First National Standards Bring Anxiety to Social-Studies Educators
DETROIT--There was a time when a regular feature of Joanne E. Galvan's 9th-grade course on U.S. government was a trip to a city council meeting. Over the years, however, the San Antonio teacher has had to discontinue those outings, and some other enriching classroom activities, as the demands on her classroom time increased.
Ms. Galvan, who came here last month for the annual conference of the National Council for the Social Studies, said students in the inner-city high school where she teaches seemed to need more time just to "catch up'' with their studies. In addition, she said, she has been forced to spend weeks at a time preparing students for state- and district-mandated tests.
Now, Ms. Galvan said, she feels slightly daunted as she looks at the emerging outlines of national standards for teaching civics, social studies, history, and geography.
"I just don't know how I'm going to teach all these things,'' she said.
Ms. Galvan and other social-studies educators got their first glimpses of the national standards being developed in their fields during the social-studies council's meeting here Nov. 20-23.
For many of those educators, their first reaction, like that of Ms. Galvan, was anxiety.
'Bomb Too Big for the Plane'
More so than their counterparts in any other discipline, social-studies teachers will confront an intimidating array of standards for "what students should know and be able to do'' upon leaving their classrooms.
The U.S. Education Department is supporting efforts under way to develop curriculum standards for history, geography, and civics. And the N.C.S.S. recently launched its own effort to set standards in the "integrated field'' of the social studies. (See Education Week, Oct. 14, 1992.)
Other groups are looking to do the same for economics education.
By the mid-1990's, when all of these projects are scheduled to be completed, social-studies educators may be faced with five different sets of standards from which to choose.
The standards-setting efforts are an outgrowth of the national education goals set by President Bush and the nation's governors. The aim is to develop "world class'' standards that would raise the level of student learning nationwide.
But some social-studies educators meeting here said they worry that the combined efforts will, as one conference-goer put it, result in "building a bomb that will be too big for the plane.''
"If I give teachers standards in history, and social studies, and geography, it might be the last thing I ever ask them to do,'' said Alan Markowitz, an assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in New Jersey. "It's too much to ask.''
"We are a time-based institution,'' he continued, "and, whether we like it or not, we can't just say to students, 'Stay here, until you get it finished.' ''
'The Better Mousetrap'
Mr. Markowitz spoke during several of the sessions and hearings held at the conference to showcase the standards-setting projects in history, social studies, civics, and geography and to gather input from social-studies educators. The standing-room-only sessions were attended by hundreds of the more than 3,000 conference-goers.
In response to the concerns expressed by Mr. Markowitz and others, participants in the standards-setting groups pointed out that all of the standards will be voluntary.
"No entity is going to force a single set of standards on anybody,'' said Charlotte Crabtree, the director of the National Center for History in the Schools, which is coordinating the standards project in that field. "It's the better mousetrap.''
"We know very well how teachers can sabotage a curriculum they don't like,'' she said.
Moreover, those working on the standards said, educators and curriculum directors can "pick and choose'' the standards that work best for them.
Even taken individually, however, some educators said the emerging outlines for standards may be too ambitious.
"I couldn't teach all of this even if I wanted to,'' said Thomas Ladenburg, referring to some of the draft standards for history.
"I just don't like the feeling a teacher has to cover all of these things or else he's not teaching well,'' Mr. Ladenburg, a Brookline, Mass., high school teacher, said. He noted that he now begins his American-history class at 1750 in order to cover all the topics he feels need attention in the one-year course.
In defending the standards-setting process, Kirk S. Ankeney, a La Jolla, Calif., middle school teacher who is helping draft the history standards, emphasized that the idea is to set high goals. "They are something to strive for,'' he said.
Competing Visions at Stake
Also at stake in the debate are competing visions for social-studies education. Educators in the disciplines that fall under that rubric have argued for years over what course of study provides the best framework for teaching their subjects.
Some historians and educators, claiming that the social-studies umbrella covers an amorphous body of knowledge, have argued that history provides the natural, unifying framework. Others have maintained that citizenship education should be the central purpose of such instruction.
But social-studies educators, led by the N.C.S.S., have contended that the integrative nature of the discipline itself makes it the ideal teaching vehicle. A formal definition of the social studies, emphasizing that integrative character, was adopted for the first time by the N.C.S.S. at last month's convention. (See story, page 4.)
"We've heard the strong concerns of teachers who are worried about having a book this thick in history and another one in geography, and another one in civics,'' said Patricia Nickell, a Kentucky school administrator who is helping to craft the national standards for the social studies. "There is no way to take the books and adequately implement those standards in those three areas--let alone the areas that are left out.''
"One way to do that,'' Ms. Nickell added, "is to use social-studies standards development as a way to draw from all of the disciplines.''
"This may be a golden opportunity for social studies,'' said Warren Solomon, a social-studies curriculum specialist for the Missouri education department.
The new N.C.S.S. effort to set social-studies standards is beginning the process with fewer resources than some of the other standards groups. The project is being funded with about $25,000 from the council.
In comparison, the history effort, begun more than a year ago, was funded with $1.6 million from the Education Department and the National Endowment for the Humanities.
A draft of the social-studies framework outlines standards for all students in nine content areas. They are: culture; time and history; space and place; personal identity; individuals, groups, and institutions; economic processes and organization; government, power, and authority; science, technology, and society; and global connections.
It also specifies performance standards, detailing what students should be able to do in those areas, and it provides vignettes that describe what such standards would look like in practice in the classroom.
Drafts in History, Civics
The history standards, which are also in an early draft form, take a more chronological approach to their subject matter. They set down major themes that run through world and U.S. history, such as politics, society, and economics and technology, and they identify the "habits of mind'' students should acquire through history studies. (See box, this page.)
The draft standards also divide U.S. history into 10 major periods. Within those periods, the history group has outlined content standards and detailed performance standards for students. Rather than provide vignettes, the group suggests teaching activities for putting the standards into practice.
The civics-standards group, which has also completed an early draft, has developed goals for student understanding in civics instruction. The group notes, for example, that students should understand, deliberate upon, and make reasoned judgments about the nature and functions of government and the formulation and implementation of public policy.
Within those broad areas, the civics group, which is being coordinated by the Center for Civic Education, has also identified major topics.
The draft standards the civics group has completed so far include a rationale for each topic, student-performance standards, and "elaborations'' for all of those standards that would include, for example, key concepts students would be expected to know and some illustrative activities.
A first draft of the geography standards is expected this month.