Fordham Study Shows Alabama Among Nation’s Best for U.S History Learning Standards

A new analysis by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute shows Alabama as second to only one other state in the nation when it comes to the strength and quality of our K-12 state academic standards for U.S. History.

In fact, the significance of Alabama’s grade of A-minus, second only to South Carolina’s straight A grade in Fordham’s evaluation of U.S. History state curriculum standards, is underscored by the fact that the majority of U.S. states – 28 in all – received D or F grades. The average grade across all states came in at a “dismal D,” according to evaluators, who noted that only one state in five gets honors marks for their K-12 history standards. “The majority of states are mediocre-to-awful in this field,” they said.

“These bleak findings tell us what we already suspected – U.S. history standards across the land are alarmingly weak,” said Fordham Institute President Chester E. Finn, Jr. “No wonder so many Americans know so little about our nation’s past. Yet this subject is essential to an educated citizenry.”

South Carolina was the only state to earn a straight A for its standards, and Alabama and Georgia were the only two other southeastern states to earn a B or better. In all, only nine states nationwide scored in the B range or better.

Academic standards, such as those evaluated in this study, set forth what the state’s young people are expected to learn in a given subject as they pass through grades K-12 and are integral in shaping the curriculum children actually receive in that subject.

After decades of teaching and lecturing at colleges and universities, Pulitzer Prize-winning historian David McCullough has seen the results of weak state standards first-hand.  “I don’t think there’s any question whatsoever that the students in our institutions of higher education have less grasp, less understanding, less knowledge of American history than ever before,” McCullough says. “I think we are raising a generation of young Americans who are, to a very large degree, historically illiterate.”

While there is still room for improvement, the importance of Alabama’s success in developing strong standards for K-12 U.S. History, and the imperative that they be maintained and strengthened, cannot  be overstated.

As the Fordham Institute explains, “Historical comprehension is vital if students are to understand their nation and world, and function as responsible, informed citizens. The study of history is of inestimable intellectual value in its own right, too, helping students understand how societies function and evolve, how ideas and beliefs change and interact — in short, what makes people people, and how the world we live in came to be. The nurturing of historical understanding enables young people to grasp what essayist L.P. Hartley meant when he wrote, ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there.’”

In Fordham’s report, The State of State U.S. History Standards 2011 standards were appraised for their “clarity and specificity” as well as their “content and rigor,” according to Fordham, which also offered the following insight into the evaluation:

“Looking across all the reviews, the strongest history standards generally provide coherent, chronological views of historical content rather than themes; they systematically identify real people and specific events, explaining their significance; they honor historical balance and context. By contrast, the weakest standards generally ignore chronology in favor of social studies themes; minimize real people and specific events in favor of broad generalizations; seek to mold students toward specific political outlooks rather than to encourage historical comprehension or independent critical thought.

“Standards in and of themselves don’t guarantee exemplary student achievement – proper implementation and accountability obviously must follow,” said Fordham Vice President Michael J. Petrilli. “But clear, consistent standards are a critical starting point. Without them, few of our children will graduate high school with a proper grasp of American history.”

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To find out more about the study, and the Thomas B. Fordham Institute, visit