Opinion
Social Studies Opinion

Helping Teachers Navigate the Path of Accountability

By Andre Benito Mountain — October 15, 2013 4 min read

District-level coordinators who oversee social studies curriculum find themselves in the midst of waters that have become increasingly turbulent, given the growing focus on accountability. Not only are new effectiveness measures being implemented in states to evaluate schools and leaders, but social studies teachers find their long-neglected courses finally reaching the radar of accountability. Unveiling the richness of the humanities remains a welcome challenge for coordinators who stand squarely in waters whose undertow once kept social studies submerged from plain view.

For far too long, a rich understanding of historical perspectives and the knowledge of events leading up to significant historical moments have been undervalued in the educational landscape. This is not merely an outcropping of educational policy; it is an extension of the attitudes developed by teachers in light of the disproportionate focus on reading and mathematics under the No Child Left Behind Act. In spite of policy changes, district-level administrators must continue systemically to confront attitudes regarding social studies during this era of accountability.

One of the most glaring aspects of this legacy of neglect, brought to light by an influx of data into our schools, has been the disparity between the high level of student test scores in reading and the mediocre results in social studies. In some instances, we found a 20 percent to 30 percent difference in student performance in the two subjects. This prompts the question: Why are our students able to perform in reading, but unable to apply those skills to social studies?

What lessons can be drawn from the murder of Emmett Till when we study the Trayvon Martin case?"

As the social studies coordinator for a district of 57 schools, I have been addressing this issue from a number of angles. As we scrutinize the quality of the social studies curriculum, we must also remind our teachers to provide our students with historical framing. Most recently, as the 50th anniversary of the civil rights march on Washington approached, I communicated the need for our teachers to provide learning opportunities for students around this pivotal moment in American history. This event does not appear in our state’s U.S. history standards, yet it was a key moment that helped lead to the passage of the Voting Rights Act—landmark legislation that does appear in our state’s performance standards for U.S. history.

In addition, the context of the civil rights period, with its emphasis on individual freedoms and jobs, provides a backdrop for the America of today, in which students grapple with equity issues and social injustice inside and outside of school. Making these connections for students can drive their interest in subject matter—for example, what lessons can we draw from the murder of Emmett Till when we study the Trayvon Martin case?

Several overarching questions guide my strategic planning of professional development, instructional support, and ongoing dialogue in departmental meetings: What gaps exist in the curriculum that could provide opportunities for teachers to connect social studies content to current events? How do I foster that type of innovation during collaborative planning or professional-learning sessions and provide instructional support? How do I leverage a critical analysis of the curriculum with a sense of professional accountability in the classroom?

I now realize that my efforts to increase student achievement in social studies must acknowledge the necessity of making implicit connections between the work of reading teachers and the work of social studies teachers. Like reading teachers, social studies teachers must possess an abundance of pedagogical and content knowledge, while also navigating the attitudes and assumptions students bring into the classroom.

At times, this could involve working with principals to assess grade-level strengths, developing professional learning, or observing and providing critical feedback to teachers. Embedded in that feedback should be specific strategies to move educators toward the types of social studies instruction that we envision for all our classrooms.

As a result of our efforts to push forward with initiatives that address teacher planning, collaboration, and practice, we have seen impressive gains in student achievement on state standardized assessments. Most notably, we have seen a significant rise in student test scores over a five-year span, including a 23 percentage point increase in U.S. history at the high school level; a 43 percentage point increase in 6th grade social studies; a 53 percentage point increase in 7th grade social studies; and a 24 percentage point increase in 8th grade Georgia studies. Ultimately, our journey is a story of turbulence, time constraints, and the interplay of theory and practice to attain success in the face of overwhelming odds.

A version of this article appeared in the October 16, 2013 edition of Education Week as Easing Social Studies Through Turbulent Times

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Well-Being Webinar
Equity, Care and Connection: New SEL Tools and Practices to Support Students and Adults
As school districts plan to welcome students back into buildings for the upcoming school year, this is the perfect time to take a hard look at both our practices and our systems to build a
Content provided by Panorama Education
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Here to Stay – Pandemic Lessons for EdTech in Future Development
What technology is needed in a post pandemic district? Learn how changes in education will impact development of new technologies.
Content provided by AWS
School & District Management Live Online Discussion A Seat at the Table: Strategies & Tips for Complex Decision-Making
Schools are working through the most disruptive period in the history of modern education, facing a pandemic, economic problems, social justice issues, and rapid technological change all at once. But even after the pandemic ends,

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Social Studies Opinion Civics Ed. Is on the Precipice of Becoming Common Core 2.0
Recent efforts to promote civics education suggest little was learned from the Obama-era dispute around the common core.
3 min read
Image shows a multi-tailed arrow hitting the bullseye of a target.
DigitalVision Vectors/Getty
Social Studies GOP Leader: Biden Grant Plan Referencing Anti-Racism, 1619 Project Is 'Divisive Nonsense'
Sen. Mitch McConnell's letter to the Education Dept. about a small history program amplifies a political scrum dating back to last year.
3 min read
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talks on Capitol Hill in Washington on April 20, 2021.
Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., talks on Capitol Hill in Washington earlier this month.
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Social Studies Biden Administration Cites 1619 Project as Inspiration in History Grant Proposal
The Biden administration's proposal is part of a heated battle over racism and what students should learn about America's past.
6 min read
The statue of President Abraham Lincoln is seen at the Lincoln Memorial on June 4, 2017 in Washington.
The statue of President Abraham Lincoln is seen at the Lincoln Memorial on June 4, 2017 in Washington.
Cliff Owen/AP
Social Studies Supreme Court Justices Call for More Civics Education Amid Risk From 'Domestic Enemies'
Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Neil M. Gorsuch, both boosters of civics for years, renew their concerns amid deep divisions in the country.
3 min read
Image of people at voting booths.
LPETTET/E+