Common Core vs. Heritage Academy’s Standards

Earl Taylor, the principal of Heritage Academy, recently asked American History teacher, Cara Palmer, to evaluate how the Common Core standards measure up with what is required at Heritage Academy.  Mr. Taylor stated:

"A number of states have adopted the new and mostly unknown Common Core Standards for K-12 education.  Nearly all of the “adoptions” have not been done by state legislatures, but by state Boards of Education, a prime example of how administrative law-making is replacing legislative law-making in our country.

"Cara Palmer graduated from Heritage Academy in 2000 where she also served as our Student Body President. She went on to receive her B. A. from Southern Virginia University, her Master of Education from the University of Arizona, and 21 additional upper level history credits at Arizona State University. She now teaches American History at Heritage Academy where students can also receive dual enrollment college credit as they earn credits toward high school graduation."

What Ms. Palmer found should concern every parent whose child is learning these new Common Core Standards.  
Some excerpts from Ms. Palmer’s complete report follows.  Her detailed comparison can be found on the National Center for Constitutional Studies website here:  How the Two Align: Common Core State Standards and Heritage Academy’s American History Curriculum. 

 An Overview of Amercan History in the Common Core State Standards 

"In a broad perspective there are 333 texts selected for grades K- CCR (CCR means “College and Career Ready” in Common Core) in Appendix B (English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects), at least 72 of these texts are related to significant historical periods and topics taught in American History classes today. Of these 72 texts, at least 32 focus on the stark topic of racism (such as slavery, segregation, white supremacy, etc.) which comes out to be approximately 42% of the American History content. Only 10 of the 72 (approximately ) have the actual words or fundamental documents written by the men who were key players in America’s founding as a free nation (two of which are a collection of primary documents from American History) and of that ten only four are found in the sections assigned for History/Social Studies. Many of the prominent primary documents, such as The Declaration of Independence by Thomas Jefferson, the United States Bill of Rights and George Washington’s “Farwell Address,” are found in other sections, mainly the English Language Arts and not under the History/Social Studies sections.

"The first document a child will read, under the Common Core Standards, related to American History is in Kindergarten or 1st grade. It is the story of George Washington Carver titled A Weed is a Flower: The life of George Washington Carver (Liki 1965). This book has an inspiring message of a man who overcame all odds (slavery and racism being the main ones) to becoming a wonderful scientist of horticulture, who assisted the South greatly in their agricultural achievements. In this document there is also a story being told of America. The first page points out that George was the “son of slaves” and “there was no hope for the future” (3). It explains that George through his life had turned “[e]vil into Good, despair into hope and hatred into love” (3). The story goes on to describe his family running in fear from a band of white kidnappers and tells the sad story that he never saw his mother again. This is the only text related to American History a child will get in Kindergarten and 1st grade. There is no patriotic poem, story or lyrics. There is no story about George Washington or Abraham Lincoln. What might be a child’s perception of America based on this introduction? More importantly, why was this the only text chosen in relation to American History and none others? If a student is expected to learn about the life and function of a tree (as in A Tree is a Plan by Clyde Robert Bulla), wind power (National Geographic Young Explorers’ “Wind Power”) or the history of learning to fly (in Fran Hodgkins’ and True Kelley’s How People Learned to Fly), why can’t they learn the basic structure of our government or basic principles of freedom taught by the Founders of this Country? Instead the topic of slavery is their first lesson. This type of pattern continues from grade to grade and into their high school years (read the full response to get a more thorough layout and better details).

The Curriculum Focus at Heritage Academy

What lessons on American History does Heritage Academy teach? More importantly, what type of students emerge from a curriculum that focuses on the “lives, beliefs and accomplishments of the heroes of America—our founding fathers and mothers—and to better understand the values and principles which governed their lives and upon which they built the American nation” (2013, Heritage Academy/About Us)? Heritage Academy for the past eighteen years has worked tirelessly to teach this lesson to its students. What are the results? The following comments from students all come from the most recent school year, 2012-2013, in their American History classroom (Heritage Academy Students, Final Inquiry Paper Presentations, Spring 2013).

“Our Constitution is truly phenomenal” said one Heritage Scholar to her classmates at Heritage Academy at the end of the school year. Students at Heritage Academy are given the opportunity to really read, study and gain a love for the Constitution and the foundational principles that make this Nation great. Another student made this comment, “I truly believe that if we as a nation adhere to the principles our Founders incorporated into the Constitution, we will be able to preserve our freedom.” 

This leads to another important lesson that students discovered after receiving an in-depth understanding of America’s Founders and founding documents, which are the responsibilities that rest on the American citizens. One scholar pointed out that “government is not the road to your independence and well-being, but being unified in the same principles is the key.” The words of another scholar explained the need for proper self-government in order to have liberty:

"Liberty and self-government coincide with each other. Liberty is the power to do as one pleases, or the power of choice. Self-government is self-control, or self-command. These two ideas go hand in hand. Without liberty, we cannot have self-government because we don’t get to choose; we don’t have our freedom to choose. Without self-government, someone else is making our choices, so therefore, we have no liberty. Self-government is just as important as our liberty and our inalienable rights."

This principle of self-government went deeper as a scholar explained the importance of religion and morality:

"Without religion and morality, true patriotism can never be acquired. Our Constitution promises us freedom of religions, not freedom from religions. We need right now to set the example of liberty, equality, and morality to the whole world, but we cannot achieve this unless we ourselves are free, equal and virtuous. Virtue and morality are not just things we can apply whenever we want to; they must be enforced every minute of every day of our lives. What makes our country special is not just that we have these standards, but that we live up to them."

This past year the students in American History (grades 10 & 11) have worked through a curriculum consisting of a vast collection of primary documents which were directly related to the time periods and topics being studied. Over the course of one year the students studied over 75 primary documents. Of the 75 documents, 30 focus on the founding of the American Nation, which is 40% of the documents. Documents included in this collection were, Common Sense by Thomas Paine, The Declaration of Independence and "The Writing of the Declaration of Independence" by Thomas Jefferson, "George Washington to Martha Washington" by George Washington, "Diary of Albegence Waldo at Valley Forge" by Albigence Waldo, "Letter to John Adams" by Abigail Adams, "Speech of Benjamin Franklin" by Benjamin Franklin, The Constitution of the United States of America and the Bill of Rights, "Farewell Address" by George Washington, Democracy in America by Alexis de Tocqueville and many more.

What would America be like if every student in this nation had an education that taught them these types of lessons, rather than an education that focuses on racial conflict and prejudice? Would America flourish? As the reader of this response, it is your responsibility to answer this question.