It is hard to ignore the slap down the Fordham Institute gave to North Carolina’s civics and government and newly minted history standards.  A recent article by my colleague Terry Stoops reported that Fordham graded the state’s Civics and US History standards with a D- and an F, respectively and — to put it mildly — did not have much good to say.  The report called the standards “Inadequate nebulous verbiage” which are “functionally contentless in many places” The study recommended “a complete revision before implementation.”

In years past if North Carolina was found to be underperforming in some education area, policymakers would often try to hide behind the “Southeast” argument. The argument holds that states in the region have traditionally lagged on matters of educational development, achievement, and investment so we shouldn’t be surprised when one state or another, or the whole region, is reflecting those patterns.

You can’t make that argument this year.  Over half the states (7) that comprise the 12-state Southeast region, received a ranking of “good” or “exemplary” Two states (Alabama and Tennessee) received “exemplary” grades; five states (Florida, Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina and Virginia) received “good” rankings. One state (Louisiana) was listed as “mediocre/good” while three other states ranked “mediocre.”  North Carolina trails all other states with the lone “inadequate” ranking.

Other states in the Southeast seemed to do just fine or even better. So why are North Carolina’s standards inferior? That’s a question that needs to be asked – and answered.

Terry Stoops’ article does a good job of attempting to answer what went wrong. But North Carolinians need to do more than feel embarrassed.

Fortunately, the Fordham report not only lays out the major weaknesses of the standards but also offers ways states can improve their standards. Policymakers would do well to heed their suggestions.

Those on the left are already dismissing Fordham’s work as merely the work of a conservative education policy organization.  However as John Hood has noted, there is no red state/blue state pattern to the states receiving As or Fs.  The reviewers have strong professional and academic backgrounds.

There is sentiment among Republican legislators to delay adoption of the history standards because many fear they don’t offer a balanced view of history, lack rigor and specificity. The Fordham study offers deeper, compelling reasons why standards in these areas should be rewritten.

It would be a mistake for North Carolina to ignore the Fordham recommendations and an opportunity to correct an obvious educational failure.