Moving Social Studies Forward

This Wednesday at 7 pm, there’s  a webinar hosted by the Center for Teaching Quality discussing the new national C3 Framework, which I love.  The webinar will feature Kathy Swan, the lead writer of the framework.  If you’re interested in joining the webinar, register here.  Here’s a full description of the webinar:

The College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards has been developed by CCSSO to guide and enhance the rigor of standards in civic, economics, geography, and history. Though states will be developing their own standards for these subjects, the pedagogical shifts implied by the framework will be felt in social studies classroom across the country. Find out from one of the framework’s authors–a practicing teacher–how you can begin to prepare. Bring your own challenges–we’ll devote part of the webinar to finding solutions together.

More urgently, Monday is the deadline for giving feedback on new New York Social Studies Framework.  My take went up on Chalkbeat NY this week (the re-branded Gotham Schools). There’s also a very thorough and thoughtful news piece on the Frameworkfrom Chalkbeat’s Patrick Wall.

If you’re a stakeholder in New York Education, please take the time this week or weekend to respond.  Before then, please forward this to all Social Studies teachers, administrators, and concerned parents that you know.  Here is the link to read the new Framework and submit feedback:

http://www.engageny.org/resource/new-york-state-common-core-k-12-social-studies-framework

https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/K-thru-12socst

Here’s my piece: Continue reading Moving Social Studies Forward

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Thoughts on C3 and Common Core

I think I’m officially out of the habit of blogging at this point, but I have written a couple of pieces for other places recently:

  • I have a piece up at C3Teachers.org.  If you’re a Social Studies teacher and you haven’t checked out the new C3 Framework yes, I highly recommend it. The site will be something special too as it expands over the course of the year.
  • I was also recently asked to write a piece for the Education Funders Research Initiative discussing how NYC is doing on implementing Common Core:

Our current system, in which students who are not meeting standards in third grade are overwhelmingly not meeting standards in ninth grade, does not work for these students.  As the report highlights, “despite this variability in students’ prior educational experience, New York City high schools are now expected to graduate every student” (3).  It is insane that high schools are expected to change the course of a student’s previous nine years of education in four years.  If our goal is truly to ensure that academic achievement gaps are closed, then we need to offer students and schools the time to do so.  With that time, students can actually develop the skills of problem solving and persistence that are crucial for future success.  If we shift measurement, and therefore accountability, towards growth on authentic tasks, we can then actually have a real conversation about how to make that happen for all students.  This is a radical proposition, but given the overwhelming evidence, it seems only radical steps will serve all students, rather than just the ones for whom the system is currently working.

 

Teacherpreneuring

I haven’t been quite sure how to write about this, but I’m featured in a new book that came out last month. Teacherpreneurs: Innovative Teachers Who Lead But Don’t Leave advocates for a very attainable vision for the teaching profession.  Barnett, Ann, and Alan do a masterful job of capturing the work of seven brilliant and inspirational teachers who are leaders in their school and communities.  I’m thrown in as well. It’s well worth the read, but more importantly, it’s worth sharing with others, be them powers that be or lay people with strong opinions on education.  Here’s a nice little teaser video that captures the main arguments:


Also, I did a little teacherpreneuring of my own last week, traveling down to DC for an Alliance for Excellent Education Project 24 webinar on Data Driven Decision making.  My presentation is about how not to use data to make decisions.  You can watch it here, and click on my name to jump to my presentation.  The questions were interesting and are worth watching.

Video: Teacher Leadership Speech from AERA 2013

I had the pleasure of being part of panel on Teacher Leadership at the AERA conference in San Francisco last weekend.  I presented on a paper I wrote, “Creating Capacity & Space for Teacher Leadership.”  I hope you’ll take the time to watch: 


Slide text:
Creating Capacity & Space for Teacher Leadership

Goal: Transform education from field where expertise and success exists in isolated individual classrooms (or outside of them) to one where expert practitioners augment and influence beyond their classrooms.

