ALMOST TWENTY YEARS AGO, the Board of Directors of National Council for the Social Studies established a Task Force on Social Studies Standards. The standards movement in education was still in its infancy, and NCSS believed that it should provide social studies educators and curriculum specialists with a document, which could serve as a vehicle for curriculum development. The Task Force created an integrated social science/behavioral science/humanities approach for achieving academic and civic competence. The resulting “National Standards” document, which was published in 1994, proved successful and was used widely as a framework for social studies educators as a curriculum alignment and development tool.1
In the ensuing years, almost all states have formulated social studies content standards, and there are at present new national initiatives to establish generic standards and principles of learning that transcend individual subject disciplines. We now live in a world of “information overload.” National Council for the Social Studies was one of seven educational associations that recently issued a joint statement titled Principles for Learning: A Foundation for Transforming K-12 Education, which noted that “learning to make sense of information transforms it to knowledge.”2 And making sense of knowledge in the 21st century means that students must be able to “use and evaluate appropriate digital tools and resources.”3 Clearly this applies to the field of social studies. Following a decision by the NCSS Board of Directors, a new Task Force started work on in 2007 on a re-examination of the NCSS Standards with the intention of incorporating current research and educational thinking.
These revised standards do not represent a set of mandated outcomes or an attempt to establish a national social studies curriculum. The United States Constitution left the responsibility for education to the individual states, and although there are federal guidelines and mandates, the specific social studies requirements, the specific scope-and-sequence, and the frequency and nature of social studies assessments vary from state to state. However, the need to create a set of guidelines to be used by social studies educators and curriculum specialists to integrate the social studies disciplines and incorporate literacy strategies and digital application is real.
In this post No-Child-Left-Behind era, with its challenges to the teaching of social studies on every grade level and its questions about what to teach and when to test social studies subjects (if at all!), it is imperative that NCSS offer a document for those with the responsibility to revise and revamp the social studies curriculum based on local and state standards. We remain committed to providing a framework to increase the quality of instruction and student social studies knowledge and skills.
This updated framework retains the central emphasis on supporting students becoming active participants in the learning process. Organizationally, the NCSS curriculum standards contain three essential components: ten themes, which are vital organizers for a comprehensive social studies program; learning expectations which illustrate the kinds of knowledge, processes, and dispositions that students at early, middle, and high school grades should develop as the result of involvement in effective social studies programming; and snapshots of classroom practice which provide examples of classroom instruction and assessment to illustrate learning expectations in action.
We need to reaffirm our vision as social studies educators. To quote NCSS past president Michael Hartoonian in his preface to the 1994 edition, “…our work should illuminate the essential connection among social studies learning, democratic values, and positive citizenship.”4 We must preserve the hallmarks of solid social studies instruction so that students will gain the requisite knowledge, skills, and habits of mind to “do social studies” every day, as we prepare them for college, careers and citizenship in our ever-changing interdependent global society.
Steven A. Goldberg
National Council for the Social Studies
- National Council for the Social Studies, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (Washington, D.C.: NCSS, 1994)
- The other six educational associations were Association for Career and Technical Education, Consortium for School Networking, National Council of Teachers of English, National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, National Middle School Association, and National Science Teachers Association. The statement was issued in January 2010. The citation is from page 2 of the statement, accessible online at www.socialstudies.org/principlesforlearning .
- The citation is from page 2 of the statement.
- Michael Hartoonian, “Preface,” in National Council for the Social Studies, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: xix.