The Neighborhood is wishing many of our readers the best of luck in beginning the school year.
Being that my school year is a few weeks in coming, I still have time to pontificate at length (as opposed to pontificating at shorter length).
If you’re in a district like mine, especially one that has sipped deep in the Kool-Aid of balanced literacy and the Lucy Calkins’ Writers Workshop, you’ll be given (or asked to derive) a curriculum map detailing the skills and content to be taught over the course of the year. Social studies will need to be woven in somehow, as the hot topic of the day is making everything “interdisciplinary.” Otherwise, some districts have multiple maps for each subject.
Furthermore, the administrators will be nagging you from the first week about getting student work on your bulletin boards. Now, I have my own opinion on bulletin boards, but far be it from me to get my fellow teachers fired over my bullshit. If the boss makes you do one, do it (preferably in social studies, as that’ll make us very happy.)
One of the components of your board—and definitely your curriculum map—will undoubtedly be standards, the benchmarks and guidelines that define student learning in your school, district or state. Never mind that standards aren’t necessarily made with any rhyme or reason—it shows you’re following what the bosses want, makes the adminstrators happy, and shows the students that your methods and content were not derived in an insane asylum, but from a central state policymaking body (similar to an insane asylum).
If you’re in a panic that you can’t find your set of standards in the pile of pattern blocks and assessment binders, fear not. We here in the Neighborhood have compiled resources that have all kinds of social studies standards at your fingertips—even national ones you can use to impress (or insult) your colleagues.
National History Education Clearinghouse Standards Database – Like most of us, I have state standards that need to be addressed; standards that differ from each area of the country. Until we adopt a national standard for history and social studies, we’ll still need these. NHEC has compiled all state standards into a searchable database by grade and state.
New York City Social Studies Scope and Sequence – A couple of years ago, New York City took the state standards and created a sequential curriculum framework for city teachers in social studies. It isn’t perfect, as a very early post of mine shows. However, if you need to do long-term planning, this can definitely provide a template (even if you don’t teach in NYC)
National History Standards – National Center for History in the Schools at UCLA – Back in 1994, the NCHS, with our friend Gary Nash at the help, created among the first national standards for history. Divided into two main strands (K-4 and 5-12), these standards systematically cover the content and skills needed for both United States and world history. Emphasize on the Historical Thinking Standards, which stress higher-order thinking skills that students need in all subjects, not just social studies.
National Council for the Social Studies Curriculum Standards – I only included the introduction because NCSS makes you pay for the whole book (see if your principal or AP has a copy). These NCSS standards are based on ten thematic strands meant to flex with any state basket of content or skill requirements. I would use these more often to complement, not replace, your own state standards (I’d probably do the same with the NCHS standards mentioned before). I’ve also attached a copy of their Teacher Standards for your convenience.
Common Core State Standards Initiative – The Core Standards initiative is a state-led effort coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices (NGA Center) and the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO). Their goal is adopting common standards in reading and math for all 50 states. Many states have already aligned their own standards to the Core Standards. They tend to be more of the “interdisciplinary” type and not necessarily strictly about social studies.
NCSS Effort to Establish Common Core Standards in Social Studies – these aren’t standards, per se, but rather some information about the NCSS working with the Common Core people to create common standards in social studies for each state. Personally, I don’t think it’ll work, but kudos to them for trying.
Best of luck with these, and send me pictures of your best social studies bulletin boards. Who knows, they just might make it on the Neighborhood in the future!
The AEI Report on High School Social Studies: Our Review of the Findings
For the past year, the Neighborhood has railed about the attack on social studies by those in the education establishment.
Last week, a new report has data to back our claims—and its coming from an unlikely source.
Few people would peg the American Enterprise Institute as anti-establishment—unless that establishment was driving a hybrid, collecting welfare checks, having gay intercourse, aborting babies and growing funny crops in a hydroponics lab in the basement. The conservative DC think-tank counts among its fellows Newt Gingrich, Paul Wolfowitz, John Bolton and Lynn Cheney: hardly a bunch that would rock the boat.
AEI’s education team, furthermore, is certainly no rabble-rousers, either. It’s headed by Frederick Hess, who’s a good buddy of my favorite educational dictator, Michelle Rhee. He also co-directs AEI’s Future of American Education Project, which involves Rhee and KIPP cofounder Michael Feinberg—what do they chant at the beginning of those meetings, Mike?
Yet amongst little fanfare, AEI’s Program on American Citizenship has recently released a report titled High Schools, Civics, and Citizenship: What Social Studies Teachers Think and Do. In it, researchers Steve Farkas and Ann Duffett studied high schools and teachers and reported essentially on the state of social studies in this country. While their findings on content seem self-serving—especially in assessing attitudes towards American society and government—their view of social studies as a subject is spot on.
