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Developing State and Local Social Studies Standards

A Position Statement of National Council for the Social Studies Approved 2014


The introduction of standards-based instruction ushered in a movement to clearly articulate the academic outcomes for students across the curriculum. State departments of education and local school districts across the nation have invested tremendous resources to define what students "need to know and be able to do" in English Language Arts, Mathematics, Social Studies, Science and other subject areas. Adopted standards have become the driving force of instructional programs by informing instructional practices in the classroom, curriculum frameworks, textbooks and other instructional materials, and assessment items and protocols.

Therefore, the development of standards should be treated as a serious matter by engaging a collective audience of educational stakeholders in a deliberate, transparent process of development, revision, and adoption. As an essential core academic subject, the process for developing social studies standards should be treated with equal respect to the process in other subject areas. The purpose of this position statement is to offer recommendations regarding the process for developing social studies standards and guidelines for determining their content at the state or local level.

Intended Audience

Because we believe the development of social studies standards should be a collective effort of educational and community stakeholders, this position statement is intended to inform all educators and the general public.


A number of studies have revealed a great deal of variance among state social studies standards regarding their scope, length, disciplinary focus, and level of content specificity. Some standards are framed as broad, general conceptual statements while others include extensive lists of details. Several states call for local schools and districts to determine social studies outcomes for their students while others utilize state adopted standards to drive their state instructional, assessment, and accountability plans.1

Regardless of the process or procedure for developing social studies standards at the national, state, or local level, we believe that recent advances in the social studies community should guide this important work. Both the National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: A Framework for Teaching, Learning, and Assessment, published by National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) in 2010, and the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies

State Standards, published by NCSS in 2013, engaged social studies experts including scholars, curriculum writers, professional organizations, and teachers in the development process. The following recommendations are based on these documents and the principle that standards development must maintain the intent and integrity of the social studies by engaging in processes that are scholarly, collective, and transparent.


Reflecting on the various procedures and practices for developing state or local social studies standards, we offer the following recommendations.

A. Recommendations to Guide the Process and Procedure for Developing Social Studies Standards National Council for the Social Studies believes that the best practice for developing social studies standards consists of these processes, in order:

  • First, scholars are consulted for their expertise: historians, economists, political scientists, geographers, archaeologists, anthropologists, sociologists, and psychologists.
  • Input by community members For the purposes of this position statement, NCSS defines social studies as the integrated study of the social sciences and humani- ties to promote civic competence. It includes disciplines such as anthropology, archaeology, economics, geography, history, law, philosophy, political science, psychology, religion, and sociology, and the humanities. 199 and educators follows, both online and in multiple public meetings.
  • Standards should be developed by master social studies educators, who assure that the content of the standards is guided by the resources listed below, is age appropriate, is accessible by all students, and organized in ways that effectively guide curriculum, instruction, and assessment.
  • Draft standards are circulated for public comment to allow for feedback and further input.
  • Feedback from public comment is reviewed and considered by writers.
  • The final draft of the standards document is submitted for approval by the state board of education or local educational governing body.
  • Establish a timeline to revisit and update standards on a regular basis, every ten years or less.

B.Recommendations to Guide the Content of Social Studies State Standards

National Council for the Social Studies believes the release of the documents listed below provides powerful guidelines to inform the development of social studies standards at the state and local level. We recommend that these documents be at the center of this work.

National Curriculum Standards for Social Studies: A Framework for Teaching,

Learning, and Assessment, published by NCSS in 2010 This resource focuses on a pedagogy that supports critical thinking and disciplinary habits of mind, important features for preparing young people to mak "informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world."2

A major focus of the national standards is on establishing:

  • Purposes
  • Questions for Exploration
  • Knowledge: what learners need to understand
  • Processes: what learners will be capable of doing
  • Products: how learners demonstrate understanding The following themes are extremely useful for identifying specific content to be delivered and concepts to be acquired:

CULTURE: the study of culture and cultural diversity TIME, CONTINUITY, AND CHANGE: the study of the past and its legacy. PEOPLE, PLACES, AND ENVIRONMENTS: the study of people, places, and environments. INDIVIDUAL DEVELOPMENT AND IDENTITY: the study of individual development and identity INDIVIDUALS, GROUPS, AND INSTITUTIONS: the study of interactions among individuals, groups, and institutions. POWER, AUTHORITY, AND GOVERNANCE: the study of how people create, interact with, and change structures of power, authority, and government. PRODUCTION, DISTRIBUTION, AND CONSUMPTION: the study of how people organize for the production, distribution, and consumption of goods and services. SCIENCE, TECHNOLOGY, AND SOCIETY: the study of relationships among science, technology, and society. GLOBAL CONNECTIONS: the study of global connections and interdependence. CIVIC IDEALS AND PRACTICES: the study of the ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic.

Also found in the 2010 NCSS Standards are the Learning Expectations for early, middle, and high school levels that describe democratic dispositions/ purposes, knowledge, and intellectual processes that students should exhibit in student products. The Essential Social Studies Skills and Strategies represent the abilities involved in the thinking, reasoning, researching, and understanding that learners engage in as they encounter new concepts, principles and issues. Student Products describe how students demonstrate acquired knowledge and provide teachers with a vehicle to assess student achievement. Snapshots of Practice provide educators with images of how the standards might look when enacted in classrooms. Access to the document can be found at

College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards

The C3 Framework is driven by the following shared principles about high quality social studies education:

  • Social studies prepares the nation's young people for college, careers, and civic life.
  • Inquiry is at the heart of social studies.
  • Social studies involves interdisciplinary applications and welcomes integration of the arts and humanities.
  • Social studies is composed of deep and enduring understandings, concepts, and skills from the disciplines. Social studies emphasizes skills and practices as preparation for democratic decision-making.
  • Social studies education should have direct and explicit connections to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/ Social Studies. Driven by these principles, the framework intentionally envisions social studies instruction as an inquiry arc of interlocking and mutually reinforcing elements that speak to the intersection of ideas and learners. The document centers on four dimensions driven by the use of questions to spark curiosity, guide instruction, deepen investigations, acquire rigorous content, and apply knowledge and ideas in real world settings to become active and engaged citizens in the 21st century.

The Dimensions include

  • Dimension 1: Developing Questions and Planning Inquiries
  • Dimension 2: Applying Disciplinary Tools and Concepts (Civics, Economics, Geography, and History)
  • Dimension 3: Evaluating Sources and Using Evidence
  • Dimension 4: Communicating Conclusions and Taking Informed Action

Access to the C3 Framework can be found at


This position statement can be utilized to transform social studies education across the nation to be a powerful and essential component of every young person's education. It can and should be shared with our NCSS associated groups, state social studies councils, pre-service social studies faculty members, curriculum developers, policymakers, families and communities, state departments of education, the United States Department of Education, K-12 educators and educational leaders everywhere.


The Common Core State Standards and Partnership for 21st Century Skills initiatives have reframed the purpose of K-12 education to prepare students for success in the 21st century. As social studies educators, we know that means more than preparing students for college and career. It also necessitates schools to prepare students for civic life as informed, responsible, and engaged citizens. According to the C3 Framework for Social Studies State Standards:

Active and responsible citizens identify and analyze public problems; deliberate with other people about how to define and address issues; take constructive, collaborative action; reflect on their actions; create and sustain groups; and influence institutions; both large and small. They vote, serve on juries, follow the

news and current events, and participate in voluntary groups and efforts. Teaching students to act in these ways--as citizens--significantly enhances preparation for college and career.3

It is incumbent upon us, the National Council for the Social Studies, to provide guidance to states and local districts to develop social studies standards to achieve this goal.


1. "State Civic Education Requirements," S. Godsay, W. Henderson, P. Levine, J. Littenberg-Tobias (Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, 2012); "A Report on the State of History Education: State Policies and National Programs," D. Martin, S. Maldonado, J. Schnieder, M. Smith (National History Education Clearinghouse, 2011).
2. This goal of the social studies was officially adopted by National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) in 1992.
3. College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards; Guidance for Enhancing the Rigor of K-12 Civics, Economics, Geography and History (Silver Spring, MD: NCSS, 2013), 19.

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