How:
– Recognize novice teachers as potential teacher-leaders
– Create space for teacher-leaders to practice and develop
– Recognize and compensate teachers through formal leadership opportunities

Update:

Leo Casey, Executive Director of the Shanker Institute, sent me the following feedback on the paper, which I’m adding with his permission. He’s completely correct:

Nice paper on teacher leadership. I think Gramsci would be much more helpful than Althusser is thinking your concepts through. Althusser’s theory of interpellation, like his work generally, is generally considered to have a ‘structuralist’ cast because of his denial of subjectivity – and not just subjectivity in some untethered sense, but even historically grounded subjectivity, a la Marx in the 18th Brumaire: “Men make their own history, but they do not make it just as they please; they do not make it under circumstances chosen by themselves, but under circumstances directly encountered, given and transmitted from the past. The tradition of all the dead generations weighs like a nightmare on the brain of the living.” Althusser would say that you think you are exercising teacher leadership, but you are just responding to an ideology that defines it for you. Gramsci, and in particular his conception of organic intellectuals and their role in building class unity and the hegemonic role of the class in the larger society, is about historically grounded subjectivity, and about democratic leadership.  

Insightful Social Studies Gaining Momentum

Lots of good things are happening with Insightful Social Studies, and our effort to ensure New York students have the Social Studies curriculum they deserve.

I wrote a piece earlier this week for the Shanker Blog about larger concerns with the Common Core and is lack of attention to Civics, putting this effort in a larger context.  The Washington Post picked it up Wednesday, and Diane Ravitch just blogged about it as well.

We now have open lines of communication with multiple officials at the state level involved in the writing of the curriculum and with the power to ultimately approve it.  We have also established relationships with NYC officials, as well as with people working on larger national efforts.

We hope to have exciting news about next steps in the very near future, but in the meantime, please sign up for our Mailing List so we can communicated directly with you to organize, and so we can let people know just how many people are with us.

We Need a Better Social Studies Curriculum in NY

Dear Readers,

As you may or may not know, the NY State Department of Ed recently released a draft proposal of a new 9-12 Social Studies curriculum.  While there is some stuff in it that pushes Social Studies in a positive new direction, overall, I found the document quite troubling as a teacher, citizen, and historian.  You can read my full explanation here. Along with Andy Snyder, a fellow National Board Certified Social Studies Teacher of fifteen years at School of the Future, we have decided to organize strong feedback and potential resistance to the state by creating the group Insightful Social Studies.  Below, you’ll see our statement of purpose and organization.  We hope you’ll agree and join us, and you can read the growing number of voices expressing their concerns on our blog.

If you share my concerns, you can find the proposed draft, fill out the state’s feedback survey (due Friday night), and sign our petition.  After doing that, we would love to add your voice to the Insightful Social Studies blog (you can send me your piece).  And of course, please forward this email widely. Maybe together we can transform a stumbling block into a stepping stone.

In Solidarity,

Steve

Our long term goal as teachers is to better help students learn to make sense of our shared situations in our society via meaningful social studies instruction that focuses on powerful and relevant questions, deep consideration of crucial issues, and authentic civic engagement.

Our current struggle is to spark an effective resistance to the laundry list approach to social studies standards provided by the current draft NYS Social Studies Framework and thereby to build greater support for meaningful social studies.

Our strategy is to mount a small public education campaign that gathers support to begin again on social studies standards in NY state – either via radical revision of the framework, the Regents rejecting the proposed framework, or through the construction of a parallel teacher-led Social Studies standards framework.  We are looking to form a group of teachers and allies who will develop, adopt and hold themselves accountable to an alternative framework should the state fail to improve the current framework.

We want to see three main things in any adopted curricular framework:

  1. The framework should emphasize questions, not answers.
  2. The framework should emphasize transformative depth rather than useless breadth.
  3. The framework should provide the freedom for schools and teachers to choose from a menu of paths and emphases to best serve their students.

