This report documents continuing weaknesses in our students' knowledge of history and literature. We think it likely that similar surveys would show large gaps in our students' knowledge of many of the liberal arts and sciences, including civics, science, languages, and arts. This is unacceptable. We believe, as do most concerned citizens, that our schools must teach our students the great ideas, controversies, and events that have shaped our nation as well as the skills needed for life in our democratic society. We believe that such knowledge is essential in preparing for postsecondary education, for the modern workplace, for informed understanding, and for civic participation.
Today, the nation is in thrall with testing and basic skills. We think this is a mistake. Common Core's goal in sponsoring this report and in launching a new organization devoted to promoting the liberal arts and sciences is to set forth a richer vision of what education must be for all of our children.
Twenty-five years ago, the landmark report A Nation at Risk was published by the federal government. The report called for "excellence in education" and recommended a renewed emphasis on a strong curriculum for all students. It specifically proposed that all high school students seeking a diploma should study at least four years of English, three years of mathematics, three years of science, three years of social studies, and one-half year of computer science; in addition, those who were college-bound were urged to study at least two years of a foreign language.
In 1983, the report set off a national discussion and launched what was then called "the excellence movement." This movement was devoted to strengthening the curriculum by ensuring that the content of what was studied was coherent, substantive, and meaningful. For a time, there was extended discussion about how to deepen the study of history, what literature to teach, how to relate the curriculum to the nation's changing demography, and how to engage more students in the study of mathematics and science. In response to this challenge, a few states developed solid, content-rich curriculum frameworks in history and literature (notably California in history and Massachusetts in both history and literature). The history frameworks in these states identified a sequence of topics and ideas for teachers to follow, knowing that their work would build on the previous year of study; the literature framework in Massachusetts identified specific classic and contemporary authors whose work was worthy of study. . . .
Frederick M. Hess is a resident scholar and the director of education policy studies at AEI.