Update: This story was updated June 4 with information on the timeline for revising the history and social studies frameworks.
For history and social studies teachers in California, the Common Core State Standards are welcome allies in their struggle to liberate their subject from a decade of inattention and irrelevance.
They are encouraged that the new standards stress the importance of research and analytical skills and elevate the importance of historical documents in reading comprehension. They feel valued as colleagues once again.
“Common Core gives us permission to finally teach history and not pretend it is another English class,” said Andrew Pegan, an 8th-grade history teacher in the Compton Unified School District. “That’s why I love Common Core.”
“I feel like we are emerging from the Dark Ages of educational policy,” said Ruth Moore, an 8th-grade history and English teacher at Santa Rosa Middle School.
Pegan was an instructor for and Moore was attending this year’s conference of the California Council for Social Studies in Oakland, where sessions like Pegan’s “CRITICAL History: Making History Relevant in a Common Core World” were prominent in the three-day program. Social studies and history teachers say they are encouraged that the creators of the Common Core, a set of English language arts and math standards that California and 42 other states have adopted, weave liberal doses of history and science into the standards’ approach to literacy and numeracy.
They add that what distinguishes the Common Core from previous standards is the emphasis on the skills that effective history teachers have taught their students when they have had the chance. These include nonfiction writing, citing evidence and making arguments, and comprehending “complex texts” to prepare students for life after high school.
“These are big changes in education, but social studies teachers are not seeing anything new,” said Martha Infante, a middle school history teacher in Los Angeles Unified and incoming president of the Council for Social Studies.
Infante and others add that the Academic Performance Index and the federal No Child Left Behind law squeezed history out of the curriculum in most districts during the past decade. They say that limited teachers’ ability to teach history the right way – and share its excitement.
Both history and science wasn’t a priority in the state and federal school accountability systems. Instead, results on the state math and English language arts tests were used to judge – and often punish – schools and districts. Knowledge of history was first tested in 8th grade. The common refrain – what gets tested gets taught – proved true. Both history and science, Infante and others complained, weren’t taught, particularly in elementary grades.
“Students arriving in middle school lacked civics and history knowledge,” Infante said. “I never saw anything like that when I started teaching in the ‘90s.”
“There has been a marginalization of social studies for quite a few years,” said Nancy McTygue, executive director of the California History-Social Science Project, a statewide network of history scholars and K-12 teachers offering training in history and social science. Students not only didn’t get content knowledge, she said, they weren’t exposed to nonfiction texts.
She found it puzzling and frustrating. “Why on earth would school leaders reduce instructional time for history, a text-dependent discipline, if they wanted to improve student literacy?” she asks in the introduction to “Teaching the Common Core,” a publication of the state history project.
Pegan said middle and high school history teachers found they had to do “History 101,” going over the basics of what students had missed. “I tried to do the history of Thanksgiving, but (students) had never even been given the fairy-tale version,” he said.
The old state English language arts standards’ focus on literature and fiction affected how history was taught beyond elementary school, Pegan said. “History became English Part II. History teachers were asked to teach history with standards that were meant for literature,” he said, substituting historical fiction for the use of original historical sources.
The Common Core has changed how reading and writing will be taught. The English language arts standards for grades 6 to 12 feature separate sections for using history/social studies and science topics and materials to develop reading comprehension and writing skills. An appendix features examples of how to integrate historical topics and documents, such as Lincoln’s Gettysburg Address, in English classes. The history/social studies sections lay out ways, by grade, to analyze texts, use primary sources and develop arguments and points of view. Sample questions on the new Smarter Balanced test in the new standards include readings from history.
The Common Core more explicitly defines literacy as a shared responsibility. History and social studies teachers are welcoming this turn of events. “Hearing the new dialogue resonates with me. I sleep more peacefully at night,” said Moore, the Santa Rosa Middle School teacher.
The Common Core standards also can break down classroom walls and encourage English and history/social science teachers to work together. For the first time, Infante said, teachers in other disciplines are seeing through a social studies lens and collaborating. The connections, she said, make sense.
