Nebraska will seek a second opinion and, perhaps, third and fourth opinions on the quality of the state’s proposed new social studies standards before adopting them.
Members of the Nebraska Board of Education voted 8-0 Friday to submit the proposed standards to reviewers outside the state.
An initial draft of the standards has already stirred controversy.
That draft was criticized for leaving out key events and people, which state officials have since said they intend to restore.
One member of the Nebraska State Board of Education, John Sieler, said the draft promoted global government and failed to emphasize American exceptionalism. Sieler is a former Republican Party official.
Before the vote Friday, two Nebraska social studies teachers addressed the board, saying they preferred more broadly written standards.
Bob Brousek, who teaches social studies at Westside High School in Omaha, said standards should provide the “skelton” from which teachers build their curriculum.
The national trend in standards is toward broader concepts, he said.
Donlynn Rice, administrator of instruction and curriculum for the Nebraska Department of Education, said the external review will be an opportunity for “a fresh set of eyes” to examine the standards.
One organization the department intends to have review the standards is Denver-based Mid-continent Regional Education Laboratory, at a cost of $27,600.
The private, nonprofit research and development corporation has helped the state in the past by reviewing drafts of other academic standards.
Rice said the corporation would conduct a comparison of Nebraska’s standards with those in states such as California and Massachusetts.
“Those are highly regarded sets of state standards,” she said.
Researchers at the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative organization that researches and analyzes education issues, reviewed those states’ history standards last year and gave them both a grade of A-minus.
In 2003, Fordham graded Nebraska’s current social studies standards a “C,” noting a lack of detail, poor organization and “serious gaps.”
Rice told board members Thursday that the outside reviewers have no vested interest in Nebraska’s standards and would provide an unbiased opinion.
The reviewers would make sure the standards challenge Nebraska students and increase in rigor as students get older, she said.
In 2007, state lawmakers directed the board to update the state’s academic standards. Language arts, math and science are already done. This year, it’s social studies.
Nebraska’s nearly 250 school districts must adopt the standards or enact their own standards of equal or greater rigor.
Board member Bob Evnen of Lincoln said the external review would provide valuable information.
Evnen said he had inquired at the Fordham Institute, American Enterprise Institute and Hillsdale College for possible leads on reviewers.
He said he also contacted E.D. Hirsch, professor emeritus in education and humanities at the University of Virginia.
Evnen said the state should consider examining the social studies framework on which the National Assessment of Educational Progress test is based — that test is part of the U.S. Department of Education’s Nation’s Report Card series.
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