It is a disturbing picture, yet it gives credence to what we have been saying for years: social studies is suffering in America thanks to the NCLB establishment.
Farkas and Duffett studied a national random sample survey of 866 public high school social studies teachers, 245 Catholic and private school social studies teachers, and three focus groups. Naysayers would point out that social studies teachers hardly constitute an unbiased data group on the subject. Yet they are the ones most involved, most invested—and most attuned to the deficiencies in their subject area.
The strongest areas of the study are the findings about social studies writ large, about student learning, and standards of content knowledge.
In terms of the subject as a whole, the study backs up our claims. 45% of teachers say their school district treats socials studies as “an absolutely essential subject area.” This is opposed to 43% whose districts considered it unessential, or “important” at best. 45% claim their curriculum has been downgraded due directly to NCLB pressure, although 39% claim to be “holding their own”. Even more disturbing, 70% of teachers say that social studies classes are of a lower priority due to the pressure of statewide math and language arts tests—even though 93% of teachers want social studies to be assessed in the same way.
Furthermore, these finding are not homogenous to all schools. 68% of private school social studies teachers feel that social studies is considered essential, as opposed to 45% of public school teachers. Private school teachers also claim to have more control over the pace and content of their curriculum (86%), as well as a more nurturing school atmosphere for the subject.
(Wait a minute, aren’t private schools also subject to NCLB pressures? What gives?)
The quality of teaching and learning is also of concern, according to the study. Only 20% of teachers, and 36% of students, value the teaching of facts, dates and major events as an essential part of social studies instruction. Only 56% of teachers can state that their students have carefully read the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution. 64% value teaching the intricacies of the federal government, such as checks and balances, federalism, etc. 63% find knowledge of historical periods important. Even though the current trend is toward understanding concepts and ideas in social studies, they are difficult to understand without the meat of facts, dates and events.
What’s more, we may not even be sure students are learning. No more than 24% of teachers say they are “very confident” that their students will graduate knowing all they need to know about social studies to continue to higher education or the working world.
So on a macro scale, the Farkas and Duffett report paint a bleak picture of a subject under assault from an education establishment bent on testing progress, where teachers have lost focus of essential knowledge and students lack concrete understanding.
We knew this already. The charts and numbers help our cause, though.
What doesn’t help is the study’s assessment of teacher attitudes and values, as well as the criteria for social studies knowledge. The AEI education team bases knowledge of social studies on what they call the Twelve Concept s of Citizenship, which are:
The problem, of course, is that this basket of items is both too broad and too narrow. While knowing about the Bill of Rights is important, it could be folded into a larger standard about American citizenship and responsibility. Some of these are so broad that they lack any meaning. To know facts and dates? What facts and dates? To be knowledgeable about different historical periods is okay, but you list three periods that are already broad without including the rest, which is just as important and also pretty hefty in it of itself.
Also, some of these tenets are just dripping with ideology. Conservatives love law and order, we know that. Most people, in fact, prefer a safe and secure society. But there’s a better way to word such sentiments without sounding like a 50’s principal with a crew-cut and tortoise-shell glasses. Good luck teaching inner-city kids, or any adolescents for that matter, to “follow rules and be respectful of authority.” My kids would likely hurl you out the window.
The same ideological bent pervades the questions about teacher attitudes and values. One finding was that 83% of teachers believe that the United States is a “unique country that stands for something special in the world.” 76% say that high school should impart respect for military service, and 82% think it is important for students to “respect and appreciate their country but know its shortcomings.”
These numbers, by the way, align almost perfectly to the attitudes of ordinary Americans. Glad to know teachers are normal, loyal patriots and not the bomb-throwing, lazy Bolsheviks that are depicted by some members of (gasp!) AEI itself.
None of the values studied are particularly galling, at least to me. Our servicemen and women should be respected, and few would argue that teaching American history must include diverse points of view. I’m even an advocate of American exceptionalism, to an extent. Yet if you look at the questions about attitudes and values, one could surmise that the questions were crafted to elicit certain responses. Like our students, the format and the content/context of the questions shape the data we receive from them.
So the AEI report isn’t perfect. Maybe they got so wrapped up in progressive education that they forgot to be neo-cons. Or maybe AEI head Arthur Brooks warned Farkas and Duffett that they better tack right if they know what’s good for them (just ask David Frum).
Regardless of the ideological bent, the report still has value as a window on the sorry state of social studies in this country. Amongst America’s public schools, social studies is being downgraded more and more, thrown into the pyre as a sacrifice to the gods of scan-tron sheets and number 2 pencils. Students are lacking even the basic underpinnings of our history and government, even as they leave high school eligible to vote—a frightening prospect indeed.
Which leads me to an essential question, in fact the essential question of the study: “What are teachers trying to teach our youth about citizenship and what it means to be an American?”
My answer: Whatever fits into the pitiful 45-minute block in between assessments and test prep.
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