Last year, Infante said, she and an English teacher collaborated on an assignment that asked students to write a persuasive essay on whether John Brown was justified in leading a slave rebellion. In the English class, students read primary source documents: John Brown’s address to the court about to sentence him in 1859 and Colonel Robert E. Lee’s “Report Concerning the Attack at Harper’s Ferry.” In her class, they explored the causes and ramifications of the rebellion in depth. Students received credit for the essay in both classes.
Another class, taught by Jennifer Brouhard at Glenview Elementary School in Oakland, offered a glimpse of history thriving. Students were collaborating in small groups, using historical documents and gaining an intuitive understanding of life in earlier times.
On a recent morning, the 35 students in Brouhard’s combination 4th-5th grade class, one of three history classes she teaches each day, were studying slides of women at work in the Richmond Shipyards during World War II. It’s part of a year-long theme on economic forces that shaped America that Brouhard, who’s been teaching for 19 years, chose.
“What do you notice?” Brouhard asked about the first slide, the famous poster of Rosie the Riveter flexing her bicep below the words, “We Can Do It!” Brohard asked students at each table to talk it over and send a representative to the front to share thoughts.
“It shows she can do whatever men can do,” said 4th-grader Zachary Smith.
“How can you support your claim that men and women can do it?” Brouhard asked. A boy used a laser pointer to point to her biceps.
Brouhard, who does little lecturing during the two-hour class, explained that World War II was the first time that large numbers of women entered the workforce. African-Americans came to Richmond for the shipyards, too. Workers were employed in shifts to keep the shipyards running 24 hours a day; some lived in their cars, since there weren’t enough houses.
There was a photo of a woman welder, smiling. How come?
“Maybe to get more workers to come,” suggested 5th-grader Fiona Connelly. “Look how fun this work is. You can get money. Then they can build ships faster and win the war.”
“This is what historians do,” Brouhard told the class. “We start looking at these photos, primary sources, read oral histories and texts, then form your own ideas about this. Now you are getting some ideas – not enough yet.”
The next day, Brouhard said, she would ask the students to take all of their observations, with keywords, and write a short essay, making a statement with supporting evidence. She might use the slides as a lesson in multiple perspectives, suggesting different ways to interpret the photographer’s message.
“Students come in as 4th-graders asking, ‘What is the right answer?’ We haven’t built in thinking in younger grades,” she said. “We want them to ask, ‘What are these jobs? What do shipyards do, and why are they important?’”
At odds with state history standards
Teaching at Glenview, which allots history equal time with English, enabled Brouhard to escape the minimization of history that has occurred elsewhere and to teach in ways that the Common Core encourages. But such situations are rare in elementary schools, as is the type of collaboration that Infante shared in her school, she said. Many history/social studies teachers, while feeling validated by the new English language arts standards, also feel frustrated by the volume of history content they must get through each year.
The Common Core doesn’t dictate the content that history/social studies teachers should teach; California’s own history standards do that. Adopted in 1998 – before Sept. 11, the Iraq war and the election of President Barack Obama – they are outdated.
The state standards require covering more historical events, facts and details than most teachers want to cover (and most students care to memorize). They also are out of sync with the shift toward teaching reasoning skills over memorization emphasized in the Common Core social studies standards and the C3 Framework, a document published by the National Council for the Social Studies that provides guidance for state standards in history and civics.
California tried to bridge the gap in 2009 when it began updating the state History-Social Studies Frameworks, the extensive grade-by-grade curriculum guide for teaching the state standards. But the Legislature, looking for every penny to save during the recession, froze all funding for curriculum development and textbook adoption.
