New Standards for Social Studies Have Zero Content

Back to November 2013 Ed Reporter

New Standards for Social Studies
Have Zero Content

social studiesIn September, the National Council for the Social Studies released “The 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.” The 110-page “C3 Framework” took three years to develop, with the help of 15 social-studies-related organizations. These 15 organizations are said to be from the areas of civics, history, geography, economics, political science, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and law-related education. According to the document:

Work on the C3 Framework began in 2010 with the development of an initial conceptual guidance document written by individuals from the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) Social Studies Assessment, Curriculum, and Instruction state collaborative and by representatives from the professional associations.

The professional organizations include the American Bar Association, the Council for Economic Education, the National Council for History Education, and the National Geographic Society. The 16 framework writers “were selected in consultation with the participating professional associations.” The lead writer is a University of Kentucky professor, who was assisted by 15 other college professors.

The National Council for the Social Studies published the C3 Framework document and claims they “solicited feedback from stakeholders on drafts at regular intervals.” Six editorial committee members are referred to as “state collaborative members” and teachers, and are from six separate states, but it is unclear how many of them are K-12 classroom teachers.

One thing is certain: the C3 Framework was written by a committee and it shows.

Standards by Committee

The social studies standards introduction states that “the C3 Framework . . . is intended to serve as a frame for organizing curricular content, rather than a prescription for the specific content to be taught.” Exemplifying the maxim that a camel is a horse designed by a committee, the C3 Framework is confusing, overly complicated, and fails to include any content whatsoever. Since the originators say that states will need to infuse their own content into the framework, some may wonder why anyone bothered to spend the time and money to create C3. Admittedly, it is better to have no content than to teach students the misconstrued content advocated by Howard Zinn. (See FOCUS by Dr. David Bobb in this issue.)

Education Week justifies the lack of content, saying that given the “political delicacy of specifying social studies content, the framework’s authors steer clear of subject-matter content.”

The newspaper suggests that the C3 Framework document is to be used “to craft an overarching set of guidelines that states can use as they write more detailed expectations for students.” (Education Week, 9-25-13)

Civics, Economics, Geography, and History

The sections of the C3 are: Economics (The Global Economy); Civics; Geography; and History.

“The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam in civics found that more than half of students scored ‘below basic.’ Most college graduates can’t identify famous phrases from the Gettysburg Address or cite the protections of the Bill of Rights.” (Education Week, 10-20-13) And as a nation, we seem to be giving up on ever educating these students in factual history, civics, and other social studies content. The Obama administration has eliminated the NAEP civics, history, and geography exam in favor of a “Technology and Engineering Literacy” test. (See FOCUS by Haley Stauss in this issue.)

Alignment with Common Core

While C3 Framework standards are not specifically Common Core, they align with Common Core and some states will choose to align further in the same way they chose to align with English, Math, and Science Common Core. The C3 standards were also instigated by some of the same people who guided Common Core, including the CCSSO.

According to C3 Framework CC English alignment, 2nd-grade students should be able “to evaluate a source by distinguishing between fact and opinion.” Several child development specialists have criticized Common Core because what the standards ask is not developmentally possible at the ages students are required to accomplish certain goals.

In grades 9-12, Social Studies students adhering to alignment with Common Core English standards should be able to “Identify evidence that draws information directly and substantively from multiple sources to detect inconsistencies in evidence in order to revise or strengthen claims.” In this example, some students may be developmentally able to accomplish the goal. But when so many have trouble with basic reading and reading comprehension it seems a lofty goal.

Collaboration Means Undue Influence

Collaboration among students is the norm for every section of the C3 framework. “Individually and with other students” begins each section. Experts cite problems with collaboration that would be particularly troubling in an area such as social studies. Peer pressure to go along with the group can influence students to back away from their own opinions and what they may have learned at home in order to accommodate “group-think.”

In aligning to the Common Core, the C3 states, “Inquiry in social studies is an inherently collaborative activity, and thus, Anchor Speaking and Listening Standard One is particularly relevant. . . .” Speaking and Listening Standard One calls on students to “prepare for and participate effectively in a range of conversations and collaborations with diverse partners, building on others’ ideas and expressing their own clearly and persuasively” (aligns with Common Core, NGA and CCSSO, 2010a, p. 22). The C3 Framework also “assumes a collaborative environment as students work through their inquiries. As students gather and evaluate sources for relevant information and determine credibility toward building claims with evidence, they should have multiple opportunities to practice civil, democratic discourse with diverse partners.”

CCSSO Bowed Out Late

Although they were a chief instigator of the Social Studies standards, earlier this year the Council of Chief State School Officers (CCSSO) withdrew from the social studies standards project, allegedly to focus on English and Math Common Core standards. According to their executive director, “CCSSO became uneasy with being perceived as helping to develop the social studies standards.” (Education Week, 7-7-13) It seems the CCSSO wanted to distance themselves from the C3 Framework to increase the possibility of state acceptance since their collaboration with the controversial Common Core English Language Arts and Math standards is so widely known.

CCSSO’s mark is all over the docu- ment, however; the links from Social Studies standards to Common Core English Language Arts are referred to in the C3 Framework by page numbers in what is called the “CCSSO and NGA document of 2010.” The CCSSO and NGA (National Governors Association) are private trade organizations based in Washington, D.C. with no government oversight, and are unfettered by sunlight laws that would make their inner workings open to the public or available to the public by Freedom of Information requests.

Parents and interested parties can review the College, Career & Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards using the following link: