I don’t know if it was Sabrina’s shaming or my call to Homeland Security, but Arne Duncan just wrote about (gasp!) social studies.
Our bud, the Secretary of Education, wrote an article in the recent May/June 2011 issue of Social Education extolling the essential role of social studies in the classroom. Other present and past presidents of the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS), of which I am a member, also commented on Arne’s writing.
We all tend to be in agreement: Even though he seems well meaning, Arne has a bad tendency to cry alligator tears and blame everyone but himself.
He begins by acknowledging what we have been screaming about for years: that No Child Left Behind has created an environment where English, mathematics and science were given massive emphasis at the expense of history, geography, government and other social sciences. Yet even this admission is half-hearted. A particularly galling statement begins thus:
“Principals, particularly those at elementary schools, tell me that though they would like to allow ample time for social studies education, they feel constrained by pressures to meet adequate yearly progress (AYP). By sacrificing civics, economics, and history, these leaders have felt forced to neglect the long-term benefits of a well-rounded education, instead allowing less important, short-term goals to take over.”
Instead of a mea culpa for the narrow AYP standards, he blames administrators and districts for not allowing enough time—all the while pushing these same districts to standards that require all of their time (and then some). Apparently the AYP is such a sacred cow that any attempt to corral it is seen as a trip to the NEA/AFT slaughterhouse.
Furthermore, his praise of social studies is clearly tongue-in-cheek. While pushing for social studies to be elevated to its rightful place as an essential subject, he still harps on the importance of reading and math. Arne does this for almost a paragraph before he finally declares that marginalizing social studies “is not only misguided, it is educational neglect.”
To me, this is tantamount to thinking about that hot new office assistant at work while having sex with your wife. Sure, it gets the job done—it may even feel pretty good—but deep down, you know what you did was dishonest.
Not only does Arne pass the buck on the problem, but it seems that solutions are also hard to come by. He mentions the need to “fix NCLB so that school leaders do not feel forced to ignore the vital components of a good education.” No specifics.
He stresses President Obama’s plan to focus more on at-risk schools than in micromanaging good schools in the new version of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). No specifics.
New assessments that track for college and career readiness—no specifics.
More allowance for well-balanced curricula for districts—no specifics.
Where Arne does get specific are the very things that get his melon-head so excited: testing and giving teachers more work. He goes ga-ga, as he always does, for data-driven planning that targets strengths and weaknesses, especially with alignment to the Common Core standards in English and Math (kill me now). Yet he still has the nerve to call multiple-choice tests “mediocre” without questioning the data derived from said tests.
So who should fix this mess? According to Arne, we should.
Apparently, the Department of Education has a full plate pulling education dollars from children, creating ridiculous targets, adoring China like Mao in heat, all the while satisfying the needs of Bill Gates, Eli Broad, the Koch brothers, McGraw-Hill and Pearson like a veteran Thai call girl. There’s just no time to force states and school districts to create rigorous curricula and assessments that measure success in social studies.
Arne is urging us, the social studies teachers, to push local and state governments to create high social studies standards. He wants us to push for data-driven accountability in social studies. He wants us to reform assessments to make them authentic enough to base instruction. He wants us to test kids on a full range of social studies skills and strategies.
We do a lot of this already. We bust our ass creating meaningful and rich curricula and assessments for our children. The problem is the states don’t listen to us—and neither does Arne.
When social studies testing at the elementary level fell to only 10 states, he said nothing.
When social studies standards became a political hot potato in Texas, he said nothing.
When high school tests in New York are threatened with extinction, he said nothing.
A recent House bill threatening to cut 43 educational programs was introduced—including Teaching American History, a grant program that serves as the very incubator of innovation in social studies education that Arne seeks. The Education and the Workforce Committee found “no demonstrated results from the program…” Really. Tell that to the hundreds of students in New York City that benefit from trained TAH teacher-historians. Yet I have not heard a peep from our secretary.
That’s the problem.
Arne Duncan plays lip service to the social studies crowd using tried and true platitudes and pithy remarks. All the while, we see right through his game—to placate us while his dismantling of American education is complete.
If Arne is truly serious about establishing social studies’ rightful place in American education, he should be the one—NOT us—who is pushing the states and districts to make AYP contingent on social studies success, to make meaningful and rich social studies curricula and assessments, to hold schools accountable for success in history, geography, economics, government and social sciences.
We have been advocating this—for years. It is time the Secretary of Education to stop fence-sitting and finally get in the game of saving social studies in America.
Otherwise, his words are as authentic as the assessments he loves.
The FY’2013 Federal Budget Proposal–and its Implications for Social Studies
It seems the one truly bipartisan agenda in Washington today is duping the American public.
The bailout, the modest job increases, the upswing in the NASDAQ and the Dow Jones, even the rebound in the mortgage bond market are all spun to make it seem that things are actually getting better for average Americans.
The same is true for American education, and no more so than social studies—the sacrificial lamb to the altar of “interdisciplinary” or “integrative” studies.
Back in 2011, the federal budget for the fiscal year 2012 saw hatchet-like slashes across federal agencies, cracking off limbs where pruning would suffice. In education, the ax fell on programs that were needed for its stated mission of a literate citizenry by 2014. Suffice to say the boughs that needed most attention were left untouched (boughs with branches in Afghanistan and Iraq, for example).
