Time To Squeeze-Back Social Studies
During this stubborn recession, national, state and district-level education budgets are significantly contracting. This is why policymakers must re-evaluate the fundamental purposes of taxpayer-funded compulsory education, including many recent education reforms and high-stakes programs. With accountability assessments, course mandates, college admissions criteria, and funding mechanisms all fixated on a narrow bandwidth of English language arts and mathematics, broader curricular offerings, such as art, music, vocational education and even the core disciplines of science and our beloved social studies, have been significantly scaled back in the instructional day of most K-12 students. For kids who struggle in either English or math, their entire instructional day can be devoured by those two disciplines at the expense of all other curricula. Due to mandatory remediation programs, this narrowing of the curriculum phenomenon is particularly pronounced in schools at the lower end of the socioeconomic scale, where middle and high school dropout rates have reached epidemic proportions.
I am pleased to inform the Sunburst readers that CCSS is standing-up to these narrowing pressures, not just for the sake of our discipline, but for the future of our fragile Republic. The CCSS President has recently called upon the State Board of Education and Superintendent of Public Instruction (SPI) Torlakson to adjust their current remediation plans for schools which have fallen into “Program Improvement” status (a fate awaiting a majority of schools unless the current No Child Left Behind [NCLB] dictates are reformed by Congress and the President). In this endeavor, we are joined by our colleagues with the California Science Teachers Association, whose curriculum is also being squeezed-out of the instructional day at such Program Improvement (PI) schools, due to the explicit marching orders given by Department of Education remediation teams. This is simply a “more of less” approach to education that has devastating consequences for our communities.
I am also pleased to report that CCSS is helping generate a significant movement of like-minded associations and noteworthy individuals committed to prioritizing civic education in California schools. Your CCSS leaders are forming close alliances with a range of such interest groups, spanning not only the education arena, but all three branches of government (e.g., last year our CCSS Policy award was given to an Appellate Court Judge, and this year we honored a Presidential Library executive). But civic engagement is only part of the equation.
Every time I emphasize the importance of civic participation by all citizens, politicians and education officials, alike, all favorably react. But fostering such dispositions depends in large measure on the knowledge and tools that robust social studies courses and programs provide their students. Civic engagement cannot be separated from content-rich instruction in history, government, economics and geography. That would be like attempting to train a swimmer for competition without a pool.
So our struggle to squeeze our curriculum back into the instructional day of all students is a multi-front battle, spanning all levels and branches of government and all social studies disciplines. Unfortunately, with all of the state and national mandates and budgetary incentives that have been foisted upon schools the past three decades, we are swimming against the political and legal currents. That is why this effort will likely be a long struggle, requiring us to wisely expend our finite time and resources in the most effective means and at the most crucial moments. But for the sake of our society, it is a battle we must fight and win; and CCSS is leading the charge!
Who does set policy when it comes to history-social science education? Inquiring minds want to know and the Governmental Relations committee has been working diligently to ensure we are updated on new developments in the field. These appear on the website in the tab Legislative News http://www.ccss.org/Legislative_New. However, without significant background knowledge about who the key players in policy setting are and how they work, it is almost impossible for educators to be effective in influencing the decisions and outcomes that so impact classrooms, teachers and students. We invite you to watch as CCSS Governmental Relations Committee Chair, Jim Hill, engages in a discussion with CCSS Legislative Analyst, Fred Jones about the various government agencies and policymakers to learn more about how they work and their subsequent impact on Social Studies education. Though recorded some months ago, the process is the same and the issues are still incredibly relevant.
The Legislative Sausage Mill
Legislative Analyst Interview - Part I