices or at the Massachusetts State House in Boston.

 

If you are doing a special project with your students, I strongly encourage you to invite members of your school committee and your elected local representatives to your classroom and showcase what your students are learning in their social studies classes. It is our civic responsibility to express our collective concerns to our legislators and enlighten them on the importance and necessity to support and promote a strong K-12 social studies education in our public, charter, and private schools across the Commonwealth.

 

Please forward this letter to your colleagues and staff.

 

We need your help!

Sincerely,

 

Gorman Lee, Ed.D.

Mass Council for the Social Studies President

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College Board’s AP US History Needs a Few Facts

David Coleman College Board President Common Core Author

David Coleman College Board President Common Core Author

(Editor: www.thereportcard.org The College Board, presided over by David Coleman, author of Common Core released their Advanced Placement US History Framework last year. APUSH as it is known, was roundly criticized by historians and AP history instructors for a decidedly negative view of America. But another criticism from The Concord Review’s Emerson scholar and Summa Cum Laude Harvard graduate Alexandra Petri focuses on the dearth of facts included in the APUSH framework. With nary a single good comment about America and a nearly total absence of facts, one might ask, what’s the point)?

By Alexandra Petri February 20, 2015

Stepping back from State Legislatures And Their Strange Hobbies, if you wanted to object to AP U.S. History—which is run by the College Board, a private company, not, as many legislators seem to suspect, a Vast Conspiracy To Take Over State Control Of Learning — a better case might be not that it was Insufficiently Nice To America but that maybe, just maybe, that it should require the mention of some specific facts, any facts at all.

I understand that it is supposed to be an advanced course, operating at the college level, under the assumption that this is not students’ first exposure to American history. As the authors of its framework note in an open letter, “The AP U.S. History course is an advanced, college-level course—not an introductory U.S. history course—and is not meant to be students’ first exposure to the fundamental narrative of U.S. history. Because countless states, districts, and schools have their own standards for U.S. history teaching, we did not want to usurp local control by prescribing a detailed national curriculum of people, places, and events. As a result, we created a framework, not a full curriculum, so that local decision makers and teachers could populate the course with content that is meaningful to them and that satisfies their state mandates.”

If the students learning AP U.S. History already know U.S. history, they will not have any problems. If, however, there are any gaps—well, there’s the rub.

So far the people in the anti-APUSH movement have complained, “How dare you not mention Martin Luther King or George Washington at any point in your 142-page framework!” and the people behind the framework have replied, “No, no, you don’t understand. We don’t mention ANYONE! It’s just a framework that you can fill in with facts of your own choosing!”

That’s to say, the framework lists everything you should learn about American history to get college credit—except, er, specific facts about American history.

I appreciate that this is how we do things now. This is the way courses work. We emphasize “critical thinking skills” and “approaches” and “concepts,” and we have put rote memorization behind us. Dates, names, places? Please. Google exists.

This is the product of something called Backward Design. Here’s how it’s described in “Getting to the Core of Literacy for History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects,” a book put together by Vicky M. Giouroukakis and Maureen Connolly to assist teachers in meeting Common Core standards in these content areas (yes, I know the Common Core and AP are different, but the principle of Backward Design is the same):

“Many teachers initially think about their teaching—what they will teach and how— without considering what student outcomes they want at the end of their instruction. In other words, they are concerned with inputs rather than outputs first. For example, they select a topic (civil rights), then the text (Martin Luther King’s Letter From Birmingham Jail), followed by instructional methods (discussion and cooperative learning) and learning experiences (close reading and analysis of text, identification of rhetorical devices, and argument writing), to help students meet the state standard. In contrast, BD ensures that teachers identify first the standards that they want their students to meet, followed by student results called for by the standards, and then learning activities that will lead to the desired results.” (Wiggins & McTighe, 2001, pp. 7-8).

The College Board has been answering critics of the framework’s suggestions by making the case that any good teacher will know which facts to teach to fill the framework, which is why the framework did not mention them.

“When the new framework was first reviewed by AP U.S. History teachers,” the framework notes, “they indicated that it would be useful to provide examples for teaching some of the concepts. For most concepts, AP U.S. History teachers know exactly what figures, events, and sources they will focus on, but for others, they asked that the framework provide suggestions.” (bold mine)

But, well, how did those teachers know what figures and events to focus on? Because someone at some point taught them specific facts from the American past and said that those facts were worth knowing and other facts were less worth knowing—if only because they were more connected to the mass of facts around them. This incident inspired pamphlets and cartoons and protests; this one didn’t. Citing this one strengthens your argument more than citing that one does. In other words, it matters which facts you use to make your arguments.

The problem is not that we need to be nicer to the Founders, that we must insist they were angels who rode golden clouds to form cities on hills while falling short zero times. That’s not history. That’s hagiography. It’s not that we should not take new cases for beginning and ending historical periods into account, or give short shrift to minority experiences.

But is it worth making sure you know certain names and dates? Not just so you can use Paul Revere and John Adams as examples in your essay on how “The resulting independence movement was fueled by established colonial elites, as well as by grassroots movements that included newly mobilized laborers, artisans and women, and rested on arguments over the rights of British subjects, the rights of the individual, and the ideas of the Enlightenment”—but so you can move freely about arguments for the rest of your life? I think it is.

If you really want to argue with the College Board, don’t argue that AP U.S. History isn’t nice enough to America. Argue that which specific facts you use to teach U.S. history— even at an advanced level—isn’t something you can just handwave like this. As the state legislators are demonstrating when they try to craft their own requirements, which facts and documents you include and which ones you don’t makes a difference. Do you want speeches by Ronald Reagan and sermons by John Edwards, or speeches by Lyndon Johnson and poems by Walt Whitman? This choice is nontrivial. You’d think the AP would have some interest in making certain there’s a balanced diet of facts—not just laudatory, not just condemnatory, but somewhere in between, where history is.

 

Alexandra Petri writes the ComPost blog, offering a lighter take on the news and opinions of the day.

