Editor’s Note: The National Association of Scholars (NAS) and the Civics Alliance work to ensure that every state has academic standards that promote first-rate education and protect school children from political indoctrination. We promote reform of content standards in every state, along the lines modeled by the Civics Alliance’s American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards, and we have been asked by Kentucky citizens to comment on the Kentucky Department of Education’s incorporation of the components of Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) 158.196 into the Kentucky Academic Standards (KAS) for Social Studies (KAS-SS). We conclude that the Kentucky Department of Education has responded inadequately to the legislative mandate, that it should include a far greater range of primary sources in the KAS-SS, and that it should engage in far greater revisions of the KAS-SS to fulfill the spirit of the legislative mandate.

We have sent the following letter to the Kentucky Department of Education.


Kentucky Department of Education
300 Sower Blvd., 5th Floor
Frankfort, KY 40601

September 20, 2022

Dear Kentucky Department of Education,

The National Association of Scholars (NAS) and the Civics Alliance work to ensure that every state has academic standards that promote first-rate education and protect school children from political indoctrination. We promote reform of content standards in every state, along the lines modeled by the Civics Alliance’s American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards,1 and we have been asked by Kentucky citizens to comment on the Department of Education’s incorporation of the components of Kentucky Revised Statute (KRS) 158.1962 into the Kentucky Academic Standards (KAS) for Social Studies (KAS-SS).3We conclude that the Department of Education has responded inadequately to the legislative mandate, that it should include a far greater range of primary sources in the KAS-SS, and that it should engage in far greater revisions of the KAS-SS to fulfil the spirit of the legislative mandate.

Inadequate Response to KRS 158.196’s Legislative Mandate

KRS 158.196 directed in Section 1 that the Department of Education ensure that Kentucky’s social studies instruction was consistent with a series of American ideals, including equality, freedom, inalienable rights, respect for individual rights, liberty, and the consent of the governed. KRS 158.196 also directed in Section 3 that the Department of Education “incorporate fundamental American documents and speeches into the grade-level appropriate middle and high school social studies academic standards.” (See Appendix 1: The 24 Documents and Speeches Specified in KRS 158.196.) Kentucky’s current revisions to KAS-SS focus solely on the legislative mandate in Section 3. (See Appendix 2: Draft Revisions.) The mandate in Section 1 also should result in a separate round of revision to KAS-SS, and we urge the Department to undertake this revision as soon as possible. We suggest that American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards would provide a useful model for revision to fulfil the Section 1 mandate. The remainder of our comment focuses on the Department’s response to Section 3.

The Department of Education may or may not have obeyed the letter of the legislative mandate. (For our uncertainty as to whether the revisions comply with the letter of KRS 158.196, see topics below, Clarify Incorporation into Standards and Incorporate All Documents into Both Middle-School and High School Standards.) The Department’s revisions certainly have made the fewest possible changes to KAS-SS. KRS 158.196’s Section 3 directed the Department of Education to incorporate “fundamental American documents and speeches … including but not limited to [our bold-face]” a list of 24 documents and speeches. The Department of Education has incorporated (with one important exception) only these 24 documents and speeches, and no others. (See Appendix 3: Revisions and Documents.)

The exception, the revision to add to 5.H.CH.2 Analyze the impact innovation and human ingenuity had on the development of the United States from Colonization to Constitution, the sentence “the inventions of Benjamin Franklin, such as the lightning rod, Franklin Stove and bifocals, helped shaped industry in the early United States,” demonstrates that the Department of Education could have added more historical details and primary sources, that these revisions need not have been limited to documents and speeches that illuminate the American civic tradition, and that such revisions would greatly improve the KAS-SS.

Even if the Department of Education indeed has obeyed the letter of the legislative mandate, its response is inadequate. The Department has used the same documents in several different clarification statements, rather than seek out a broader range of historical documents that would fit the standards and the clarification statements precisely. In some cases, it has made historical errors in the way it incorporated these historical documents.

  • The Department of Education made no changes to the High School Civics Standards and Clarification Statements to incorporate the documents specified by KRS 158.196.
  • The revisions incorporate two new items, Analyze the impact of fundamental documents on the development of the United States, which include all 24 historical documents mandated by the legislature (8.H.CH.6, HS.UH.CH.7). These two items should be fundamental revisions to the structure of KAS-SS, perhaps defined as an Inquiry Practice or as one of the Concepts and Practices. Every Standard and Clarification Statement concerning American history and civics should incorporate this Practice.

Where we discuss repetition of individual documents below, we do not include their mention in 8.H.CH.6 and HS.UH.CH.7.

