The following exchange of emails concerned a request from D.O.E. leadership to then Social Studies Specialist Levon Terrell on the status of Florida's Social Studies Program. A response from Jack Bovee explains then existing conditions in Florida at the time.
June 8, 2006
Hope you are having a great summer and getting a well deserved rest. I need your input on a project I have been asked to complete.
I am preparing a report on the state of social studies in the state of Florida. I could use your assistance in preparing this document. Any documentation / stats you have on social studies education in Florida and comparing Florida with other states would be useful.
Thanks for any assistance you may be able to provide.
Social Studies Curriculum Specialist
Florida Department of Education
Bureau of School Improvement
This is quite 'the assignment'. I urge that you make the most of it. I would paint a pretty dark picture using only cold, hard facts. I would avoid all editorializing and individualized commentary, of course.
I'd start back in 1974 with an historical approach, maybe even before that. In 1974, the ONLY state-wide assessment was that which was required under the Free Enterprise and Economics Act of that year. It lasted for a few years, perhaps a decade. Earlier though, Florida's two flagship universities required students to demonstrate some sort of proficiency in American History as part of their college entrance criteria. ( I'm not sure if the data was used only as part of the entrance selection criteria overall or if, as a result of poor performance, they were required to take survey courses to remediate them. Regardless, we knew more in the 1950s than we do now and I'd make that the point of your 'status report'. Basically, Florida's role in this is similar to that of Col. Kink in Hogan's Heroes, "I know NOTHING!") As evidence of that old college requirement, look at first two files below from around the 1950s and 60s.
Then, there's a letter in 1986 from Warren Tracey (file #3) asking for our discipline to be included in the statewide testing program after the state added us to the then existing minimum proficiency standards. (FCAT caused this to never occur, of course, and eliminated all such plans to assess social studies right after that.)
You could mention the 1996 James Madison Institute report titled, "What Florida's University Students Don't Know About History and Government" and point out that this is the ONLY data we have on the subject. It represents data from our best COLLEGES - UF and FSU. We have absolutely NO IDEA, of course, how well the state fulfills its K-12 civic education mission. That's not surprising, of course, due to something else you could point out. I'd urge that you point out to them that neither in the preamble of the Florida state Constitution nor in the section which establishes a public school system is there a clearly delineated "civic mission" to our public schools. (And this obviously doesn't seem important from the actions of the state in the last few years!) Go to Online Sunshine for more, but a quick reference to this is below.
Article IX of the Florida Constitution -- The education of children is a fundamental value of the people of the State of Florida. It is, therefore, a paramount duty of the state to make adequate provision for the education of all children residing within its borders. Adequate provision shall be made by law for a uniform, efficient, safe, secure, and high quality system of free public schools that allows students to obtain a high quality education and for the establishment, maintenance, and operation of institutions of higher learning and other public education programs that the needs of the people may require.
You could move on to attempts by Florida social studies professional groups to seek DOE support to rectify the crisis and mention these efforts met with mixed results. You could mention former Chancelor Warford's support for us to be added to the State's Pupil Progression Plan while Dr. Cornelia Orr stated the exact opposite in her written letter to the President of the Florida League of Women Voters. (I have the copies of both letters if you want them.)
You could move on to the legislature and mention that Florida has for years supported with state appropriations a Holocaust Education Commission and an African American History Task Force, yet we have never had a commission on Civic Literacy in the state, something which other states have found useful, nor have we any idea on how well the state fulfills it's 'non-mentioned' Constitutional civic mission in the public schools.
You could discuss how the state legislature prefers to tinker with the "required instruction statute" -- language which is basically impossible to assess. You could point out that the state collects more data from school districts on the drinking and drug habits of school children than it does about their knowledge of the Constitution, their understanding of our nation's past, our economic system or the world in which they live. (See file 6)
You could mention some of the particulars of the much more recent never-ending saga of our attempt to add 'social studies' to the state's pupil progression law (See file #4 titled "An Example of How an Eminently Worthy Measure Repeatedly Fails to Become Law") If you need any documentation of all the 'facts' contained therein, don't hesitate to ask.)
You might point out that national pundits like Phyllis Schlafly and Congressional leaders such as former Secretary of Education and now TN Senator Lamar Alexander and Florida Congressman Jim Davis (file #7) have blasted Florida Jeb Bush and the state legislature for once eliminating American History and American Government as graduation requirements for all Florida students a few years ago. You'll recall that Tampa Congressman Davis, who's now running for Jeb's office, went so far as to seek to withhold needed federal funds from our own state for this anti-civic education measure.
You could wrap up by discussing the lack of DISTRICT accountability to determine how well students master the sunshine state standards. Your survey from some months ago might shed light on how rapidly districts have moved in to fill this void. (That would be worth a few chuckles.)
You might include mention that a renown educational think tank, the Fordham Institute, has just recently called Florida's teaching of World History and in particular Latin American History not just bad, but "worthless". (One has to wonder about the deliberate choice of that word, eh? Does it seem as if someone has an axe to grind perhaps?)
In short, Levon, I'd make the most of this opportunity. Good luck.
Ps. Did you not get the 'mini-CD Rom' which I gave out at the last FCSS meeting as part of the legislative report? It contained all these files and many, many more. Finally, some of the statements from noted national leaders in the last file, for example, might be used to lace your report with the 'wisdom' of national political and educational leaders.