 

 

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Pearson’s Common Core Gain, Student Pain

 

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(Editor: www.thereportcard.org Pearson, the $9 Billion global educational publishing giant makes money through non compete bids and testing programs that drive schools and students nuts. Pearson is also notorious for their Islam-biased textbooks such as World History 2013. At the same time, Pearson have few demonstrable examples of academic success).

 

By Stephanie Simon Politico

 

The British publishing giant Pearson had made few inroads in the United States — aside from distributing the TV game show “Family Feud” — when it announced plans in the summer of 2000 to spend $2.5 billion on an American testing company.

It turned out to be an exceptionally savvy move.

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The next year, Congress passed the No Child Left Behind Act, which mandated millions of new standardized tests for millions of kids in public schools. Pearson was in a prime position to capitalize.

From that perch, the company expanded rapidly, seizing on many subsequent reform trends, from online learning to the Common Core standards adopted in more than 40 states. The company has reaped the benefits: Half its $8 billion in annual global sales comes from its North American education division.

But Pearson’s dominance does not always serve U.S. students or taxpayers well.

A POLITICO investigation has found that Pearson stands to make tens of millions in taxpayer dollars and cuts in student tuition from deals arranged without competitive bids in states from Florida to Texas. The review also found Pearson’s contracts set forth specific performance targets — but don’t penalize the company when it fails to meet those standards. And in the higher ed realm, the contracts give Pearson extensive access to personal student data, with few constraints on how it is used.

POLITICO examined hundreds of pages of contracts, business plans and email exchanges, as well as tax filings, lobbying reports and marketing materials, in the first comprehensive look at Pearson’s business practices in the United States.

The investigation found that public officials often commit to buying from Pearson because it’s familiar, even when there’s little proof its products and services are effective.

The North Carolina Department of Public Instruction, for instance, declined to seek competitive bids for a new student data system on the grounds that it would be “in the best interest of the public” to simply hire Pearson, which had done similar work for the state in the past. The data system was such a disaster, the department had to pay Pearson millions extra to fix it.

Administrators at the University of Florida also skipped competitive bids on a huge project to build an online college from scratch. They were in a hurry. And they knew Pearson’s team from a previous collaboration. That project hadn’t been terribly successful, but no matter: UF dug up the old contract and rewrote it to give Pearson the new job — a job projected to be worth $186 million over the next decade.

And two public colleges in Texas not only gave Pearson a no-bid contract to build online classes, they agreed to pay the company to support 40,000 enrollments, no matter how many students actually signed up.

Pearson has aggressive lobbyists, top-notch marketing and a highly skilled sales team. Until the New York attorney general cracked down in late 2013, Pearson’s charitable foundation made a practice of treating school officials from across the nation to trips abroad, to conferences where the only education company represented was Pearson.

The story of Pearson’s rise is very much a story about America’s obsession with education reform over the past few decades.

Ever since a federal commission published “A Nation at Risk” in 1983 — warning that public education was being eroded by “a rising tide of mediocrity that threatens our very future as a nation and a people” — American schools have been enveloped in a sense of crisis. Politicians have raced to tout one fix after the next: new tests, new standards, new classroom technology, new partnerships with the private sector.

K-12 superintendents and college administrators alike struggle to boost enrollment, raise graduation rates, improve academic outcomes — and to do it all while cutting costs.

In this atmosphere of crisis, Pearson promises solutions. It sells the latest and greatest, and it’s no fly-by-night startup; it calls itself the world’s leading learning company. Public officials have seized it as a lifeline.

“Pearson has been the most creative and the most aggressive at [taking over] all those things we used to take as part of the public sector’s responsibility,” said Michael Apple, a professor of education policy at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Pearson declined to answer specific questions about many of its contracts and business practices.

But several top executives said they always work toward deals that benefit not just the company but its public-sector partners — and above all, the millions of students who use Pearson products daily.

“The public trust,” Senior Vice President Shilpi Niyogi said, “is vital to everything we do.”

TESTS, TEXTS AND ATTENTION DEFICIT

Pearson wields enormous influence over American education.

It writes the textbooks and tests that drive instruction in public schools across the nation.

Its software grades student essays, tracks student behavior and diagnoses — and treats — attention deficit disorder. The company administers teacher licensing exams and coaches teachers once they’re in the classroom. It advises principals. It operates a network of three dozen online public schools. It co-owns the for-profit company that now administers the GED.

A top executive boasted in 2012 that Pearson is the largest custodian of student data anywhere.

And that’s just its K-12 business.

Pearson’s interactive tutorials on subjects from algebra to philosophy form the foundation of scores of college courses. It builds online degree programs for a long list of higher education clients, including George Washington University, Arizona State and Texas A&M. The universities retain authority over academics, but Pearson will design entire courses, complete with lecture PowerPoints, discussion questions, exams and grading rubrics.

The company is even marketing a product that lets college professors track how long their students spend reading Pearson textbooks each night.

Pearson works with for-profit career colleges, too: Its marketing materials boast that its consultants can help them “stay one step ahead” of federal regulations.

Indeed, Pearson has its hand in so many education services that corporate executive Donald Kilburn confidently predicted on an earnings call last summer that the North American division would flourish even if states and school districts had to cut their budgets.

As long as sales reps can show that Pearson products get results, Kilburn said, “the money will find a way to come to us.”

But the POLITICO review found that public contracts and public subsidies — including at least $98.5 million in tax credits from six states — have flowed to Pearson even when the company can’t show its products and services are producing academic gains.

The state of Virginia recertified Pearson as an approved “school turnaround” consultant in 2013 even though the company had, at best, mixed results with that line of work: Just one of the five Virginia schools that Pearson cited as references improved both its math and reading proficiency rates against the state averages. Two schools lost ground in both math and reading and the other two had mixed results. State officials said Pearson met all the criteria they required of consultants.

Across the country, Pearson sold the Los Angeles Unified School District an online curriculum that it described as revolutionary — but that had not yet been completed, much less tested across a large district, before the LAUSD agreed to spend an estimated $135 million on it. Teachers dislike the Pearson lessons and rarely use them, an independent evaluation found.

