Common Core: New York History in New York Schools

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SchoolShould New York students learn about the history of their own state in New York schools?

The question has not been resolved. The State Education Department has been seeking reactions to the latest draft of the New York State Common Core K-12 Social Studies Framework.

The current social studies curriculum dates from the 1990’s. A draft revision completed in 2012 was discussed a number of times in this New York State History Blog over the past couple of years.

That revision was on the State Education Department website for about a year as a draft. Apparently it was revised again in December 2013 and there was a month for response via an online “survey monkey” form. But it is still a draft, so there is still time for comments and suggestions.

Readers of this blog may be particularly interested in the parts pertaining to New York State history, New York State Common Core Social Studies Framework Grades K-8 [pdf] for Grade 4 (pp. 52-58) and Grades 7-8 (pp. 76-92).

There is more on New York history here than in the previous draft, particularly at the Grade 4 level. That is encouraging. But it is unrealistic to expect elementary school students to understand the long and complex history of their state. There is still a ways to go in accurately and appropriately representing New York’s historical development and significance at the G 7-8 level. Here are just a few examples:

* The title of the Grade 4 curriculum is “New York State and Local History and Government” but it does not include any local history or suggestions for how to teach it.

* The Grade 7-8 curriculum, entitled “History of the United States and New York I and II” covers U.S. history well. But New York still receives little coverage. For instance, it does not mention any New York governors.

* That curriculum mentions several national protest and reform movements but not New York’s Anti-Rent Wars, one of the largest and longest tenant rebellions in U.S. History.

* It doesn’t describe New York’s business, commercial, and financial leadership or mention any New York companies, for instance, IBM, Eastman Kodak, GE, or the New York Central Railroad.

* It covers the Civil War and says students will compare the impacts of the war on New York State and Georgia. But shouldn’t New York students learn that their state contributed more men, material, and finance than any other state and sustained more casualties than any other state? The first Union officer killed in the war was from New York. Its wartime productivity was extraordinary – in some areas, it outproduced the entire Confederacy. But its participation in the war was complex – the state was fully supportive of the war effort but the 1863 Draft Riots in New York City showed continuing racism and resentment of the draft and New York governor Horatio Seymour was one of the leading critics of the draft and Lincoln’s wartime policies abridging civil liberties.

* In the introduction to the Grade 7-8 curriculum, it says that teachers are encouraged to include applicable local features of state history in the course. But it does not suggest that they might consult officially designated local historians, local historical societies, or state historic sites.

A different approach would be to put New York more into center of the picture.

The Fordham Institute’s report The State of State U.S. History Standards (2011) awarded an “A” to only one state, South Carolina. South Carolina is not an appropriate benchmark for our state in many areas, but in this one it is a potentially useful model. Its requirements for Grades 3 and 8 are worth looking at. Its Grade 8 curriculum is entitled South Carolina: One of the United States [pdf] and has these standards:

• The student will demonstrate an understanding of the settlement of South Carolina and the United States by Native Americans, Europeans, and Africans.

• The student will demonstrate an understanding of the causes of the American Revolution and the beginnings of the new nation, with an emphasis on South Carolina’s role in the development of that nation.

• The student will demonstrate an understanding of South Carolina’s role in the development of the new national government.

• The student will demonstrate an understanding of the multiple events that led to the Civil War.

• The student will understand the impact of Reconstruction, industrialization, and Progressivism on society and politics in South Carolina in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

• The student will demonstrate an understanding of the role of South Carolina in the nation in the early twentieth century.

• The student will demonstrate an understanding of the impact on South Carolina of significant events of the late twentieth and early twenty-first centuries.

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Bruce Dearstyne

About Bruce Dearstyne

Dr. Bruce W. Dearstyne served on the staff of the New York State Office of State History and the State Archives. He was a professor and is now an adjunct professor at the University of Maryland’s College of Information Studies and has written widely about New York history and occasionally writes about New York history issues for the “Perspective” section of the Sunday Albany Times Union. Bruce is the author of two books published in 2015: The Spirit of New York: Defining Events in the Empire State’s History (SUNY Press) and also Leading the Historical Enterprise: Strategic Creativity, Planning and Advocacy for the Digital Age (Rowman and Littlefield and the AASLH). He can bereached at

2 thoughts on “Common Core: New York History in New York Schools

  1. Peter FeinmanPeter Feinman

    As soon as I saw Common Core in the title, I figured you were the author since I hadn’t written it!

    The New York State Council for the Social Studies (NYSCSS) will be hosting its annual conference in Albany March 27-29. The Common Core is sure to be an important topic and it would be beneficial if the history community is represented.

  2. Lynn MacGowan

    Including New York State history in the 7th grade curriculum is an up hill battle. The time for this and the materials for this teaching is limited. I teach in Columbia County and its history is often left out because many teachers are unaware of it and for the fore -mentioned reasons. Field trips are out of the question due to budget woes. A solution I’ve suggested was to include some cooperative work between ELA teachers and social studies teachers. Social Studies is less of a core subject and more of a “special area” subject these days.


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