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Regional & National

Proposal would combine history, geography classes in Tennessee

February 23rd, 2013 5:55 pm by Associated Press

NASHVILLE -- A move to combine geography with history has created tension between state officials and educators.


State officials say the plan will give students a deeper grasp of both subjects and free up more time for teaching language skills that are measured on standardized tests.


Geography educators predict that spending less time on the subject will lead to a dearth of knowledge about geotechnical systems used by the military and businesses for mapping systems. They say the information is necessary for students to be college and career ready when they graduate.


The Tennessean (http://tnne.ws/11VE78N) reports more public comment will be taken on the proposal next month.


Rich McKinney, who teaches both history and geography at Knox County's West High School, said he has a mixed reaction to the proposal.


"Geography provides the context for history, and history makes geography that much more relevant," McKinney said. "I have concerns that physical geography will not be adequately represented."


Emily Barton, assistant commissioner for curriculum and instruction at the Tennessee Department of Education, said part of the reason for the change to allow more time for literacy instruction that is part of the Common Core State Standards, which have been adopted in nearly every state. Students are tested to see if they have reached Common Core standards, which currently sets benchmarks for only math and language arts.


She said the standards were designed to reflect reading and writing skills that are reinforced in other classes. For example, she said a social studies teacher might have a student write a paragraph explaining a reading assignment.


"Right now (social studies teachers) feel like they have to cover so much content they don't have time to go into the literacy work," Barton said.


Students would still be able to take stand-alone geography classes as electives.


Barton said she thinks people should hold off on the debate until the standards are complete, which is expected in March.


"We really need to look at the standards themselves, and that will allow us to have a more concrete conversation," she said. "The course sequence is not intended to shortchange geography."


She predicts the changes will allow students to gain "a really robust understanding" of both topics.


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Information from: The Tennessean, http://www.tennessean.com

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