And universities continue to hire Pearson to manage online programs even though the company has routinely failed to hit its contractual targets for student enrollment. The higher those targets are, the more lucrative the deal appears to the university — and the more willing administrators may be to promise Pearson a cut of up to 60 percent of student tuition.

If Pearson fails to bring in the promised number of students — and David Daniels, a managing director, acknowledged the targets are often “very ambitious” — it rarely gets sanctioned.

At Rutgers University in New Jersey, for instance, Pearson is in charge of recruiting students to online degree programs and counseling them so they stay engaged and enrolled. Yet if Pearson falls short of its recruitment or retention goals, its share of student tuition isn’t reduced. On the contrary, the contract allows Pearson’s cut of tuition to be increased in the face of disappointing numbers, keeping the revenue flowing. Last year, enrollment was about 200 students short of the minimum stipulated in the contract and nearly 1,000 students below the goal.

Contractual language also ensures Pearson collects its full cut if a student drops out mid-semester or fails to pay the tuition bill.

Faculty members have raised a number of complaints about the contract and moved to block Pearson from expanding its role on campus. Among their objections: About half of student tuition in the online programs goes directly to Pearson. Rutgers set out to “create an online campus as a cash cow,” said David Hughes, an anthropology professor, “but then flubbed that up entirely by giving the revenue away to Pearson.”

But Richard Novak, a Rutgers vice president, said it “would have been very nearly impossible for the university to enter the online degree space without the help of a powerful partner.” Novak said it would be “myopic and lopsided” to punish the company when students drop out, because many factors contribute to such decisions.

“This is a deep partnership,” Novak said, “and we work together on such issues.”

FAMILY FIRM TO GLOBAL GIANT

The company that would play such an outsize role in American classrooms was founded in Yorkshire, England, in 1844 as family-owned construction firm. By the 1890s, it was one of the largest building contractors in the world.

Over the decades, Pearson PLC — now based in London — bought stakes in all manner of industries, including newspapers, amusement parks and even the Madame Tussauds wax museum. It wouldn’t be until 1988 that the company took its first big step into the education world when it bought textbook publisher Addison-Wesley. Other acquisitions soon followed.

Though it still owns the Financial Times and Penguin Random House publishing, Pearson now focuses on education. It employs nearly 40,000 worldwide.

“When the federal government starts doing things like requiring all states to test all kids, there’s going to be gold in those hills. The people we’ve elected have created a landscape that’s allowed Pearson to prosper.”

- Jonathan Zimmerman, education historian at New York University.

Pearson’s stature is reflected in its access to top policymakers. Pearson is the only company with a seat on the board of directors of the Global Partnership for Education, which works with the World Bank and the United Nations to encourage developing countries to invest in education. (Pearson has substantial business interests in Asia, the Middle East and South America.)

And Pearson was one of only three for-profit education companies — the other two were startups — invited to hobnob with the Obamas and Education Secretary Arne Duncan last year at a White House summit on college access.

Pearson’s size has made it a lightning rod for criticism. Activists from both left and right spit out the brand name almost as a curse, using it as shorthand for all the educational trends they dislike, from the focus on high-stakes tests to the shift to Common Core to the push to turn more teaching over to high-tech algorithms.

The comedian Louis C.K. has tweeted his disdain for confusing homework questions “written by pearson or whoever the hell.” Glenn Beck has publicly held up Pearson as a symbol of corporate greed. A speaker at a teachers’ union conference last summer drew cheers with his fervid vow, “We will not be Pearsonized!” And when Ohio students recently produced an anti-Common Core video, they targeted Pearson in particular, flashing the corporate logo as they sang lyrics they’d adapted from a Pink Floyd song: “Hey! Pearson! Leave them kids alone!”

Conspiracy theorists sometimes suggest that Pearson has a sinister hold on federal and state education policy. In peak years, it has spent about $1 million lobbying Congress and perhaps $1 million more on the state level, with a particular focus on Texas, according to state and federal records.

But that’s not an outsize number for such a large company. By comparison, the National Education Association, the biggest teachers union in the U.S., spent $2.5 million lobbying Congress in 2013, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

“The policies that Pearson is benefiting from may be wrongheaded in a million ways, but it strikes me as deeply unfair to blame Pearson for them,” said Jonathan Zimmerman, an education historian at New York University. “When the federal government starts doing things like requiring all states to test all kids, there’s going to be gold in those hills. The people we’ve elected have created a landscape that’s allowed Pearson to prosper.”

 

Still, some policy analysts say they’re uneasy with a profit-driven company exercising so much influence over American education. The company’s global adjusted operating profit for 2013 topped $1 billion — and 55 percent of it came from the North American education division.

“The line between profit and profiteering can seem pretty fuzzy,” said Cathy Davidson, director of the Futures Initiative and a professor at the Graduate Center at the City University of New York. “If you have an exclusive contract with a massive educational system, is that really just earning a profit, or are you profiting at the public’s expense?” Davidson said. “That’s the line many people, including myself, find very troubling.”

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In an interview last spring, Pearson CEO John Fallon defended the company’s profits as appropriate, in part, because they finance investments to improve education around the world.

“We are a profit-making enterprise,” Fallon said. “We don’t exist unless we have the profits to sustain a billion dollars or more in research. But profits do not define us.”

Profit margins for Pearson’s work with public institutions are hard to determine. Where they can be tracked, they’re sizable.

A 2012 contract with California State University projected that Pearson would earn $12 million over five years for marketing, enrollment and student support services — a healthy markup considering the company estimated it would spend $5.5 million to provide those services. The deal fell apart two years later, in part, because of the university’s concern over costs.

And the business plan for Pearson’s 2010 joint marketing venture with an online public school in Florida projected gross profit margins would hit 85 percent within a few years. That deal, too, fell apart as sales didn’t come close to meeting expectations.

One of Pearson’s most successful deals to date puts the company in charge of marketing and supporting online degree programs for Arizona State University in exchange for more than half of student tuition revenue.

The programs have grown rapidly since Pearson launched them in 2010; as of fall 2014, 10,000 students were enrolled, though that’s still short of projections.