Six years later, the nearly completed document needs to be revised again, to reflect the Common Core social studies standards and to encourage a more engaging approach to civics education, said Tom Adams, the director of the state Department of Education’s curriculum frameworks and instructional resources division. Adams is hoping funding for the history frameworks will appear in the May revision to the state budget to pay for experts to sort through the 700 comments and recommendations that the department has received on the frameworks. (Update: Gov. Brown’s May budget includes $120,000 to hire history scholars to evaluate the voluminous public comment and submit their recommendations to the Instructional Quality Commission, which oversees academic standards work for the State Board of Education. Commission Chair Bill Honig reports that framework is on track for a May 2016 adoption by the State Board. The timeline for the work can be found here.)
Meanwhile, that leaves history teachers with two masters. The Common Core and the draft history frameworks stress exploring topics in depth, while the existing state history and social studies standards require covering a breadth of topics. Pondering the seemingly unanswerable, Moore asked at the history conference in Oakland, “So how do you reconcile the focus on the Common Core with the reality we have to deal with?”
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navigio 8 years ago8 years ago
This article was updated recently and is worth bumping, especially given recent discussions about adoption timelines..
Don 8 years ago8 years ago
John, what evidentiary information is provided in this article to support your contention in the first sentence - " For history and social studies teachers in California, the Common Core State Standards are welcome allies in their struggle to liberate their subject from a decade of inattention and irrelevance"? There are positive anecdotal accounts given by interested individual parties, but nothing that would indicate social studies teachers overall support the standards. … Read More
John, what evidentiary information is provided in this article to support your contention in the first sentence – ” For history and social studies teachers in California, the Common Core State Standards are welcome allies in their struggle to liberate their subject from a decade of inattention and irrelevance”? There are positive anecdotal accounts given by interested individual parties, but nothing that would indicate social studies teachers overall support the standards. Your article seems more subjective and promotional than objective and informational. Martha Infante’s quote, “These are big changes in education, but social studies teachers are not seeing anything new”, is more an indictment of NCLB than praise for CCSS. No doubt, any social studies teacher would be pleased to have the era of disregard under NCLB math/ELA-‘s heavy testing come to an end. But that does not equate to support for CCSS as a standard, nor does it deal with the fact that the ELA/math-heavy testing/accountability framework is still intact under CCSS – and more so than ever.
The work of Tom Lovelace at the Brooking’s Institute,which is not right-leaning by any means, illustrates that standards in and of themselves are virtually immaterial in terms of student achievement relative to other causal factors. And a study of early adopter CCSS test results from the Brown Center indicate weak results . What matters in the classroom is the quality of teaching and materials, class size and strong leadership and, outside the classroom, socioeconomic status, parental influence and community factors. The difference between states in achievement is only 1/5 the intrastate difference. What matters most isn’t what state you live in, but what school and/or community you live in. With all its cheerleaders telling us that CCSS is one of the best things ever to come along for education, one has to wonder if they care is the corrupt manner in which it was developed and foisted upon the states and the pathetic way in which it has been implemented along with SBAC is even a consideration for these adherents. We haven’t got a single piece of data to inform us on CCSS’s efficacy, but your sources have already decided it is winner.
John Fensterwald 8 years ago8 years ago
Don: If can be accused of promoting anything, it is the teaching of history (my major in college). I plead guilty. Other than that, the piece reflected universal comments of representative history and social studies teachers I spoke with. And it was not news to me -- and should not be to others -- that the teaching of social studies and science had been cut back -- if not smothered-- during the past decade. The … Read More
Don: If can be accused of promoting anything, it is the teaching of history (my major in college). I plead guilty. Other than that, the piece reflected universal comments of representative history and social studies teachers I spoke with. And it was not news to me — and should not be to others — that the teaching of social studies and science had been cut back — if not smothered– during the past decade. The narrowing of the curriculum to math and English language arts under No Child Left Behind has been well documented. There have been several studies by the Lawrence Hall of Science on cutbacks in science in the Bay Area to a half-hour to an hour per week. Social studies was not tested until 8th grade — one reason for its neglect; science was first tested in 5th grade, then 8th.
Common Core English language arts encourages the inclusion of social studies and, as the article noted, includes standards for teaching it and science. So why should it be any wonder that social studies and history teachers see Common Core as an ally in the effort to restore their subject?
