Common state standards in social studies across the U.S.? Is that likely to happen?
45 States, Plus D.C., Have Adopted Math/Reading Common Standards
If you’ve been following the issue of common core standards at all, you know that 45 states and the District of Columbia have adopted math and English/language arts standards, an initiative produced by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association.
The idea behind the initiative was to uniformly boost student achievement across the country. The notion of national standards isn’t a new idea in the United States, where there is a strong tradition of local control over education. But it gained new impetus after the federal No Child Left Behind law (NCLB) led some states to weaken their standards as governors looked for ways to cut education costs.
National standards have been embraced by President Obama’s Education Secretary Arne Duncan, who made the adoption of the Common Core standards a requirement of his $4 billion Race to the Top competition.
So Is It Now The Turn Of Social Studies?
From Education Week:
Feeling that social studies has been sidelined by a test-driven focus on math and English/language arts, subject-matter specialists from more than a dozen states are meeting this week with representatives of content-area groups to brainstorm ways to improve academic standards in that subject.
The two-day gathering in Charlotte, N.C., is the third convened in the last year and a half as states and social studies groups seek to re-establish the prominent role they feel the disciplines deserve in classrooms. Social studies specialists from 18 states and officials of 15 social studies organizations have been taking part in the talks.
Organizers of the effort refer to it as work on “common state standards in social studies,” but participants’ discussions are not “predetermined” to produce a set of standards for state adoption, said Kathleen Swan, an associate professor of curriculum and instruction at the University of Kentucky’s college of education, who is organizing the discussions.
“It’s more an effort of people talking about how they can make their own states’ [standards] better by working together,” Ms. Swan said. “If we end up converging in a way that makes sense for a common set of standards, then that’s where we converge.”
Goal Of Creating Guidelines, Not Necessarily Standards
The fact that the group is not looking to create a set of common core standards, but rather to come up with a set of guidelines or core principles, to help states come up with their own standards, is probably a good thing, given the controversy around social studies standards content in Texas and North Carolina, to name just two.
Another Reminder Of NCLB’s Downsides
But this meeting is yet another reminder of the negative consequences of the No Child Left Behind law. With its required high-stakes testing in reading and math, and latterly the addition of some science testing, all other subjects are shortchanged. That includes social studies, the arts, foreign language, even P.E. and recess.
The twin gods of reading and math rule, since NCLB dictates major consequences for poor achievement in these two tested subjects. Seeking to re-establish the importance of social studies is a positive step forward.
According to Education Week, the group has so far agreed on a one-sentence definition of K-12 social studies: “The social studies is an interdisciplinary exploration of the social sciences and humanities, including civics, history, economics, and geography, in order to develop responsible, informed, and engaged citizens and to foster civic, global, historical, geographic, and economic literacy.”
This renewed emphasis on social studies is welcome, as is the notion that coming up with standards for all is not the goal.
A Highly Centralized System Not The Solution?
Some people in American education reform circles contend that we are falling behind other countries with high-achieving school systems, in large part, because we don’t have national standards.
Stanford University Professor Linda Darling-Hammond, who served as Obama’s chief education adviser during the presidential transition, shows otherwise in her book, “The Flat World and Education: How America’s Commitment to Equity Will Determine Our Future.”
She writes about how Finland — now widely hailed by U.S. policymakers — reformed school system, not by establishing a highly centralized national system with detailed national standards but by shifting “to a more localized system in which highly trained teachers design curriculum around very lean national standards.” All assessments are school-based, designed by teachers, rather than standardized.
Food for thought!
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