Kari Barlow, ASU’s chief operating officer, described the university’s relationship with Pearson as “highly cooperative,” adding: “We succeed or fail together.”

ASU Online will bring in about $69 million in student tuition this year.

The university will keep about $31 million.

Pearson’s share: $38 million.

‘THE GENIUS OF PEARSON’

Pearson is probably best known in the U.S. for its standardized tests.

It dominates that market.

Pearson holds testing contracts with 21 states plus Washington, New York City and Puerto Rico. The most recent analysis available pegs Pearson’s market share at 39 percent, nearly triple the size of its nearest competitor. That 2012 report, from The Brookings Institution, estimates Pearson’s annual revenue from U.S. assessments at $258 million.

Pearson is poised to maintain its position in the new era of exams aligned to the Common Core academic standards. It holds the contract to administer and score the exams that will be used by 10 states in the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers consortium. The PARCC contract is worth at least $138 million to Pearson this year and could ultimately be worth many hundreds of millions more.

A rival test developer is fighting the contract in court, alleging the bidding was rigged so only Pearson could plausibly compete. Pearson, which was the only bidder, says the process was fair. The bidding was run through New Mexico; state officials also defend the process.

But New Mexico has refused to produce any correspondence between Pearson and state employees in response to a public records request that POLITICO filed last August.

Whether they’re traditional or Common Core, standardized tests these days carry high stakes. Scores on the exams can determine whether a child advances to the next grade, whether a teacher keeps her job and whether a school remains open.

So its stronghold in the testing business gives Pearson huge leverage over other aspects of K-12 education.

To prepare their students for Pearson exams, districts can buy Pearson textbooks, Pearson workbooks and Pearson test prep, such as a suite of software that includes 60,000 sample exam questions. They can connect kids to Pearson’s online tutoring service or hire Pearson consultants to coach their teachers. Pearson also sells software to evaluate teachers and recommend Pearson professional development classes to those who rate poorly — perhaps because their students aren’t faring well on Pearson tests.

“The genius of Pearson is the interconnection among their markets,” said Apple, the education policy professor. “That gives Pearson its power.”

Niyogi, the Pearson executive, said the company’s breadth benefits consumers, because it can “combine products in a way that helps our customers do more with less.”

The company has numerous competitors for nearly all the products it sells, but the POLITICO review found Pearson often has the inside track for contracts because its products are so ubiquitous and its sales staff builds such tight relationships with state and local officials.

When North Carolina wanted to replace its Pearson-run student database with an updated system, state officials reflected on their “positive experiences” with the company and decided “it would be in the best interest of the public” to hire Pearson again — without seeking bids from competitors, said Vanessa Jeter, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Public Instruction.

 

So in the fall of 2012, the state awarded Pearson a two-year, $8.5 million no-bid contract to transfer student data to a new system.

Pearson’s new database, PowerSchool, turned out to be riddled with so many glitches that some schools couldn’t tally enrollment or produce accurate transcripts; one local superintendent called it a “train wreck.”

Most problems have now been fixed, Jeter said. But the state had to hire eight Pearson project managers — each of whom billed up to $1,024 per day — to relieve its overloaded IT staff and assist districts with their “unique issues arising from the implementation of PowerSchool,” according to a contract amendment.

The emergency help, plus more training and other additions, pushed the two-year price of the no-bid Pearson contract up 44 percent, to $12.2 million. Last summer, North Carolina extended it for a third year at a cost of $7.1 million.

Michael Chai, Pearson’s senior vice president for school product technology, said PowerSchool has rolled out more smoothly in other districts. “There are always lessons learned,” he said. “For each deployment, we get better and better.”

SHOWING OFF IN ALABAMA

The value of Pearson’s involvement in overlapping markets is on full display in Huntsville, Alabama.

The local school district, which serves 23,000 students, inked a six-year, $22 million, no-bid contract with Pearson in June 2012.

Under Alabama law, districts don’t have to seek competitive bids on instructional material, such as the digital curriculum that Huntsville bought from Pearson. But the contract also calls for Pearson to provide other services that would typically be put out to bid, including software to analyze student achievement, professional development courses for teachers, tech support and test-prep questions.

A district spokesman, Keith Ward, said the district did not seek other bids because officials believed Pearson to be the only vendor that could bundle all the services.

The contract was signed by Superintendent Casey Wardynski. A year after signing the contract, he led a Pearson webinar on district leadership in the digital age. And Pearson listed Wardynski online as a member of the company’s “team of experts,” one of the “minds behind our solutions” — until POLITICO inquired about the apparent conflict, and the website was taken down.

Pearson declined to answer questions about Wardynski’s role with the company. Niyogi also declined to say whether Pearson has ever paid Wardynski.

The district did not make Wardynski available for an interview. Rena Anderson, the director of community engagement, said the superintendent “receives no compensation in any form from Pearson or any affiliates.”

POLITICO submitted a public records request last summer for correspondence between Pearson and a handful of top district officials, including Wardynski. The district’s lawyer, Taylor Brooks, said he believed there were a great many such emails but said they might be personal in nature and thus not a matter of public record. He refused to produce any documents.

Pearson’s relationship with the Huntsville school district extends beyond the $22 million contract.

The district hosts regular tours to showcase its use of online textbooks; more than 700 educators from across the nation have attended. The tours have boosted Wardynski’s reputation as a trailblazer; he and the district have won awards for their embrace of technology.

The tours also give Pearson a golden opportunity to pitch school officials on its products. On the itinerary: a visit to the laptop maintenance center, a trip to an elementary school — and a presentation from a Pearson representative.

Pearson declined to say whether the company underwrites the tours. But the company has not been shy about using every opportunity to get its sales force in front of potential customers.

In a successful 2013 application to renew its Virginia certification as a “turnaround partner” for struggling schools, for instance, Pearson listed 14 employees it said would play vital roles in helping those schools improve. One was the sales director for a Pearson tutoring service.

Pearson also used its charitable foundation to put its sales reps in front of potential customers. The foundation sent state officials to conferences in London; Helsinki, Finland; Rio de Janeiro, Brazil; and Singapore, where they had plenty of time to mingle with the Pearson sales team.

A POLITICO investigation last year found other instances of Pearson’s charitable work intertwining with its business interests. The company announced in November that it was shutting down the foundation.

TEXAS COLLEGES BET BIG

In higher education, Pearson has had striking success at parlaying relatively small jobs into big contracts.

Northern Arizona University, for instance, signed a routine contract in February 2012 to buy online curricular material from Pearson. The contract also called for Pearson to help NAU faculty customize that material. Total cost to the university: about $3 million over three years.

Two months later, the contract was amended without competitive bidding to give Pearson a much bigger job: developing the equivalent of more than 100 online courses in business administration, information technology and liberal studies. The college guaranteed payments of at least $8.7 million.

NAU spokesman Tom Bauer said the process was appropriate because the original contract and the amendment both served the same goal of tapping Pearson’s expertise to build online resources. Pearson declined to comment.

Pearson’s success in landing the Arizona contract soon paved the way for additional deals.

In the summer of 2013, two public colleges in Texas went looking for a partner to develop inexpensive online degree programs that students could move through at their own pace, advancing as they demonstrated competency at each required skill. The colleges turned to Pearson — and awarded the company a no-bid contract worth more than $9 million over five years.

 

Steven Moore, a vice chancellor at Texas A&M University, said the contract was not put out for competitive bid because administrators believed no other company could match the expertise that Pearson had gleaned working for NAU.

Pearson’s NAU program at the time was barely underway; there was no way to gauge its academic impact or its appeal to students. (Just two dozen would enroll that fall.) Nonetheless, officials at Texas A&M-Commerce and South Texas College were so confident their partnership with Pearson would be a success that they agreed to pay the company for at least 40,200 student enrollments by 2018. Pearson collects a fee for each enrollment; all told, the company stands to earn $9.4 million.

Story Continued Below

 

In the first year, the colleges got just 463 enrollments, far short of the 840 projected in the contract. Administrators said they expect it to pick up now that they have launched a major marketing campaign for their first degree program, a bachelor’s in organizational leadership.

And if enrollments fall short despite the marketing? The colleges still owe $9.4 million. The contract does, however, let them make up any shortfall by buying additional Pearson products, which they could use to launch new degree programs — supported by Pearson.

Pearson’s Niyogi said the company “works with all of our partners to structure a contract that makes the best use of their resources.”

A FLORIDA BLOCKBUSTER

Pearson’s contracts in Arizona and Texas pale in comparison to its blockbuster deal with the University of Florida.

That deal traces to 2011, when a Pearson subsidiary won a competitive process to develop online programs for graduate students at Florida’s flagship university. Pearson’s online courses did not do very well; just 48 students enrolled last fall in a Master of Arts in Urban and Regional Planning, which was projected to draw hundreds this year. But administrators got to know Pearson representatives.

So when the legislature ordered the university to build an online college for undergrads on a tight deadline, the UF team didn’t host a new round of competitive bids, though the project was much bigger than the graduate courses, and at least eight companies have expertise in the field. Instead, the team rewrote Pearson’s old contract to assign the company’s new, and far more lucrative, responsibilities.

“Given that we already had Pearson people we were acquainted with, we needed to investigate using their expertise,” said Andrew McCollough, an associate provost. “We knew Pearson by reputation. … In our considered judgment at the time, this was the best route for us to take.”

The contract was signed just before Thanksgiving of 2013. By Christmas, Pearson had collected its first $1.75 million.

All told, the contract is worth a projected $186 million to Pearson through 2024, according to a business plan reviewed by POLITICO.

That sum includes $9.5 million in public funds over the next few years. The rest comes from student tuition.

Pearson will initially collect $135 for each Florida student who enrolls in an online class — and $765 for each out-of-state student. The faculty member teaching the course, by contrast, will earn a flat $60 per student, according to minutes from a June meeting of the university’s board of governors.

Paul LeBlanc, president of Southern New Hampshire University, has studied this type of arrangement — though not this particular contract — and says it makes sense for companies like Pearson to demand substantial payments and multiyear deals. The private sector must “put in enormous amounts of capital and resources to bring these institutions online,” he said.

At the same time, LeBlanc said he hears frustration from his fellow college presidents. They feel a great urgency to get into the online market, but they lack the expertise, he said, so they have few options other than to bring in a for-profit partner.

Many colleges are “looking for life rafts,” said Ken Hartman, principal analyst at the consulting firm Eduventures, which advises universities on developing online programs. Administrators often jump in without fully considering either their needs or the cost of hiring a private partner, Hartman said: “It looks very tempting, and you think it’s going to save the day for you. But it’s not.”

In Florida, UF won’t begin making significant profit off the online college until 2020 — and then only if it grows exponentially, according to the business plan. The university projects more than 25,000 undergrads will be enrolled within a decade. About 1,600 enrolled in the first year.

“I believe we are on track,” McCollough said, “but the future is yet unknown.”

Pearson’s contract with UF gives the company the right to request access to all information from students’ applications for admission, including financial aid data. The university does have discretion, though, and uses it: “We’ve already had instances where Pearson wished they would have more access to student information, and we’ve said no,” McCollough said.

“I heard a lot from my constituents about Pearson’s role. They’re very concerned that it’s taken over of much of the educational assessment arena — that it’s basically become a behemoth.”

- Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward (R)

Other contracts reviewed by POLITICO give Pearson more leeway with no restrictions on how the company uses the vast quantities of personal data it can collect as it recruits and enrolls students and then tracks their progress through the academic programs. Some of the information is protected by federal privacy law, but much is not.

Pearson says it does not sell the data or use it to target advertising to students. But the contracts do not give the colleges Pearson works with any mechanism to monitor or enforce that policy. Pearson has declined to join more than 100 other education technology firms in signing a Student Privacy Pledge recently hailed by President Barack Obama as an important safeguard against commercial data mining.

ROUGH TIMES IN LOS ANGELES

As public criticism of Pearson has mounted, the company has moved aggressively to manage and protect its public image.

It engaged a market research firm last summer to conduct in-depth interviews with journalists and other “elite stakeholders” about their views of the company, offering to pay participants $150 for their time. (POLITICO education reporters were asked to participate but did not.)

Pearson has also stepped up outreach on social media and through its campus ambassadors — students paid to promote its products at colleges.

And when controversy began swirling around a pricey Pearson partnership with the Los Angeles Unified School District, executives leaped into action.

“I’m writing to see how we can support a concerted effort to make the many positive voices more prominent,” Sherry King, a Pearson Foundation vice president, emailed then-Superintendent John Deasy in the fall of 2013. “Please let us know how we can help in a systematic way. Our team is ready to work with you.”

As it turned out, no amount of positive PR could rescue the Pearson deal with LAUSD.

Emails first published by public radio station KPCC showed that Deasy and other top LAUSD officials had been discussing a major curriculum purchase with Pearson executives a year before the contract went out to bid.

The Pearson reps positioned themselves not just as potential business partners but as loyal acolytes of Deasy, who had his hands full dealing with a restive school board and angry teachers union. “I’m proud to know you!” one wrote. Another told Deasy she hoped he was getting enough rest after some difficult days, adding, “thank goodness we have you as our Supt.”

On May 24, 2012, then-Deputy Superintendent Jaime Aquino — who had worked for a Pearson subsidiary before joining the district — circulated an email thread that included an exchange he’d had with Pearson executives about whether the district would have to seek competitive bids before buying the curriculum. “I believe we would have to make sure that your bid is the lowest one,” he wrote.

Pearson executive Judy Codding responded that she didn’t see a need for a competitive bid. “I don’t know why there would have to be an RFP,” she wrote. “I just want things right. I cannot imagine any oneelse able to do this as cheaply…”

Deasy and Pearson have said they were only discussing a pilot project. But the emails suggest conversations about a much bigger deal. Aquino told the Los Angeles Times that his involvement in the project was “by the book.” He said his email was just an attempt to explain how a competitive bidding process would work, with the district seeking the lowest possible price.

The district ended up requesting bids in March of 2013 for an enormous project — distributing tablets loaded with math and reading curriculum to all 650,000 students plus all their teachers.

A subsequent review led by school board member Monica Ratliff found serious flaws in the process, including inconsistent scoring of bids and late rule changes that appeared to favor the ultimate winners: Apple and Pearson.

At least three LAUSD officials who had a role in evaluating the bids had attended a three-day conference in Palm Desert the previous year hosted by Pearson, KPCC has reported. Participants got a look at the new curriculum Pearson was trying to sell to LAUSD — and each took home an iPad loaded with sample lessons.

The iPad contract LAUSD finally signed in the summer of 2013 was eye-popping. Pearson alone stood to make an estimated $135 million over three years even though its curriculum was at that point at least a year away from completion. And that was just the start: The district would also have to pay Pearson an estimated $60 million a year to keep using its curriculum after 2016, according to LAUSD spokeswoman Shannon Haber.

Days after the publication of the Pearson emails last August, Deasy halted the purchases. He resigned in October, saying that he wanted to spend more time with his family and that he was confident he had committed “no missteps” in the iPad deal.

In December, the FBI seized 20 boxes of records about the deal from the district for an investigation that is still ongoing. Niyogi said the FBI has not requested information from the company, but it will cooperate if asked.

Early reviews of the curriculum, meanwhile, have been poor: An independent team visited 245 classrooms in the fall and found just one using the Pearson lessons.

“All the things that supposedly were so attractive about what Pearson was offering have not come to fruition, at least for me,” school board member Steve Zimmer said. He described his vote to buy the iPads loaded with the curriculum as “the worst vote I’ve ever made in my life.”

Chai, Pearson’s senior vice president for school product technology, said it’s “very typical of these kind of rollouts … that the adoption curve for teachers follows a bit of a bumpy path.”

BACKLASH

The company has experienced some setbacks in its higher education division. California State University last summer scrapped a 2012 contract worth more than $25 million after Pearson’s bid to recruit online students flopped spectacularly.

CSU had priced the online degrees substantially higher than traditional in-state tuition — at least, in part, because of the built-in cost of hiring Pearson, said Gerry Hanley, assistant vice chancellor for academic technology services. Enrollment never hit even 10 percent of projections.

Minutes from an advisory board meeting in October 2013 indicate that Pearson sought to raise its fees in the face of disappointing numbers. The university refused. “The quality of the marketing provided by Pearson was not adequate,” the minutes note.

Last year, Howard University also canceled plans to develop online programs with Pearson; neither the university or the company would comment on the reasons. And faculty at Rutgers voted to block Pearson from developing online courses in the graduate school, though the company is still working on other degree programs.

Pearson also faces challenges in the K-12 realm.

A federal review of the LAUSD’s iPad deal found the district could have saved considerably by building its own custom curriculum from a variety of online resources rather than buying a costly off-the-shelf model from a major publisher. More and more districts are coming to similar conclusions.

“The industry is changing,” said Mark Edwards, superintendent of the Mooresville Graded School District in North Carolina. Pearson has hailed Edwards as a partner and a visionary, but he recently discontinued the remaining Pearson curricular product in use in his schools. Edwards said he couldn’t imagine ever again investing in a “one-size-fits-all” curriculum when “there’s so much rich new content coming online all the time.”

In the testing world, too, the ground is shifting rapidly. A loud backlash against the Common Core has prompted several states to pull out of the PARCC assessment consortium and reject the tests being developed by Pearson.

Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Oklahoma and Arizona have all withdrawn from PARCC and picked rival testing companies to administer their statewide reading and math exams. Mississippi is poised to join them after the state Board of Education voted last month to leave PARCC and seek competitive bids for a new state assessment.

Pearson’s contract with PARCC projected that up to 10 million students would take the exam annually; this spring, just 5 million will be tested.

