Analysis of Proposed State Standards

May 6, 2019 by

Analysis of Proposed State Standards

By Henry W. Burke


With good knowledge-based standards, students will receive a high-quality education; test scores will improve; graduation rates will increase; and your state will have a better-educated citizenry. 

Educators in any state can build strong Type #1 State Education Standards if they insist upon a Type #1 standards framework.  Also, people can analyze and critique the State Standards proposed by their State if they follow the guidelines for exemplary State Standards. 

I gave a presentation on State Standards before the State Board of Education and Nebraska Department of Education on May 3, 2019.  My talk begins at Time Mark 9:40 and ends at 19:15.  This is the link to the State Board Meeting:


In order to have exemplary state standards, they need to be:

          1.  Explicit

          2.  Knowledge-based…fact-based

          3.  Academic

          4.  Clearly-worded

          5.  Grade-level specific

          6.  Measurable

          If state standards comply with the six criteria listed above [the Burke parameters], teachers will not have to second-guess the standards writers.  School districts will not need to hire expensive consultants to “interpret” the standards nor to develop curriculum and tests. The meaning of each standard will be readily apparent for each grade level (and course). 

I have repeated this list of the six parameters of exemplary standards [the Burke parameters] many times over the last six years. 

Some additional explanation of the six parameters is offered here:

1.  Explicit

The “explicit” parameter means the standards must be well-defined rather than vague, general, and subjective.  If the curriculum standards are generic, non-explicit, and subjective, the instructional materials will be the same way.  In turn, this will lead to generic, non-explicit, and confusing test questions.

The standards should include frequent but short examples to illustrate what the standard itself means in a classroom. This avoids confusion among teachers, students, parents, curriculum directors, and administrators.

2.  Knowledge-based / fact-based

The “knowledge-based…fact based” parameter means that the standards elements must refer to traditional subject content.  The standards must be based on verifiable “facts.”

3.  Academic

The “academic” parameter means that the standards elements must not be geared toward indoctrinating children’s minds into some agenda, but instead the standards are scholarly.  Examples of indoctrination agendas include social justice, multiculturalism, LGBTQ, diversity, political correctness, and environmental extremism.

4.  Clearly-worded

Standards must be “clearly-worded” so that all concerned understand the meaning and intent of the element.  The standards should be expressed in unambiguous, well-written English prose.  Educational jargon and vague terminology must be avoided. 

5.  Grade-level-specific

The “grade-level specific” parameter means the standards must set clear goals for teachers and students to reach at each grade level/course.  Without clear written goals for each grade level/course, teachers will be confused as to which teacher is supposed to teach which standard.  Neither teachers nor students will feel true accountability for teaching/learning specific subject content.  Without clear written goals, how will parents know whether or not their children have reached grade-level proficiency?

The standards must be sensible, realistic, and age-appropriate.  Are they written for students at the appropriate grade level? 

6.  Measurable

The last parameter of excellent standards dictates that the standards must be “measurable.”

If the standards are weak and vague, school districts will have to hire high-priced consultants to interpret and develop the needed curricula. Then more consultants will have to be hired to develop assessments to measure progress toward the standards.  In contrast, when state standards follow these six parameters of exemplary standards, developing curricula and assessments will be straightforward and inexpensive.

If the state standards satisfy the six parameters of exemplary standards, they are Type #1 standards.  Type #1 standards lead to a traditional, classical education.  The goal of Type #1 standards is academic achievement rather than the latest, nebulous, education fad of “social-emotional learning.” 

If the state standards do not comply with the six parameters, they are Type #2 standards.  Type #2 standards exemplify the project-based (constructivist), subjectively-assessed philosophy of education.  Type #2 standards are built backwards from Grade 12 down to Kindergarten.  This is like trying to build a house from the roof down; it does not work very well.  The goal of Type #2 standards is indoctrination and manipulation of students’ minds.

Necessary Wording for Strong Type #1 Standards

Standards should be written starting with action verbs (Explain, describe, identify, compare, analyze, examine, and evaluate).

The State should place definitive statements in the Introductions at each grade level as a guide to the overall understanding of the standards.  Examples out to the side of various standards elements are very useful in informing teachers, students, and parents.  Examples that begin with the word “including” reference content that must be mastered by the student, that must be included by publishers in their instructional materials, and that are eligible to be tested on state-mandated assessments.  Statements that contain the word “such as” are intended as possible illustrative examples.

(Nebraska uses the “For example” phrase for most of the standards which leaves teachers, students, and parents wondering how the examples should be prioritized. Are those examples eligible for state testing or simply suggestions?  Are publishers required to include the examples in their instructional materials?) 

Need for Horizontal Format

States need to display the Standards in both the Vertical Format and the Horizontal Format.  When the standards are displayed in Horizontal Format, a teacher or parent could easily follow a strand from one grade level to the next.  Do the standards increase in their intellectual demands in ways that are clear?  Do the standards build in depth and complexity in obvious ways?  Are the standards at one grade level coordinated with the standards at an earlier grade level?


To serve as an example for other states, this Section includes some examples from the Proposed Nebraska 2019 Social Studies Standards.  You can use a similar approach for the proposed standards in your state.

For this presentation, I will analyze the newly proposed Nebraska Standards.  The six parameters are applied to the Proposed Nebraska Social Studies Standards in the following examples:

[Notes: The Nebraska standards listed in this Section are copied verbatim from the Nebraska Draft Standards Document; the standards are formatted in italics and indented.  In each case, my comments precede the listed standard.]

