History-Social Science in the Age of Standards

Article excerpt

INTRODUCTION

It has been almost fifteen years since the Social Studies Review devoted a special issue to the teaching of History. That issue came at the beginning of the revolution in the teaching of History-Social Science in California school caused by the adoption of the History-Social Science Framework in 1987. As we all know, the Framework changed Social Studies instruction fundamentally, making History the focus of the Social Studies curriculum and substituting two three year course sequences for the survey courses that previously dominated the curriculum. The eight articles in that issue explored how to implement the Framework's World History curriculum, but even as they were being written a second and even more far reaching revolution was in the making: the standards revolution.

The concept of standards is deceptively simple. Unlike frameworks, which confine themselves to laying out general goals for curriculum development and instruction and leave school administrators and teachers broad latitude in determining how those goals are to be achieved, content standards are inherently prescriptive. They mandate specific educational outcomes that can be assessed. History standards take the form of model curriculum outlines in which each item is defined in terms of a desired outcome. Demonstration of that outcome in prescribed by statements such as "Students will be able to describe, analyze, or compare, etc."

The impetus for the development of content standards in History-Social Science was the recommendation of the 1989 Governor's Conference that voluntary national standards be developed in five core subject areas including History. The story of what followed is familiar. Decisions about what children are taught about their country's past and place in the world are political by nature. When the National History Standards were overwhelmed by a partisan political firestorm, California like many other states stepped in and filled the gap by creating the California Commission for the Establishment of Content and Performance Standards. Work on the History-Social Science Content Standards was complete by late summer 1998 and on October 9,1998 the State Board of Education adopted them, thereby providing California for the first time with a detailed statewide History-Social Science curriculum.

In the five years since the adoption of the History-Social Science Content Standards social studies instruction in California has changed dramatically. Throughout the state school districts modified curricula in order to bring them into alignment with the standards. Teachers revised their classes to ensure "covering the standards" and the "standard of the day" became a familiar sight in the state's classrooms. Nor were the changes confined to classroom instruction. Although the standards commission did not issue performance standards before dissolving, a new series of legislatively authorized tests aligned with the content standards-the STAR tests-administered annually in grades eight, ten, and eleven were developed to facilitate assessment of schools districts' effectiveness in implementation of the standards. Finally, the standards revolution also redefined the relationship of the state's public schools and universities. Courses and teacher preparation programs were revised to align them with the standards and teachers and university faculty have been brought together in a new alliance to improve the education of California's children.

The jury is still out on the ultimate significance of the standards revolution. However, each year more and more teachers are being exposed to standards and an increasing number of publishing companies write exclusively to them. Many of the authors of the ten articles in this special issue of the Social Studies Review have been intimately involved with its various phases and, their essays provide a revealing progress report on its prospects.

THINKING HISTORICALLY: CRITICAL ENGAGEMENT WITH THE PAST

A major innovation of the California History-Social Science Framework that was maintained in the Content Standards was its insistence that how students learn was as important as what they learn. …