“I heard a lot from my constituents about Pearson’s role,” said Arizona state Sen. Kelli Ward, a Republican, who worked to extract her state from PARCC. “They’re very concerned that it’s taken over so much of the educational assessment arena — that it’s basically become a behemoth.”

Another big blow came this fall in the Lone Star State when Education Commissioner Michael Williams declined to renew Pearson’s $90 million-a-year contract to run the Texas standardized testing program.

The state auditor had ripped into the contract in a 2013 report that concluded it was far too vague to allow for effective oversight by the Texas Education Agency. The contract had so few details about the costs of each element that when the legislature eliminated 10 of the 15 tests required for high school graduation, state officials had to rely on Pearson to tell them how much they’d save.

Texas launched a competitive bidding process for new exams and is now reviewing the proposals.

Perhaps the biggest threat to Pearson’s continued dominance, however, comes from Capitol Hill.

Republicans and Democrats alike have expressed sharp concern about the prominent role standardized testing now plays in schools across the nation. They’re considering scrapping the federal mandate that all states test all students in reading and math each year in grades three through eight plus at least once in high school.

Pearson is not abandoning the U.S. market because of these challenges — far from it.

Niyogi said Pearson is proud of its work on projects such as the Common Core exams and an online toolkit for parents and won’t be sidetracked by criticism. “We have to make sure we’re not distracted by the noise,” she said.

Yet Pearson is also deliberately shifting resources as it pivots to focus on new markets in the developing world.

Pearson already has a major footprint running English-language schools in China and Brazil. It operates degree-granting colleges serving tens of thousands of students in Mexico, Saudi Arabia and South Africa. It’s growing in India.

And just last month, Pearson announced it would invest $50 million in local education startups, including for-profit private schools, across Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The time is right for Pearson to expand internationally, said Brendan O’Grady, a vice president. The company stands ready to export to the world the model that has proved so successful in the United States since Pearson purchased National Computer Systems nearly 15 years ago and first jumped into the American testing market.

“We see it,” O’Grady said, “as an opportunity.”

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Teachers: Assign History Papers to Teach Writing Skills

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(Editor: www.thereportcard.org Fewer and fewer schools assign rigorous history papers, yet writing about history is a great teacher of writing skills as well as history itself. If more schools would assign history papers, perhaps the 88% high school seniors who rated by the NAEP as not proficient in American History would learn something).

 

By Samantha Wesner

 

Samantha Wesner is the managing editor of The Concord Review, which publishes high school students’ research papers.

 

As a junior in high school taking American history, my class had two options for the final project: a PowerPoint presentation or an extended research essay. To many it was a no-brainer; the PowerPoint was definitely going to involve more pictures, fewer hours of work, and less solitude. But some of us went for the research paper, whether because we were naturally drawn to writing, seeking a new challenge, or presentation-averse (as I was).

The daunting task loomed. The essay length: fifteen to twenty pages. The topic I had chosen: The Spanish-American War of 1898. I was a slow writer, and the longest paper I had written before was a five-page English paper on Kurt Vonnegut. The English department had seen to it that I had plenty of practice writing shorter papers. But this new assignment was a leap forward rather than a step. I might have been better off with Will Fitzhugh’s “Page Per Year” plan: With each year, I would have written a paper to correspond with my grade—one page for first grade, nine pages for ninth grade, and so on.

I scoured the textbook for the few paragraphs it offered on the subject. And then what? I would have stopped there if I hadn’t known that other students had done it. Those of us writing a paper were given examples, plus guidance on paragraph structure, quoting, balancing primary and secondary sources, and footnoting. We toured the library and some online resources to get us started. With this essential how-to knowledge in hand, the assignment inched toward the realm of the possible in my mind.

Stacks of library books, reams of notes, and a twenty-page paper later, I had written what I now consider to be the capstone of my high school education. Years later, I remember 1898 better than the great majority of what I learned in high school. To this day, I really do “remember the Maine”; I have a lasting understanding of turn-of-the-century American imperialism, the power and danger of a jingoist press, the histories of complex relationships between the U.S. and the Philippines and Cuba, and Teddy Roosevelt’s unusual path to national prominence. My initial, vague interest blossomed into a fascination that I did not expect when I first set out. I felt a sense of pride as I tucked the stack of paper neatly into a binder to be handed in. Happy to be done, but even happier to have done it, I felt as if I had summited a peak that had seemed ineffably large from below. And I had certainly needed a big push.

Perusing class syllabi my first semester in college, I came upon a description of a final assignment in a history class that looked interesting: a fifteen- to twenty-page research paper. “I can do that,” I thought, “I’ve done it before.”

I didn’t know how lucky I was to be in the small minority of college freshmen who had learned how to write a research paper in high school. Most American high school students graduate without ever being encouraged to explore a topic in such depth, and yet this is exactly the kind of work they will encounter in college, especially in the humanities. In an era in which the president is invested in making college an opportunity all can afford, it’s only fitting that all should be afforded the proper preparation.

We do a disservice to students when we don’t ask them to do challenging work that will hold them in good stead in college and beyond. True, hard-working teachers, some of whom have over 150 students to teach, often simply do not have the time to grade this kind of assignment. In a perfect world, there would be time and resources to spare for extensive feedback to every student. But a research paper that receives even a little feedback is better than no research paper at all. The former still immeasurably deepens a student’s knowledge, skill set, self-discipline, and confidence.

I have my high school history teacher to thank for the confidence with which I approached my first college research paper. I ended up majoring in history and was comfortable writing a senior thesis of more than one hundred pages. Now, with The Concord Review, I have the wonderful task of recognizing student achievement. And yet, I’m painfully aware that The Concord Review’s young authors are the exceptions—those high schoolers who have written extensive history research papers. Those published go on to great things; many attend top colleges and four have been named Rhodes Scholars. Without a doubt, these are bright students. But how many bright students in the public school system have brilliant papers within them? If they aren’t afforded that first push, we may never find out.

