History class is history at San Francisco's Lowell High School

History will no longer be offered to freshmen at Lowell High School. It is being replaced with a career-planning course that school district officials say will better prepare students for higher education.

San Francisco Unified School District Assistant Superintendent Janet Schulze said the new curriculum will focus on what students need to take during high school to be able to apply for college.

But critics of the change say it actually takes away time that could be spent on the core classes needed to attend a public university in California.

What’s clear is that since the 2001 passage of the No Child Left Behind Act, history and many other subjects have been falling by the wayside in American classrooms. That’s because the federal education law emphasized standardized testing related to language arts and math.

The modern-world course previously taught to freshmen at Lowell — a high-performing San Francisco high school — will be replaced with a long-term planning class known as college and career. History supporters say the new class is wasted on freshman who are not even thinking about college.

“It really didn’t help,” 2010 Lowell graduate Ella Creedy-Hall said of the career course. “If you take it at 14, you’re not thinking about college. It’s a little silly.”

To qualify for entrance to a UC or California State University school, high school students must take, among other things, at least three history or social science classes before graduation. According to Lowell Principal Andrew Ishibashi, most students take more than the minimum requirements in order to better prepare themselves for college.

History teacher Rebecca Johnson worries that the change could put some students’ success in jeopardy.

“Without modern world, it’s like they are missing a ramp up to AP courses,” she said. “In 11th grade, it’s the most challenging course in AP history, if they don’t have the chance to take a similar course in 10th grade, it’s almost as if they’re thrown in to AP without training wheels.”

Also, by deferring modern world — which teaches note taking and research skills — students will be less prepared for advanced placement courses, which they can start taking as sophomores, said history teacher Rick Girling.

“It forces kids to defer their academic courses,” he said. “In hard budget times, why wouldn’t you cut back on courses that are not state mandated?”

Indeed, the college-and-career course is a district requirement. At Lowell, students may choose when to take the course. Many of the district’s 17 high schools already require it to be taken as a freshman.

Creedy-Hall, who is now a freshman political science major at Fordham University, said she would’ve rather taken another history course than the career course, which she took along with driver’s education. Instead of learning how to prepare for college, she said all she learned was how to “create a really bad résumé and which stop signs to run on Taraval Street.”

Consequently, she eventually learned how to take notes and conduct research through her AP history and AP English courses, two of her favorite courses at Lowell.

Schools leaving certain studies behind

Since the implementation of the No Child Left Behind Act, approximately 71 percent of the nation’s 15,000 school districts have reduced the instructional time spent on history, according to a report by the Center on Education Policy.

In 2005, education expert Michael J. Petrilli appeared before the federal Department of Education supporting history in the federal law. He noted that because of No Child Left behind, “schools are cutting art, cutting music, cutting physical education, even cutting recess.”

But six years after his speech, history appears more endangered than ever.

For instance, a report released by Purdue professor Phillip VanFossen found that elementary students in Indiana receive a mere 12 minutes of history instruction each week. Meanwhile, North Carolina and New Jersey plan to remove world history as a high school graduation requirement. And only 19 percent of teachers in South Carolina and North Carolina teach social studies daily, according to a paper published in the journal Social Studies Research and Practice in 2006.

For Californians, the state’s guidelines for high school students wishing to go on to a state university say that high schoolers must complete two years of history or social science courses.

The California state department of education lists “Modern World” as a curriculum for 10th grade, U.S. history for 11th grade and “American Democracy” for 12th grade.

The guidelines were adopted by California in 1998. No Child Left Behind was adopted in 2001. San Francisco schools adopted the state requirements last school year.


State standards

History standards per grade for high school students:

Grade 9: No specific standards
Grade 10: World history, culture and geography: The modern world
Grade 11: United States history and geography: Continuity and change in the 20th century
Grade 12: Principles of American democracy and economics

Source: California Department of Education

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