Academic journal article High School Journal

The Influence of High-Stakes Testing on High School Teachers" Willingness to Incorporate Current Political Events into the Curriculum

Academic journal article High School Journal

The Influence of High-Stakes Testing on High School Teachers" Willingness to Incorporate Current Political Events into the Curriculum

Article excerpt

This paper describes the findings of a qualitative study of six government teachers from three diverse high schools in the Southwest Chicago suburbs during the 2008 Presidential Election. All of the teachers expressed a desire to cover the election in their classes; however, several experienced difficulty incorporating current events into their curriculum due to a perceived need to prepare their students for an end-of-course assessment that held graduation implications. Overall, the author found that the teachers fell into one of three groups with respect to their inclusion of current events within the curriculum: curriculum-first, disciplined-inclusion, and opportunity-first. The teachers who were categorized as curriculum-first and disciplined-inclusion appeared wary of devoting significant instructional time to the election because they were concerned their students may not perform well on the end-of-course test, a fear that appeared linked to their school's prior academic performance on high-stakes assessments and their perception of their students' academic abilities.


In their description of quality civic education in the United States, Kahne and Middaugh (2008) argue that an ideal social studies program would include opportunities for students to monitor current events and political issues, explore social topics of interest, and engage in substantive discussions on these issues. While all social studies courses have the potential to meet these requirements, the contemporary nature of civics and government courses make them "the part of the formal high school curriculum that is most explicitly linked to the democratic purposes of education" (Kahne, Chi, & Middaugh, 2006, p. 391). Further, the political and sociological focus of most civics and government courses naturally predisposes them to issue-centered instruction (Avery, Sullivan, Smith, & Sandell, 1996), a quality that would suggest these courses are an integral part of the social studies curriculum.

Despite such perceived importance, however, civics and government topics are often afterthoughts when it comes to the social studies curriculum at most schools (Niemi & Smith, 2001). Although approximately 90% of high school students take at least one civics or government course during their academic careers, these courses often are not considered as having the same academic rigor as history and tend to be offered as semester-length electives rather than as part of students' graduation requirements (Kahne et al., 2006; Niemi & Smith, 2001). Even within the literature, the number of studies on civics and government courses pales in comparison to that of history, perhaps explaining why little is known about the ways teachers approach current political events within secondary education.

The majority of the literature on teaching current political events consists of theoretical suggestions on how to approach these topics in the classroom (e.g., Cousins, 1984; Eaton, 2004; Risinger, 2007) rather than empirical studies of existing practices. Of the research on teaching current political events, most rely on surveys of teachers after the fact (e.g., Haas & Laughlin, 2000; Haas & Laughlin, 2002). In this paper, the authors seek to further existing knowledge in this area by reporting the results of a qualitative study conducted with six teachers in three Illinois high schools during the 2008 Presidential Election. While many factors ultimately contributed to the quality of political education that students received in each of these classes, the one that seemed to affect the amount of time the teachers allotted to covering the election in class was their perceptions of how well their students would perform on the end-of-course assessment that held graduation implications.

Theoretical Framework

Classroom Space and Opportunities for Deliberation

Textbooks, classrooms, and curricula are all resources that need to fit into finite amounts of space, and decisions over what knowledge or whose "truth" fills this space creates perpetual ideological conflict among those who inhabit and control these spaces (Apple, 1979, 1992, 1996). …

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