The Teaching American History (TAH) Grant program, of which I am a big fan, lost its funding for FY 2012, signaling to one and all Washington’s contempt for a quality education for our citizens. In the 2013 budget released on February 13, the program’s woes would continue—the lost funds would not return.
Furthermore, most of the 2012 cuts have remained in place for 2013. Although the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) would receive a modest $8.2 million boost, most agencies saw a leveling off or a reduction in funding.
The real insult, however, is how the Obama administration’s Department of Education views the role of social studies in future national plans.
Once again, the DOE proposes to scrap traditional K-12 history education and fold it into this new educational Leviathan named “Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-Rounded Education.” According to the National Coalition for History, the program aims to:
To add insult to injury, this boondoggle has also felt the sharp edge of Obama’s ax: from $246 million in FY’12 to an astounding $90 million in this current budget. Even the Administration has lost faith in their own proposal, to the tune of an over 63% reduction in funding.
If the federal government doesn’t even believe in this idea, why should educators buy into it?
In this endeavor, social studies educators should be joined with science faculty, teachers in foreign languages, physical education teachers, athletic coaches and others in common cause. As much as integration is a valuable tool in the classroom, it is not a silver bullet for the ills of education—any teacher will tell you that.
There are certain skills, concepts and facts that require the concentration, focus and expertise of a dedicated subject. Thus, funding should also reflect the continued necessity of subjects/content areas by allocating monies to science, foreign languages, the arts and especially the social studies.
This program is dependent on reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), which governs K-12 education. Since it’s an election year, and the ESEA is mired in Congressional deadlock, then nothing much can be done on this in the coming session. Yet that gives that much more time to express our opinions on the matter.
Now, I’ve never been a huge fan of collective action—too much of the Beltway cynic in me. However, this can be driven in the right direction given the right buttons are pushed.
Here is the link to the members of the House Committee on Education and the Workforce. Also included is the members of the Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (phew, that’s a mouthful). Take a little time to let them know that “Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-Rounded Education” is nothing but a front to destroy our educational system. It will make a mockery of our system, dragging us even farther behind other countries in every category.
Furthermore, even the Administration has shown its reluctance by slashing its funding—so Congress should devote those funds to more worthy educational endeavors.
Please contact your local Congressman, at any rate…and as usual, make sure to let him/know the Neighborhood sent you.
House Committee on Education and the Workforce
John Kline, Minnesota
Thomas E. Petri, Wisconsin
Howard P. “Buck” McKeon, California
Judy Biggert, Illinois
Todd Russell Platts, Pennsylvania
Joe Wilson, South Carolina
Virginia Foxx, North Carolina
Bob Goodlatte, Virginia
Duncan Hunter, California
David P. Roe, Tennessee
Glenn Thompson, Pennsylvania
Tim Walberg, Michigan
Scott DesJarlais, Tennessee
Richard L. Hanna, New York
Todd Rokita, Indiana
Larry Bucshon, Indiana
Trey Gowdy, South Carolina
Lou Barletta, Pennsylvania
Kristi L. Noem, South Dakota
Martha Roby, Alabama
Joseph J. Heck, Nevada
Dennis A. Ross, Florida
Mike Kelly, Pennsylvania
George Miller, California
(Senior Democratic Member)
Dale E. Kildee, Michigan
Donald M. Payne, New Jersey
Robert E. Andrews, New Jersey
Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, Virginia
Lynn C. Woolsey, California
Rubén Hinojosa, Texas
Carolyn McCarthy, New York
John F. Tierney, Massachusetts
Dennis J. Kucinich, Ohio
Rush D. Holt, New Jersey
Susan A. Davis, California
Raúl M. Grijalva, Arizona
Timothy H. Bishop, New York
David Loebsack, Iowa
Mazie K. Hirono, Hawaii
Jason Altmire, Pennsylvania
Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions
Tom Harkin (IA) – Chair
Barbara A. Mikulski (MD)
Jeff Bingaman (NM)
Patty Murray (WA)
Bernard Sanders (I) (VT)
Robert P. Casey, Jr. (PA)
Kay R. Hagan (NC)
Jeff Merkley (OR)
Al Franken (MN)
Michael F. Bennet (CO)
Sheldon Whitehouse (RI)
Richard Blumenthal (CT)
Michael B. Enzi (WY) -Ranking Republican Senator
Lamar Alexander (TN)
Richard Burr (NC)
Johnny Isakson (GA)
Rand Paul (KY)
Orrin G. Hatch (UT)
John McCain (AZ)
Pat Roberts (KS)
Lisa Murkowski (AK)
Mark Kirk (IL)
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Tagged as Barack Obama, Civil Rights, Commentary, current events, Curriculum, Dale E. Kildee, Education, education reform, Educational leadership, Elementary and Secondary Education Act, History, House Committee, NCLB, No Child Left Behind, Opinion, Social studies, Standards, Teachers, Teaching, Todd Russell Platts, United States, United States House Committee on Education and the Workforce, United States Senate Committee on Health Education Labor and Pensions, Washington