Samantha Wesner is a recent honors graduate in History

from Harvard College, where her thesis on Masonic organizations

in 18th Century France won the Hoopes Prize in a college-wide competition

 

 

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New AZ State Course: “Problem of Whiteness”

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(Editor: www.thereportcard.org Yet another university course is being offered in what is wrong with white people, and western thought. The National Association of Scholars conducted a study of California colleges to determine whether hard left bias really dominated campuses within history and political science department . The survey results show that for every moderate professor there are 12 on the far left. On some campuses the ratio is as high as 25-1, and woe betide the student that disagrees with the leftist orthodoxy. Free thought and speech is being trampled. The Arizona State example is but one of many. The Report Card will publish a series of articles on the leftist anti-western bias at our colleges and concomitantly K-12 public schools).

By Lauren Clark “Campus Reform”

In a sign that America’s institutions of higher learning may be lost forever to the radical left, college students in Arizona can now take a class on “Hating Whitey.”

In line with the extreme academic discipline called critical race theory, which is prevalent on campuses across America, Arizona State University is now offering a course on “the problem of whiteness,” according to Campus Reform.

Critical race theory is a belief that relies heavily on the myth of institutional racism, the opinion that racism is inherent in America, brought on by white privilege and white supremacy.

And if that’s not bad enough, the class—ENGLISH 401: “Studies in American Literature/Culture: U.S. Race Theory & the Problem of Whiteness” — is being taught by a white man.

Leave it to a white academic elitist, beset with “white guilt” no doubt, to corrupt the minds of young Americans with a theory driven by identity politics that has little basis in reality.

Campus Reform correspondent Lauren Clark, a student at Arizona State, joined Elisabeth Hasselbeck this week on “Fox and Friends,” and talked about the books associated with the course.

“All of the books have a disturbing trend, and that’s pointing to all white people as the root cause of social injustices for this country,” Clark said.

Twenty people are enrolled in the class, which began Jan. 12.

“I think it shows the significant double standard of higher education institutions,” James Malone, a junior economics major, told Campus Reform. “They would never allow a class talking about the problem of ‘blackness.’ And if they did, there would be an uproar about it. But you can certainly harass people for their apparent whiteness.”

 

 

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“Islamophobe” A Noun or a Threat?

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By Bill Korach www.thereportcard.org

 

In light of the Islamic massacre of the staff of the magazine “Charlie Hebdo in Paris, I am rethinking what it means to be labeled an Islamophobe. The Report Card has published a number of articles about the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) which is the US face of Hamas a terrorist organization. For these fact based articles, I was named an “Islamophobe” in CAIR’s annual Florida Report. In November last year, this news story appeared in The Report Card about the annual report.

 

 

“The Council on Islamic American Relations (CAIR), the American face of HAMAS, a terrorist organization as recognized by the State Department, produced their 2014 Florida Annual Report this month naming Report Card publisher William Korach an “Islamophobe.” The Report was distributed at their banquet and will be posted to their website in due course. CAIR has been active in obstructing the New York Police Department from surveillance of Islamic radicals, fighting the use of the phrase “radical Islam” in official reports and in the media, and indoctrinating American schools about Islam. The Report Card has published a series of articles on key CAIR operative Hassan Shibly’s lectures on Islam in Tampa schools.

 

CAIR’s list of Islamophobes also includes Col. Allen West, former Florida US Congressman, Dr. William Saxton, who holds a Ph.D in physics from Harvard and is President of Citizens for National Security, Florida Senator Alan Hays, Volusia County Republican Party Chairman Tony Ledbetter, Randy McDaniels, President of Jacksonville Act for America and others.”

 

In America, it is commonplace for one side or another to label their opponents. For example, Democrats frequently say that Republicans are “racist.” Republicans say that many Democrats are now “socialists.” Each side causes anger and retort, but at the end of the day, they are just nouns or words, no one is killed in the process. But what does it mean when a Muslim calls out an opponent or uses the name “Islamophobe?” Is that a noun or is it a threat? Does it mean that the labeled individual is a marked man?

 

Many murders have been carried out by Islamic radicals because they claim their victims slandered (kidhb) the Prophet Mohammed. To be labeled an Islamophobe means that that one is hostel to Islam and perhaps has slandered Islam, an act worthy of death. It is not at all hard to earn a death sentence in the world of Islam. We see plainly that it meant death to the staff of Charlie Hebdo. Could that happen in America? It already has. Should I start making use of my concealed carry permit? Maybe it’s time.

 

 

 

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Common Core’s Coleman Praises Chinese Communist Propaganda Mill

David Coleman President of the College Board

David Coleman President of the College Board

(Editor: www.thereportcard.org David Coleman, principal author of The Common Core Standard, and now president of The College Board lavished effusive praise over Ms. Xu Lin, head of the Chinese Confucius Institute that exists on many US, Canadian and European college campuses. The purpose of the Institute is to indoctrinate students about the virtues and values of the Communist Party).

 

Wall Street Journal December 26, 2014.

 

Earlier this year, U.S. College Board President David Coleman feted Ms. Xu at a conference in Los Angeles. Referring to Ms. Xu’s agency by its Chinese acronym, Hanban, Mr. Coleman gushed: “Hanban is like the sun. It lights the path to develop Chinese teaching in the U.S. The College Board is the moon. I am so honored to reflect the light that we’ve gotten from Hanban.”

Not all scholars and politicians are so credulous. The University of Chicago and Penn State recently closed their Confucius Institutes, while Canada’s largest school district, in Toronto, nixed plans to open one.

Ms. Xu’s comments now challenge the legions of American university and K-12 leaders who have never raised concerns, even as most of them signed secret contracts with Beijing. New Jersey Rep. Chris Smith has pledged to investigate such contracts and examine whether institutions should lose government funds for restricting academic freedom. Such efforts can help, but a broader shift in attitude is needed.

Students deserve opportunities to study Chinese language and culture without wearing ideological blinders provided by Beijing. To the extent that Beijing-backed Confucius Institutes shape instruction in the West, Chinese government interests will increasingly trump academic freedom.

 

Why does Coleman lavish praise on a bureaucrat who support the oppressive Chinese Communist government, while at the same time trashes America in The College Board’s Advanced Placement US History framework? Mr. Coleman’s priorities are backward.

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