The Problem:

Wisconsin’s academic standards are considered to be some of the weakest in the country. Recently, a study by the Fordham Institute gave Wisconsin’s standards for Civics and History an “F” grade. They found that “With few exceptions, Wisconsin’s standards for civics are too vague and broad to provide educators or other stakeholders with useful direction.” The same study gave the state of Massachusetts an A for their exemplary academic standards.  The excerpts below demonstrate the huge difference between the academic standards of Wisconsin and Massachusetts whose standards are widely seen as the best in the nation.

Wisconsin’s Social Studies Standards for History (All Grades)

“Use historical evidence for determining cause and effect. Analyze, recognize, and evaluate patterns of continuity and change over time and contextualization of historical events. Connect past events, people, and ideas to the present, use different perspectives to draw conclusions, and suggest current implications. 

Evaluate a variety of primary and secondary sources to interpret the historical context, intended audience, purpose, and/or author’s point of view (Historical Methodology).” 

Massachusetts’ History Standards (Grade 5)

“Grade 5 is a first pass at U.S. History and thus includes civics topics such as colonial government, the Articles of Confederation, the three branches of government,
the various levels of government, major issues at the Constitutional Convention, an introduction to the Reconstruction Amendments, and how civil rights have been expanded over time. Students are asked to research one right in the Bill of Rights, thus ensuring that the inherent breadth of the subject matter is complemented by a sense of its depth. “

Wisconsin’s Department of Public Instruction systematically reviews its academic standards on a regular basis. The state’s Social Studies standards covering Civics and History were first written in 1998 and were last reviewed and revised in 2017 under the leadership of then Superintendent Tony Evers. In fact, during Evers’ tenure at the Department, he oversaw the rewriting of many of the state’s seriously inadequate academic standards. 

The Response: Wisconsin should follow the lead of states like Massachusetts, Tennessee and Virginia in creating rigorous academic standards with specific content and concepts that should be learned in each grade.  The next Governor and legislature should direct that these new standards be rewritten to be among the best in the nation. They should start by improving the standards for core academic subjects like History and Civics.  


Resources: pdfs/2018_WI_Social_Studies_Standards.pdf

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