I have seen Lovelace’s studies, which appear to me to be much about nothing. So what if there are no demonstrable changes in scores after the first year or two in some states under Common Core? It will take more than time, training of teachers and experience with the new standards to draw meaningful conclusions.
Don 8 years ago8 years ago
John, is there any data that demonstrate high standards result in high output? CA had high standards before and output was wildly disparate. This is an established fact in every city, county and state in the nation and, thus, the thrust of Lovelace's argument. Standards don't matter and neither will CCSS. Only two things really matter - prepared students and prepared teachers. Everything else is a sideshow to varying degrees. Class size, instructional … Read More
John, is there any data that demonstrate high standards result in high output? CA had high standards before and output was wildly disparate. This is an established fact in every city, county and state in the nation and, thus, the thrust of Lovelace’s argument. Standards don’t matter and neither will CCSS. Only two things really matter – prepared students and prepared teachers. Everything else is a sideshow to varying degrees. Class size, instructional materials, technology, infrastructure, even leadership – they are part of the picture, yes, but they pale in comparison to what can be accomplished when a fine teacher meets a willing and able pupil. When not so fine a teacher, not so fine a pupil or both meet, instruction will stall whether the standards are the former CA ones or CCSS. Even the name is a lie. It’s a fable to believe that an untested and undemocratically developed set of frameworks will somehow be the magic bullet for the nation just as the Affordable Care Act was going to transform health care for the better. I thought we were over that.
It is hard to envision CCSS as a fountain of inspiration for teachers when it sprang forth in secrecy without the assistance of any teachers at all. I tend to cast a wary eye upon those things created clandestinely by others for my benefit, developed and promoted with insider deals, massive contracts and federal government coercion of states. Maybe it’s just me. Call me naïve.
Don 8 years ago8 years ago
I'd like to respond your point - "Common Core English language arts encourages the inclusion of social studies and, as the article noted, includes standards for teaching it and science. " If that's true shouldn't we be talking about why de facto national standards impose a pedagogical requirement of law upon the teaching profession? Not only is it defining what to teach, but also how to teach it and it is doing so … Read More
I’d like to respond your point – “Common Core English language arts encourages the inclusion of social studies and, as the article noted, includes standards for teaching it and science. ” If that’s true shouldn’t we be talking about why de facto national standards impose a pedagogical requirement of law upon the teaching profession? Not only is it defining what to teach, but also how to teach it and it is doing so with little or no data to demonstrate the effectiveness of its imposition. John,this is very dangerous and I oppose it on principle. If social studies teachers want to more emphasis on history, fight against SBAC’s ELA and math-only focus. I think there’s a lot of belief going on where in the absence of any CCSS experience and data.
navigio 8 years ago8 years ago
You misunderstand Loveless. For him, the question of the 'quality' of the standard is different than the question of whether common standards reduce outcome variability. Even there I think he misunderstands that aspect of cc's goal, which is not to reduce outcome variability, rather to provide more consistent measurements across states (whether that is a good thing or not is beside the point--though for a broader accountability-driven approach, it's required). That said, not having a … Read More
You misunderstand Loveless. For him, the question of the ‘quality’ of the standard is different than the question of whether common standards reduce outcome variability. Even there I think he misunderstands that aspect of cc’s goal, which is not to reduce outcome variability, rather to provide more consistent measurements across states (whether that is a good thing or not is beside the point–though for a broader accountability-driven approach, it’s required).
That said, not having a quality standards should not be confused with not providing a quality education (this is also one possible side-effect if ‘standards dont matter’). And if you read the fordham study that he cites, it’s clear that in many cases it was not even possible to define what a standard was (perhaps that influenced their use of the term ‘quality’). Ironically, that study came about due to the belief that ‘standards are the foundations upon which almost everything else rests–or should rest. […] If standards are vague, watered down, or misguided, they can point our schools down perilous paths. If there are no standards worth following, there is no education destination worth reaching.’