On the New NY Social Studies Framework

The New York Board of Regents recently released a draft of a new 9-12 Social Studies Framework and will accept feedback on it through March 8.  The new framework reflects two significant shifts.  Whereas the old framework was essentially a series of topics, the new framework focuses on Key Ideas and Understandings, as well as adding the Common Core Literacy Standards and what the State calls “Social Studies Practices,” which reflect the key skills in our discipline.

On the Framework’s opening page, there are a list of objectives that I found refreshing and of which I am very supportive. According to the Framework, the purpose of Social Studies “is to help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”  Towards that end, the Framework claims to allow “Students to develop an understanding of concepts and key ideas driven by case studies, analysis of primary and secondary source documents, and an examination of patterns of events in history,” and teachers “to have increased decision‐making power about how to teach and illustrate conceptual understandings and key ideas to promote student understanding.”  On those three points rests the entirety of the work I do with curriculum, teachers, and students.   Count me in!

A little of the substance that follows this promising introduction does take steps forward towards indicating what students should be able to do in high school social studies courses.  Both the Common Core standards, which I’ve written about elsewhere, and the conception and inclusion of the Social Studies Practices, are significant advancements from previous State guidelines which only focused on content knowledge.

However, the extended list of 59 Key Ideas and the multitude of Understandings serve to completely undermine those efforts.  I have three main concerns, as well as suggestions to address these concerns.

First, a certain interpretation of history is established through the “Key Ideas” which is meant to be transferred to students, as opposed to a series of questions being posted to lead to the inquiry necessary to demonstrate most of the Common Core standards such as argument, (Writing 1), comparing texts with different views (Reading 9), and all the Practices.  This static approach to historical content assumes we know what matters about the past and simply need to transfer it to students, rather than acknowledging that social studies is a contested field of knowledge, in which interpretations of the past are continually questioned and reevaluated.

Second, in grades 9-11, there is no consideration of why this history matters today. As a result, the Framework includes no way for students to achieve the stated goal of Social Studies to “help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.”

To address these past two concerns, the Framework should be shifted from answers to questions that would demand actual inquiry, thinking, rigor, and decision making.  For example, the current Framework demands that eleventh graders know that “The success of the revolution challenged Americans to establish a system of government that would provide for stability, while beginning to fulfill the promise of the ideals outlined in the Declaration of Independence.” This assumes the Constitution provided stability, an idea the Civil War challenges; that it was a step on the road to certain ideals, despite its protection of slavery and the slave trade; and fails to look at the Constitution in the present day.  Instead of starting with the answer, it would be better if  we started with questions: “To what extent did the Constitution succeed in fulfilling its stated goals in the Preamble?  To what extent did the Constitution fulfill the promises of the Declaration of Independence?  How well does it still work today?  How might it change to work better?”  The Gilder Lehrman Foundation has a much longer list of similarly provocative and essential questions for US History that might serve as a model.

Third, and most importantly, there are too many ideas and understanding to do well in the given courses, and every single one of them is mandated.  It takes time to help “Students to develop an understanding of concepts and key ideas driven by case studies, analysis of primary and secondary source documents.”  It takes about six weeks for my students to come to the required understandings of the Constitution, while simultaneous developing core skills and practices.  However, the Key Idea of the Constitution is only one of fourteen.  I would need at least 84 weeks to do this curriculum justice, but I only have 40.  The senior year curriculum is even more daunting, with ten Key Ideas for Government, and fifteen for Economics, while each of these classes are only semester (20 week) courses.  Rather than removing understandings from the list however, I would rather see a model that, as the Framework claims it wants to do, explicitly empowers districts and teachers to make choices.  I would suggest the State consider the International Baccalaureate model.  In that curriculum, there are a small number of prescribed subjects that take up about a third of the course, in combination with a longer menu of options for the rest of the course.  The IB History Exam models how students could be assessed. The IB exam provides a large number of questions and students must choose to answer a few questions on a number of different subjects..