  • The revisions incorporate The Constitution of the United States in four separate Clarification Statements in Grade 5 (5.C.PR.1, 5.C.KGO.1, 5.E.MA.1, 5.E.MA.2). The second Clarification Statement refers to “the roles and responsibilities of a Kentucky citizen,” and ought to include citation of the Kentucky State Constitution. The third and fourth Clarification Statements concern Macroeconomics, and the references to the Constitution have little pedagogical relevance.
  • The revisions incorporate the June 8, 1789 speech on amendments to the Constitution of the United States by James Madison in three separate Clarification Statements in Grade 8 (8.C.CP.1, 8.C.CP.2, 8.C.CP.3).
  • The revisions incorporate the ”What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” speech by Frederick Douglass, the United States Supreme Court opinion in Dred Scott v. Sanford, 60 U.S. 393 (1857), and the “Declaration of Rights of the Women of the United States” by Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage, and Elizabeth Cady Stanton in four separate Clarification Statements in Grade 8 (8.C.RR.1, 8.C.RR.2, 8.C.RR.3, 8.H.CO.3).
  • The revisions incorporate The 1796 Farewell Address by George Washington, The Monroe Doctrine, and “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July” by Frederick Douglass in five separate Clarification Statements in Grade 8 (8.H.CH.1, 8.H.CH.2, 8.H.CH.3, 8.H.CH.3, 8.H.CH.4, 8.H.CH.5). The revisions here introduce historical errors into KAS-SS.
    • 8.H.CH.1 refers to the colonial era. None of the three documents cited belong to the colonial era.
    • 8.H.CH.3 refers to the rise in sectionalism between 1840-1860. Neither the Farewell Address nor the Monroe Doctrine belong to this period, and neither may plausibly be presented as a prior influence on the rise in sectionalism.
    • 8.H.CH.4 refers to technological innovations. None of the three documents cited are relevant.
    • 8.H.CH.5 refers to 1860-1877. None of three documents cited belong to this era or are relevant to it—save, tangentially, Douglass’ speech.
  • The revisions incorporate The January 11, 1944, State of the Union Address by Franklin D. Roosevelt in three separate Clarification Statements in US History (HS.UH.CH.2, HS.UH.CE.2, HS.UH.CE.6). The document is only tangentially relevant to HS.UH.CE.2, which concerns “the events that caused the United States to emerge as a global power between 1890-1991.”
  • The revisions incorporate The September 18, 1895, Atlanta Exposition Address by Booker T. Washington, Of Booker T. Washington and Others by W.E.B. Du Bois, and
    The August 28, 1963, I Have a Dream speech by Martin Luther King, Jr. in two separate Clarification Statements in US History (HS.UH.CE.1, HS.UH.CE.5). These documents are only tangentially relevant to HS.UH.CE.1, which concerns “the political, economic and social impacts of industrialization on the United States between 1877-1945.”
  • The revisions incorporate A Time for Choosing by Ronald Reagan in three separate Clarification Statements in US History (HS.UH.CE.2, HS.UH.CE.6, HS.UH.CO.4). The document is only tangentially relevant to HS.UH.CE.6, which concerns “how global interactions impacted American culture and society from 1890- present.”
  • The revisions incorporate The United States Supreme Court opinion in Plessy v. Ferguson, 163 U.S. 537 (1896) in two separate Clarification Statements in US History (HS.UH.CE.5, HS.UH.KH.1). HS.UH.KH.1 concerns the role of Kentucky Justice John Marshall Harlan – whose dissent in Plessy v. Ferguson matters, but Harlan wrote other notable dissents, including Pollock v. Farmers’ Loan & Trust Co. (1895) and Lochner v. New York (1905).
  • The revisions incorporate Letter from Birmingham Jail by Martin Luther King, Jr. in two separate Clarification Statements in US History (HS.UH.CE.5, HS.UH.CE.6). The document is only tangentially relevant to HS.UH.CE.6, which concerns “how global interactions impacted American culture and society from 1890- present.”

The Department of Education was able to repeat the documents so frequently because the Standards and Clarification Statements are written very vaguely. Standards and Clarification Statements ought to be written with sufficient precision that a document cannot appear in multiple places in the same course standard.

The Department of Education’s revisions to fulfil KRS 158.196’s Section 3 mandate are inadequate. The Department at best barely complied with the minimum requirements of the law; it repeated the documents it did cite to an unusual degree; it cited many documents for standards where they possessed at best tangential relevance; and in some cases, it cited documents that have no relation at all to the individual standard item.

Recommendations

We make the following recommendations to the Kentucky Department of Education, so that it may fulfil the letter and the spirit of KRS 158.196’s legislative mandate.

