Common Social Studies Standards Coming Soon To A School Near You?

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?

As Valerie Strauss writes in her Washington Post blog:

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!


Photo credit: iStock

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jane richmond
jane richmond4 years ago

Our students need all the help they can get. Currently our system stinks.

Lika S.
Lika S.4 years ago

Granted, some form of standard would be nice. But I've noticed that the more we cater to a "national standard", the more we rely on standardized tests. Some kids can understand fine, yet can't regurgitate info. So they do poorly on this type of test. Which gives the school a bad grade. So, rather than teach the students, they teach the test. Which then the kids didn't really learn anything, except how to pass a standardized test...

Judith Howard
Judith Howard4 years ago

Keeping some courses to encourage creativity would be nice!

caterina caligiuri

thanks I liked this article

K s Goh
KS Goh4 years ago

Thanks for the article.

Marie W.
Marie W.4 years ago

Most countries (that are beating the US in education) have had these standards for years.

Kristi o.
Kristi O.4 years ago

Janice, you are right. However, one crucial part of education is missing here: parent involvement. Every day, every year as a teacher, I see the same situation: parents who get involved and follow up with their children at home, attend parent conferences, and respond to teachers' feedback, usually have children who do fine; parents who do not return phone calls, do not attend parent conferences- do not value education- almost always have children who also do not care, do not generally succeed, and do not grow up valuing education. Everyone wants to get rid of tenure for teachers and focus on the schools and the educational system, but no one wants to address this issue. Schools try valiantly to "undo" whatever is being done to the kids at home 16 hours a day in the 8 hour day, but it is impossible; you can "fix" the schools all you want, but without parents who care and back this up with action at home, it will all be for naught.

Juliet D.
judith sanders4 years ago

Social Studies is an assortment of topics that are easily "spun" or distorted by local prejudice. When I think back to my SS classes, there was a lot of stuff that was patronizing or untrue about other cultures, such as Native Americans. There definitely need to be National standards for SS and History.

@ Linda: "the schools can customize them to suit their likings."
That's exactly what we Don't want!

Hege Torset
Hege Torset4 years ago


Yvonne C.
Von D.4 years ago

The biggest problem with our schools is that we don't really place that high a value on learning in this country. When sports is allowed to take precedent over everything else in school as more important, that sends a bad message. When the highest paid people in this country are sports players, that is just wrong. When people become famous for absolutely nothing more than sex videos on the internet, that is just sad. We place too much value on ignorant, vapid models and media personalities just because they are young and skinny. These people are a bad influence on our children, they want to be like them. Unfortunately too many of their parents are right in there with them, they also want to be like them. Children have lost their childhood to idiot parents not being parents.