Also confused about why he feels the need to highlight the fact that the SD within a state is higher than that between states. By definition the latter is an SD of averages. When states’ demographic variability is similar in nature to that of the country, that fact is essentially a statistical tautology.
And being concerned that you are being manipulated by the process is a completely different thing than being concerned about the merits of standards themselves.
FloydThursby1941 8 years ago8 years ago
Perhaps our fear of China surpassing us is making us make our school system more like China's. Now Chinese Americans are outperforming other Americans, along with Korean, Indian and many other groups. However, the Chinese system is not creative enough and there is no Democracy, so we don't want to emulate everything they do. We are trying to have a nationalized system, one size fits all. The truth is, we don't … Read More
Perhaps our fear of China surpassing us is making us make our school system more like China’s. Now Chinese Americans are outperforming other Americans, along with Korean, Indian and many other groups. However, the Chinese system is not creative enough and there is no Democracy, so we don’t want to emulate everything they do. We are trying to have a nationalized system, one size fits all. The truth is, we don’t work hard enough as children, and this left us wide open to reform movements. If kids since the ’70s studied 20 hours a week, which is a reasonable request, none of these reforms would have been necessary. Immigrants prove the current system works if you work hard enough. However, so many kids study 5 hours a week or less and watch over 40 of TV and video games and hanging out, that we are vulnerable and not developing strong adults. We are a caste based system and aren’t providing opportunity to many kids. The unions are happy because we can blame poverty and maintain a fairly lax system on ever firing anyone. The poor are duped into happiness because no one is criticizing them and they have TV, games (can anyone say ‘Brave New World’) and enough food. The rich are happy because the poor won’t compete with their kids for jobs. The upper middle class is happy because they have extra money and their kids have an edge. Everyone is just going along with it, but if we really want to improve our nation, we need to have kids study 20 hours a week from a young age, as they do in Europe and Asia. This is why in Europe they don’t buy it when they hear false arguments that universal healthcare is somehow bad. They have more education and therefore all vote and demand a minimum standard of living for all, even if it means their wealthy have to make ends meet on significantly less than they do here.
Don 8 years ago8 years ago
Loveless says in his article "Does Common Core Matter": "the study 2012 Brown Report on American Education") does not attempt to determine whether the common-core standards are of high or low quality, only whether the quality of state standards has mattered to student achievement in the past. The finding is clear: The quality of standards has not mattered. From 2003 to 2009, states with terrific standards raised their National Assessment of Educational Progress scores by roughly … Read More
Loveless says in his article “Does Common Core Matter”:
“the study 2012 Brown Report on American Education”) does not attempt to determine whether the common-core standards are of high or low quality, only whether the quality of state standards has mattered to student achievement in the past. The finding is clear: The quality of standards has not mattered. From 2003 to 2009, states with terrific standards raised their National Assessment of Educational Progress scores by roughly the same margin as states with awful ones.”
You said, “For him, the question of the ‘quality’ of the standard is different than the question of whether common standards reduce outcome variability.” You don’t go on to explain what you mean nor do you explain what you the next sentence by “more consistent measurements”. If you mean a leveling out of NAEP results I can’t agree. Why would you expect similar results, even disaggregated, from dissimilar states, some which spend far more than others and have very different societies?
I’m not blowing Loveless’ horn. I just happen to agree that standards make less difference than many other more apropos classroom factors. I can not remember reading a single study over the years that demonstrated a strong relationship between high quality standards and higher output. Certainly that isn’t the case here where the standards were more rigorous, though perhaps rigor isn’t better. That said, Common Core seems to think it is. A harder standard is necessarily a better standard, and even if it is better, what makes anyone think that raising the bar on what kids need to know is the key to higher achievement. I see CCSS promoted as a magic bullet, the next big fad. No trial, no data, and poor implementation, but lots of belief by those “seeking the answer”. It is taking in a religious zeal and an equally zealous counter reaction.
