Schooled Reporting on education

Shrinking history

Education | Teachers and historians are divided over a plan to begin the AP world history course at 1450
by Leigh Jones
Posted 6/27/18, 03:52 pm

Imagine a world without the Roman Empire, the Vikings, the Great Wall of China, or the spread of the early church and its influence on civilization. Nothing of significance happened in the world before 1450, right?

That’s what the College Board seems to think. Last month, the organization that administers Advanced Placement courses announced it would no longer cover precolonial happenings in its world history curriculum. Not only does that leave out much that’s foundational to Western civilization, it also cuts out significant events in the history of minority groups. Critics charge the board with Eurocentrism, especially since the date picked for history’s “new” beginning coincides with the rise of Western nations and their colonizing march around the globe.

Too often, the only African history black students learn starts with slavery, noted former high school teacher Amanda DoAmaral, a vocal critic of the plan. Discovering early African empires and kingdoms gives them a different perspective on their past, she told NPR earlier this month.

“And that’s not something that many students know or many people know,” DoAmaral said. “So I think that’s just something really cool for students to know and understand that those riches were part of their history. Those achievements were part of that.”

Proponents of classical education, which emphasizes the importance of teaching history from the beginning of time, also note the limitations of focusing on a narrow swath of the world’s past.

“Children who plunge into the study of the American Revolution with no knowledge of the classical models used by Jefferson and Washington and their colleagues can achieve only a partial understanding of American government and ideals,” wrote Susan Wise Bauer, co-founder of The Well-Trained Mind education guide. “And American history ought to be kept in perspective; the history curriculum covers seventy centuries, America occupies two of those centuries.”

Critics of the College Board’s announcement include colleges and universities, which must decide whether to accept AP coursework as a substitute for their own classes. If enough of them stop accepting world history AP credits, high school students will stop taking the course, effectively killing it. Nearly 300,000 high schoolers across the country took the AP world history course last year.

The board defended the decision by noting it’s impossible to comprehensively teach 10,000 years of history in just a year’s time. The organization proposed splitting world history into two courses, with a pre-AP class covering everything before 1450 and the for-credit AP course teaching the remaining centuries. But only the full AP course would remain eligible for college credit. Critics say that’s the only one students will take.

In response to the backlash, the organization announced it would reconsider the change, making a final decision in July.

Associated Press/Photo by Jae C. Hong Associated Press/Photo by Jae C. Hong Bill Gates

Incentive program fails to help students or teachers

New analysis of an expensive teacher incentive program backed by the Gates Foundation found startlingly disappointing results.

Bill and Melinda Gates poured $212 million into the Intensive Partnerships for Effective Teaching initiative. It had a simple premise: Give teachers incentives to do a better job and they will. And they might have, but the analysis found it didn’t make a difference to student outcomes, which is always the end goal in education. The seven public school districts and charter groups that participated spent $575 million on the project and about $73 million per year on evaluating the outcomes, bringing the total cost to about $1 billion, a whopping investment with little to no return.

According to the RAND Corporation and the American Institutes for Research, schools that participated in the program didn’t implement the incentives evenly and principals often didn’t pair incentives with disincentives, like negative evaluations. The schools saw no improvement in students’ math and reading scores, or in their graduation rates. But that’s putting it mildly, wrote Jay P. Greene, a professor of education reform at the University of Arkansas. Not only did the scores not improve, they actually got worse in a majority of grades.

“It is pretty clear that the Gates effective teaching reform effort failed pretty badly,” Greene wrote. “It cost a fortune. It produced significant political turmoil and distracted from other, more promising efforts. And it appears to have generally done more harm than good with respect to student achievement and attainment outcomes.”

But Greene doesn’t consider the effort a complete waste, noting that learning from mistakes is key to finding education reforms that work. Rick Hess at the American Enterprise Institute credited the Gates Foundation for taking an honest look at its own failure—so that others can craft better solutions in the future: “In this case, the Gates Foundation has done its part, funding a remarkably honest and informative postmortem. The task now is to be sure that we learn the lessons it has to teach.” —L.J.

Flickr/Photo by Lorie Shaull Flickr/Photo by Lorie Shaull Little House on the Prairie at the Laura Ingalls Wilder Museum in Pepin, Wis.

Whitewashing the prairie?

A prestigious children’s book award has lost its connection to the author who first won it: Laura Ingalls Wilder. The Association for Library Service to Children, a division of the American Library Association, voted unanimously Saturday to remove Wilder’s name from the award because her nearly century-old Little House on the Prairie series “includes expressions of stereotypical attitudes inconsistent with ALSC’s core values of inclusiveness, integrity and respect, and responsiveness.” The group found particular fault with Wilder’s portrayal of blacks and Native Americans. The organization called Wilder’s legacy “complex” and “not universally embraced.” It first awarded the Laura Ingalls Wilder Medal in 1954, three years before the author’s death. Wilder is just the latest in a long line of historical authors weighed in the balance of modern sensibility and found wanting. —L.J.

Costly vacation

Parents struggling to entertain their children over the long summer months will find this statistic particularly painful: The average family spends 20 percent of the money it makes over the summer paying for child care. The average cost of summer programs for two children totals $3,000, according to the Center for American Progress. Costs, of course, vary by state, with Wisconsin having the most affordable summer programs and Nevada having the most expensive. And that only represents about half the time children are out of school. Most families only put children in camps and other activities for five of the 10 to 12 weeks school’s out. —L.J.

Leigh Jones

Leigh lives in Houston with her husband and daughter. She is the news editor for The World and Everything in It and reports on education for WORLD Digital.

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  • AlanE
    Posted: Wed, 06/27/2018 05:28 pm

    There's a lesson to be learned from going witch-hunting with prominent figures of the past. There are no figures from the past who did not have some ideas that do not offend modern sensibilities. Dig enough and you will find something, on everyone. Just as the future will find all of us objectionable in some ways. It is an act of hubris heretofore unparalleled in human history that we go gleefully casting about for ways to condemn figures from the past. It would probably be instructive if those people from the past could speak to the faults they would find in us.

  • Steve Shive
    Posted: Sat, 06/30/2018 05:50 am

    I love your last sentence AlanE!

  • Bob C
    Posted: Fri, 06/29/2018 11:14 am

    It appears that the ALSC of the ALA is suffering from a stereotypical attitude.  Because of their short slightness, they have failed to recognize that Laura Ingalls Wilder lived in a different time where different standards existed. But rather than embracing that difference, like they tell the rest of us to do, they are being oxymoronic and violating their own standard of inclusiveness by excluding the writings of Laura Ingalls Wilder.