  • Complete Revision: KRS 158.196 directs in Section 1 that the Department of Education ensure that Kentucky’s social studies instruction be consistent with a series of American ideals, including equality, freedom, inalienable rights, respect for individual rights, liberty, and the consent of the governed. KRS-SS should be completely re-written, to comply with the spirit of this legislative mandate. We recommend that the Department examine American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards, which we believe provides a fine model for state social studies standards. We also recommend that the Department of Education examine the social studies standards in Louisiana4 and South Dakota,5 which provide different good models for social studies standards.
  • Clarify Incorporation into Standards: KRS 158.196 directed that “no later than July 1, 2023, the Kentucky Department of Education shall incorporate fundamental American documents and speeches into the grade-level appropriate middle and high school social studies academic standards.” The Department of Education proposes to incorporate these references to documents into the Clarification Statements rather than into the Standards themselves. In the case of the high school standards, the Department incorporates them into Clarification Statements that are part of the High School Disciplinary Clarifications and Instructional Support, which have not yet been formally incorporated into KAS-SS.6 We have been informed that “During the current revision process, which began in July 2022, the Advisory Panels and Review Committee decided to incorporate the current ‘High School Disciplinary Clarifications and Instructional Support’ document into the KAS for Social Studies.”7 Yet it is not clear that any of the Disciplinary Clarifications have the legal and administrative status of the Standards themselves, since KAS-SS declares throughout the document that “The identified disciplinary clarifications are possible suggestions; they are not the only pathways and are not comprehensive to obtain mastery of the standards.” It is not clear to us that the Department of Education has satisfied the legislative mandate in KRS 158.196 by making changes to the Disciplinary Clarifications rather than to the Standards themselves. We urge that the Department of Education incorporate historical documents into the Standards themselves rather than into the Disciplinary Clarifications. We also urge that the Department of Education formally ask the Kentucky State Legislature to clarify the intent of KRS 158.196.
  • Incorporate All Documents into Both Middle-School and High School Standards: KRS 158.196 directed that “the Kentucky Department of Education shall incorporate fundamental American documents and speeches into the grade-level appropriate middle and high school social studies academic standards.” The language suggests that the Kentucky legislature wished all 24 documents incorporated into the Middle-School Standards, and that all 24 documents also should be incorporated into the High-School Standards. The Department of Education instead has divided the 24 documents between the Middle-School Standards and the High-School Standards. We urge that the Department of Education incorporate all 24 documents into the Middle-School Standards, and that it also incorporate all 24 documents into the High-School Standards. We also urge that the Department of Education formally ask the Kentucky State Legislature to clarify the intent of KRS 158.196.
  • Make Impact of Fundamental Documents on the Development of the United States a Basic PrincipleImpact of Fundamental Documents on the Development of the United Statesshould be defined as an Inquiry Practice or as one of the Concepts and Practices. Every Standard and Clarification Statement concerning American history and civics should incorporate this Practice.
  • Revise High School Civics: The High School Civics Standards and Clarification Statements should incorporate historical documents, as specified by KRS 158.196.
  • Eliminate Repetition: As a rule of thumb, KRS-SS should cite different documents for each Clarification Statement.
  • Incorporate Many More Historical Documents: The Department of Education should not limit itself to the documents specified by KRS 158.196. KRS-SS should incorporate far more historical documents in its Standards and Clarification Statements—for World History as well as for United States History and Civics. We recommend that the Department of Education examine American Birthright: The Civics Alliance’s Model K-12 Social Studies Standards, which provides an extensive selection of primary sources. We also recommend that the Department of Education examine a selection of historical documents, keyed to the history of the intellectual background of the Founding Documents, the history of the United States, and the history of Kentucky, that we believe would directly fulfil the spirit of KRS 158.196’s legislative mandate. (See Appendix 4: Recommended Historical Documents.)
  • Licensure Requirements and Professional Development: The Department of Education also should update its licensure requirements and professional development to ensure that its teachers are equipped to teach curriculum that aligns with these Standards new emphasis in historical documents.
  • Statutory Reform: The Department of Education should ask state policymakers to enact laws that provide statutory complements to the reforms embodied in KRS 158.196, and which ensure proper social instruction in all Kentucky public K-12 schools.8

Conclusion

The Kentucky Department of Education has responded inadequately to the legislative mandate in KRS 158.196. The Department of Education should incorporate historical documents into the Standards themselves rather than into the Disciplinary Clarifications. It should revise KAS-SS to include a far greater range of primary sources, it should include all 24 specified historical documents both in the Middle-School Standards and in the High School Standards, and it should engage in far greater revisions of the KAS-SS to fulfil the spirit of the legislative mandate. We suggest that Kentucky examine our model American Birthright social studies standards, but we also suggest that Kentucky examine the fine alternate models of Louisiana and South Dakota.

Respectfully yours,

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Peter Wood
President, National Association of Scholars

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David Randall
Project Director, Civics Alliance


Image: Wikimedia Commons, Public Domain