I’m glad I’m not a social studies teacher working in Arkansas, Kentucky, or Wyoming – or any of a number of other states that ponied up whatever CCSSO charged them to participate in a much anticipated effort to craft common social studies standards (“Specialists Weigh Common Social Studies Standards”).
Those efforts have left everyone scratching their heads about what got accomplished. Most of the states that signed onto this ambitious project have outdated social studies standards that are not very good. Some tabled scheduled plans to write new standards, hoping this effort would produce a superior document or that, at the very least, the 18-month long labors of the group would provide them with a good start. Unfortunately, the “framework” released last month (quietly, after much initial fanfare) is far more likely to confuse than clarify what a strong state social studies standards document should include, particularly one developed in the age of Common Core State Standards (CCSS) in English language arts and mathematics.
The framework, now endorsed by CCSSO, introduces an “inquiry arc” which is described as “a set of interlocking and mutually supportive ideas that frame the way students learn social studies content.” While we take nothing away from the learning dimensions included (e.g. gathering, evaluating, and using evidence), Common Core believes that critical thinking must rest on a solid base of factual knowledge. It’s the job of good standards to describe this content – and of good curriculum to provide concrete supports for teaching that content.
Given the emphasis of the CCSS on informational text and the hope of many that such a focus will spawn a privileging of content that we haven’t seen in recent years, it’s all the more shocking and disappointing that the new College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) standards framework is void of any mention whatsoever of the content we expect students to master and demonstrate.
It’ll be interesting to learn, in the days and weeks ahead, how this project strayed so far from what was originally envisioned. In the meantime, we wish the participating states good luck – and encourage policymakers not to fall for the “spin.” This framework is NOT a blueprint for writing strong standards. It’s a 21st-century skills cloak by another name.