Don 8 years ago8 years ago
Meant to say “A harder standard ISN”T necessarily a better standard…”
navigio 8 years ago8 years ago
Student achievement is measured by test results, which can be independent of standards (think arbitrary proficiency rates, score normalizing, tests not aligned with standards, etc). That their 'quality' is not always measured by those results should not be surprising, and is not necessarily sufficient grounds for disregarding their value. I also cant help but notice how arbitrary the definition of 'a standard' has been (and explicitly was in that study cited, something that probably invalidates … Read More
Student achievement is measured by test results, which can be independent of standards (think arbitrary proficiency rates, score normalizing, tests not aligned with standards, etc). That their ‘quality’ is not always measured by those results should not be surprising, and is not necessarily sufficient grounds for disregarding their value. I also cant help but notice how arbitrary the definition of ‘a standard’ has been (and explicitly was in that study cited, something that probably invalidates any attempt to compare them).
Currently, we have little ability to either measure schools in one state against those in another. Nor do we have much reason to expect that the educational goals in those different states’ schools are the same. By sharing standards and assessments, you now have that ability. This is not to argue that is a good thing, just what I think the ‘common’ in common is about. Not, as he claims, reducing variability in outcomes (whether that happens can be, to some extent, tied back to questions in the first issue). Personally, I think the whole point of a ‘common’ standard is to enable country-wide testing in a way thats been done more only at a state level up to now. That is not comforting, but it is something different than what Loveless is arguing.
I guess one irony of his stance is that if standards didn’t matter, then reverting to our old ones also isn’t really a justifiable alternative anymore. Obviously the question of why we’re bothering to spend the money and time on these would be a valid criticism.
I tend to agree that this is not a silver bullet (by definition a fad never is). Though I also dont expect it was supposed to be. That does not mean it wont have some impact. I also think we could do a lot better at figuring that out if we could have real discussions about the issue, including distinguishing what is actually ‘the standard’ and what are related, but independent concepts (eg, curriculum, student/teacher paradigms) and more substantive questions like developmental appropriateness, aligning expectations to societal needs–and justifying those needs and that alignment–etc, etc….
Paul Muench 8 years ago8 years ago
Are all teachers in CORE districts being evaluated in part by student test scores? How does that work for social studies and science teachers? If all teachers are evaluated, are you seeing the same enthusiasm for Common Core teachers in those districts?
Paul Muench 8 years ago8 years ago
..Common Core in those districts. (correction)
Frances O'Neill Zimmerman 8 years ago8 years ago
Welcome back to social studies — I can see it in the interests of my own young
relatives who are in grades 3, 5 and 7. I suppose the old literacy mavens correctly figured
that if you couldn’t read, you couldn’t read newspapers or history, but it was a long dry spell
for those children who COULD read and were missing out. There is little written that is more
compelling than stories of the past and present.
ann 8 years ago8 years ago
".... and often punish –" Stop already! What punishment? Name a single school closed, a teacher or administrator fired. YOU CAN'T. Because "punishment" under NCLB ( or CA's own precedent PSAA) schools got money if they were underachieving. Sure it had strings attached but it was intended to improve teaching and learning. As a teacher at schools that received money from both the Feds and the State I can attest the completely lousy … Read More
“…. and often punish –” Stop already! What punishment? Name a single school closed, a teacher or administrator fired. YOU CAN’T. Because “punishment” under NCLB ( or CA’s own precedent PSAA) schools got money if they were underachieving. Sure it had strings attached but it was intended to improve teaching and learning. As a teacher at schools that received money from both the Feds and the State I can attest the completely lousy attitude that teachers had with regard to ANY accountability from day one. Will Common Core be accepted and lead to an improvement? I hear (and read) a lot of rhetoric good and bad about them but any fair comparison of the “old” California standards with CC show that attention to expository text and writing was there in black and white (albeit with alot less of the wordy flourish in CC). One only needed to blow the layers of dust off of ( or fish them out of the recycle bins) the California ELA (and math as well for that matter) Standards books that sat in teacher’s bookshelves for 15 years to know why our world-class CA standards “failed” our students.