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Surveying the Social Studies Landscape

Running for a position on the NCSS Board of Directors is such a personal thing. Although each elected individual will serve as a representative for the organization, their reasons for running vary widely. For some, there is the desire to give back to the organization for years of excellent conferences and stellar journals; for others, it is to bring a voice to a specific constituency. Still others have a cause that they support passionately and that they feel should hold more prominence in NCSS’s goals and activities. This multiplicity of views makes for lively debates and intense feelings that actually help the board lead the organization. The problem that sometimes arises, however, is that we cannot always see the forest for the trees. How can we get a big picture of where we are, and in which direction we should head to reach a desired destination?

The problem has been exacerbated over the last several years because the financial recession that swept the nation has affected NCSS as well. Suddenly, the primary concern for the board was not what programs to start or continue funding, but merely balancing the budget. We have succeeded, although not without pain or anxiety. The combined efforts of a talented board willing to face the problems squarely and make difficult decisions and a dedicated staff that bit the bullet and worked to make things happen has resulted in an organization that is back on track financially.

A Membership Survey

One of the lessons learned during this financial crisis was that there needs to be a clear vision of where money is spent and why. How will this specific expense support the goals of the organization? To that end, the board authorized a membership survey to determine just where the members felt we should be spending our money. Many of you participated in this survey, which was sent to current members and lapsed members. (Some non-members were surveyed as well, to see if there is an unmet need that NCSS could consider answering.) The results of the survey gave the board insights into the views of the members and will shape the strategic planning of the organization over the next few years. For instance:

  • Of those surveyed, 65.9 percent heard about NCSS from either a colleague or a university instructor. That personal association is still our best membership tool, one we all need to exercise continually.
  • When asked what factors influenced an individual to join NCSS, 69.1 percent said classroom resources and 53.1 percent indi- cated the NCSS publications.
  • Social Education remains our biggest publication attraction. However, even in this age of digital presentation, 80 percent said they preferred receiving the publication by mail. However, 80 percent also indicated that it was of medium or high impor- tance for us to put the journals on line. Interesting dichotomy here.
  • Of no great surprise, 71.8 percent of those surveyed rated the annual conference of either medium or high value among the services provided by NCSS.

The Big Five

When the survey asked members to prioritize the top five issues facing NCSS, the list that emerged demonstrates a clear desire by those surveyed for attention to developing the content, skills, and curricula necessary for effective social studies education, as well as an advocacy program for the social studies profession.

  1. Teaching 21st-century skills; civic, financial, and entrepreneurial literacy; global awareness
  2. Integrating social studies with other core subjects
  3. Developing common state social studies standards
  4. Strengthening social studies as part of the K-6 core curriculum
  5. Advocating for the social studies profession

We have our work cut out for us! Each of these has been part of the NCSS vision over the years; now we have a clear mandate to provide our members with the tools they need to be effective educators in today’s world.
Our members have shown us which trees they want cultivated. Now it’s time to get to work!

(originally published in The Social Studies Professional , March 2012
Sue Blanchette
President, 2011-2013

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