It is my hope that the State hears similar feedback from teachers across the state, and that these changes are implemented before the new curriculum takes effect.  I hope those who agree with my critiques will take the time to share their input in the coming weeks.

If you share my concerns, you can find the proposed draft, fill out the state’s feedback survey (due Friday night), sign a petition, and read more critiques of the curriculum here. Maybe together we can transform a stumbling block into a stepping stone.

I Support Chicago Teachers

The little sister of one of my closest friends from high school is a Chicago teacher. I support her and the other 30,000 teacher on strike, and hope you do too.  Please think about donating or supporting them in other ways.  Below is from the Chicago Teachers Union:

I know you care about education.

I know you believe in justice.

That’s why I’m asking you to join me in solidarity with the Chicago Teachers Union by visiting http://ctunet.com/solidarity to donate.

The CTU is currently on the front lines of a fight to defend public education. On one side the 30,000 members of the CTU have called for a contract that includes fair compensation, meaningful job security for qualified teachers, smaller class sizes and a better school day with Art, Music, World Language and appropriate staffing levels to help our neediest students.

On the other side, the Chicago Board of Education—which is managed by out of town reformers and Broad Foundation hires with little or no Chicago public school experience—has pushed to add two weeks to the school year and 85 minutes to the school day, eliminate pay increases for seniority, evaluate teachers based on student test scores, and slash many other rights.

That’s why I contributed to the Chicago Teachers Union Solidarity Fund. All donations will be used to conduct broad outreach throughout Chicago and nation-wide. Specifically, we plan to print educational materials, to distribute information about our positive agenda, such as the CTU report, The Schools Chicago Students Deserve [ http://ctunet.com/deserve ], and to mobilize massive support for educators in rallies and gatherings throughout the city. Any amount you can give will be a great help.

Visit http://ctunet.com/solidarity to help.

SOLIDARITY!

Should Program to Reward Teachers Include More Hours and Students?

The Times finally published the second part of my response to the US Department of Education’s Project Respect proposal:

Effective teaching requires time and intimate knowledge of individual students’ minds and capabilities. These are things that a computer cannot do, and teachers cannot do well if they are responsible for too many students….While I can still be an effective teacher in a large class (and I actually had 50 students at once in Virginia at certain points), I cannot be a highly effective teacher of skills, understanding and decency in that environment…

Before we discuss extending school days and years, I would rather examine how to better use the time we have. The law of diminishing returns is very much in play with young people’s time, particularly adolescents. I have seen far too many teachers and schools make the mistake of saying, “we need to do more,” when in reality they need to do less better.

Please read, and comment, on the whole piece.  I’m really happy with how this one turned out.

In New Federal Program to Reward Teachers, Flawed Assumptions

I wrote my latest piece for the New York Times in response to a focus group on the US Department of Education’s proposed Project Respect in which I participated last month.  Like far too many education policies, in Project Respect I saw some good ideas poorly implemented:

Project Respect calls for a three-pronged reform of the teaching profession. It envisions a reorganization of schools that would use technology and aides to put more effective teachers in front of more students, coupled with a longer school day to give teachers more time for professional growth.

To find more effective teachers, it calls for an expansion of entry points into the profession, with a higher bar for earning a permanent position. Finally, it calls for increased compensation for career teachers who both stay in the classroom and take on various teacher-leader roles.

That prong shares much with the insightful prescriptions of the book “Teaching 2030,” written by the Center for Teaching Quality’s Barnett Berry and a group of 12 teachers that included my New York colleagues Jose Vilson and Ariel Sacks.

Establishing a variety of advanced teacher roles, with appropriately high compensation, is a necessary move toward professionalizing teaching in America, and I applaud this move.

Giving highly effective teachers more time to serve in roles other than classroom teachers is an important step toward improving our system. However, it is imperative to remember that the qualities that make me a highly effective teacher are not necessarily those that would make me an effective teacher-leader.

Read the piece here, and I hope some people will join in the comments.