A new report by the U.S. Government Accounting Office states that only 24 percent of eighth graders in the United States are proficient in geography as measured by the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress scores.

National Assessment of Educational Progress The figure of 24 percent is consistent, reaching back to 1994.

According to the GAO, there are a number of reasons for the lack of progress. These include poor teacher training and materials, lack of geographic technology in schools, and misconceptions about geography in general. There are also other underlying problems.

According to Thomas Herman, geography professor at San Diego State University, the focus on basics and reading and writing is resulting in geography being shortchanged. Herman is a coordinator for the California Geographic Alliance, which was started in 1986 in cooperation with National Geographic as a part of a state alliance network.

Herman believes that the drilling for standardized testing in reading and math is replacing content oriented learning that provides the practice, purpose and reason for basic skills.

The emphasis on drilling for basic skills is counter to the new Common Core curriculum, which emphasizes critical thinking. “I see a misalignment between what is being tested and the accountability feedback loop,” Herman said, “which results in overemphasis on ultra-fundamentals.”

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