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Common Core History Standards Could Spell Disaster for Some Teachers

Could the Common Core history standards spell disaster for some high school history teachers?

Beth Anderson, a history teacher at El Toro High School in Lake Forest, California, is an avowed fan of the Common Core standards, adopted by California in 2010. “It's infinitely better than what we've been working with,” she said to a packed room at the American Historical Association annual meeting.

“But I'm concerned we're in a honeymoon period over the standards. Four days of staff development are not going to be enough to train teachers on how to use them.”

For the past decade, teachers have been under extreme pressure to teach to multiple-choice knowledge tests, a product of the No Child Left Behind Act. According to Dr. Anderson, it will be very difficult for some teachers to break out of the “multiple choice syndrome” and address the language standards written into the Common Core.

Even more problematic: history and social science teachers are the least likely to hold an advanced degree in their subject, according to numerous Department of Education studies. A generation ago in Iowa, panel chair Merry E. Wiesner-Hawks, distinguished professor of history at the University of Wisconsin—Milwaukee, related, nearly half of the history teachers in the state were primarily employed as coaches. That number has not changed significantly in the intervening years.

There are teachers who, in Anderson's estimation, can learn and teach the Common Core properly, but they need the proper training, which may not be forthcoming given the STEM focus of most decisionmakers.

In the past, Dr. Anderson said, Teaching American History grants genuinely helped train U.S. history teachers, but unfortunately the program no longer exists due to federal budget cuts. Her district currently utilizes the California Literacy and Reading Project to train teachers in the Common Core, but that is not a program that specifically addresses historical concerns.

“The elephant in the room,” Anderson concluded, “is that there are a lot of teachers who can't do this stuff themselves. They can't meet the Common Core standards, so how are they going to teach them?”

Anderson sighed. “We may just have to wait for them to retire."