Social Studies Standards

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In October 2014 the Kentucky Board of Education did an initial reading of a very problematic revision to Kentucky's public school social studies standards. Reactions have been strong and generally negative.

The squabble started in the Kentucky Board of Education’s October 7, 2014 meeting when a proposed revision to the social studies standards was severely criticized by Kentucky’s History Teacher of the Year, Donnie Wilkerson. Wilkerson aggressively charged the proposal was “devoid” of content and also ignored the best research on teaching. Adding more fuel to the fire, Wilkerson also said the first group of teachers assembled to create the revision was disbanded by the Kentucky Department of Education when those teachers would not go along with the very poor approach to social studies that the department’s staff favored.

Following that October 2014 meeting, the board got a lot of negative feedback. The Lexington Herald-Leader even ran a story about the troubled standards which showed educators in Fayette County Schools also shared reservations about the proposal.

In addition, Bluegrass Institute’s staff education analyst Richard Innes located the state’s Kentucky Core Academic Standards for June 2013, which contain the state’s current social studies standards. Innes looked for a few keywords and concepts in the current standards that were missing in the new ones. Some of those omissions are really disturbing.

For example, while specifically listed in the state’s current social studies standards, the proposal astonishingly omits the: • “American Revolution,” • “American Civil War,” • “World War I,” • “World War II,” • “Vietnam” and the • “Persian Gulf War.”

Some other astonishing omissions include: • “Bill of Rights,” • “Preamble to the U.S. Constitution,” • “Kentucky’s Constitution” and even • The “Declaration of Independence!”

Clearly, Teacher Wilkerson was right on target when he said the proposal was “devoid” of content.

There was enough negative feedback that the proposed social studies standard was pulled back for more work. That work included the opening of a short public comment period at the end of 2014.

For months thereafter, nothing more was publicly released about the standards.

Then, a short time ago, it was discovered by accident that the department had established a “Proposed Social Studies for the Next Generation” Web page with links to a revised social studies standards draft dated March 2015.

However, the revision didn’t seem very different from the one presented to the Kentucky Board of Education back in October 2014. Teacher Donnie Wilkerson confirmed that the changes in the new, March 2015 document were minor.

The department’s staff had added something to the mix, however, called “Considerations for Curriculum Development.” These appear to be nothing more than suggestion lists of things that social studies teachers might choose to cover in their classes. The CCDs, as they are being called, are not mandatory and won’t be used to create the new social studies tests. In essence, as far as the standards are concerned, the CCDs don’t exist and many students in Kentucky will probably not be exposed to these outside-of-the-standards concepts. The CCDs mostly look like a smoke screen to cover the fact that the March 2015 version of the social studies standards revision remains devoid of content.

However, until a news release came from the department on August 4, 2015, it looked like the staff at the Kentucky Department of Education was not getting the message; Kentuckians want real, high quality social studies standards like those in Massachusetts. This news release indicates the department is now open to well-supported suggestions to revise, not just refine, the standards.

So, the general public is going to get another chance to tell our state’s educators that eliminating things like all references to every war this nation ever fought is not acceptable in the standards that will drive what our kids learn about history during their public school years.

To provide feedback on the draft Social Studies Standards, please use this link.

Questions on this process can be directed to Karen Kidwell at

Here are some other useful links you might want to check before you respond:

Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework – Don’t let the name “framework” confuse you. The Massachusetts Department of Education is quite clear that the material is fair game for the state’s assessments, which makes this standards material.

Kentucky Core Academic Standards June 2013 – This contains the state’s current social studies standards, which are certainly better than the proposal though far inferior to those from Massachusetts.

Letter from Bluegrass Institute’s Richard Innes to Kentucky Board of Education members outlining concerns about the draft standards.

Again, the current working version of the draft revision is dated March 2015 and can be accessed here.