1.  Explicit

These standards are not explicit:

Grade 2 – Geography

          Compare and contrast maps and globes.

High School – Civics

          Analyze various media sources for accuracy and perspective. For example: news media literacy, online civic reasoning

2.  Knowledge-based / fact-based

These standards are not knowledge-based and fact-based.

Grade 5 — Economics

          Explain how trade impacts relationships between countries. For example: fur, tobacco, cotton, lumber, triangle trade

Students’ answers are less valid than historical facts.

High School — History

          Synthesize historical information to create new understandings. For example: Compare the answer students have created to secondary sources and potentially revise students’ answers.

3.  Academic

A second grade student cannot understand justice and equality.

Grade 2 — Civics

          Identify and apply civic responsibilities that are important to individuals and their communities. For example: voting, obeying laws, justice, equality

This standard is aimed at bashing America.

Grade 5 — Civics

          Analyze how colonial and new states’ governments’ laws affected majority groups and marginalized groups within their population. For example: citizens, slaves, immigrants, women, class systems, tribes

These standards are not academic and are aimed at indoctrination.

Grade 7 – History

          Analyze the impact of people, events, ideas, including various cultures and ethnic groups, on the world. For example: Songhai, Mali, Gupta Empire, Han Dynasty, Hinduism, Taoism, Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam; Silk Road, Trans-Saharan Trade; Incas, Mayans, Aztecs

          Compare and contrast primary and secondary sources to better understand multiple perspectives of the same event. For example: foundational texts of world religions

By promoting the unproven theory of “climate change,” the Nebraska Standards are violating two of the parameters of exemplary standards.  Excellent standards must be knowledge-based / fact-based and academic.  Standards should not attempt to indoctrinate young minds in some agenda (such as climate change).  

Climate change is not a scientifically verifiable fact; rather, it is an unproven theory based on junk science.  I addressed this topic in the report, “When Climate Alarmists Talk, This Is How You Counter Them.”

Another source is “Inconvenient Facts: The Science that Al Gore Doesn’t Want You to Know” by Gregory Wrightstone.

The Nebraska Standards are promoting climate change (global warming) in a number of places.  For example, essentially the same standard is listed in Grades 6, 7, 8, and High School.

Grade 6 – Geography

          Identify how the natural environment is changed by natural and human forces, and how humans adapt to their surroundings.

          Describe the impact of natural processes on the human and physical environments. For example: precipitation, drought, earthquakes, tornadoes, floods, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, mudslides

4.  Clearly-worded

These standards are not clearly worded:

Grade 2 – History

          Compare and contrast perspectives from multiple sources regarding the same event. For example: community centers, residential, businesses, libraries, restaurants, parks

Grade 7 — Economics

          Evaluate the relevancy, accuracy, and completeness of primary and secondary sources to better understand multiple perspectives of the same event. For example: Theodore Roosevelt’s New Nationalism and Woodrow Wilson’s New Freedom, Indian Reorganization Act and responses from tribal leaders, Booker T. Washington’s ideas compared to W.E.B. DuBois’s

5.  Grade-level specific

A Kindergarten student would have difficulty determining the following standards:

Kindergarten — Economics

          Classify wants and needs and explain subsequent choices.

Kindergarten — History

          Differentiate between stories from the present and the past. For example: fiction vs. non-fiction, history vs. historical fiction, past and present

6.  Measurable

These standards are not measurable:

Grade 3 – Civics

          Justify the importance of roles that leaders and citizens serve in local government.

Grade 4 – Civics

                Justify the importance of roles that leaders and citizens serve in Nebraska government to ensure equitable representation of all cultures found in the state. For example: members of the Nebraska Hall of Fame

High School – Geography

          Analyze the relationships of sovereign nations and the role of multinational organizations on conflict and cooperation both between and within countries. For example: impacts of membership in multinational organizations and agreements, treaties, resource and technology exchanges, Heartland and Rimland Theory, demarcation of borders, territorial morphology


Exemplary State Standards can be written by following the guidelines for Type #1 standards.  This is covered in the report “Your State Could Have Strong Type #1 Social Studies Standards.”

The six parameters for strong Type #1 Standards are: 1) Explicit, 2) Knowledge-based / fact-based, 3) Academic, 4) Clearly-worded, 5) Grade-level specific, and 6) Measurable.

In the March State Board testimony, I urged Nebraska to use the Texas Social Studies Standards (TEKS).  States can move toward strong Type #1 Standards by adopting many of the standards in the Texas TEKS (Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills).

This report highlighted examples where the Proposed Nebraska Standards do not meet the parameters of exemplary, Type #1 standards.  Because the Standards do not meet criteria of exemplary standards, the Nebraska Standards are weak Type #2 Standards.


Bio for Henry W. Burke

 Henry Burke is a Civil Engineer with a B.S.C.E. and M.S.C.E.  He has been a Registered Professional Engineer (P.E.) for 37 years and has worked as a Civil Engineer in construction for over 45 years. 

Mr. Burke had a successful 27-year career with a large construction company. 

Henry Burke has served as a full-time volunteer to oversee various construction projects. He has written numerous articles on education, engineering, construction, politics, taxes, and the economy.

Mr. Burke first testified before the Nebraska State Board of Education in 1997.  He has addressed the Board many times since 2013.

Henry W. Burke


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