Friday, September 2, 2011

No Citizens Left? NCLB Takes a Toll on Social Studies Part 1

Independence Hall
This last week I've been writing about ways to make social studies projects really count. This is especially important today as social studies subjects are given less time in the school program in favor of other subjects. I wondered, how much time do we have for social studies?
Since No Child Left Behind (NCLB) mandates that schools increase student performance on tests of reading and math, it's not surprising that increased instructional time is being spent on reading and math. The corollary is, of course, less time time for art, physical education, science, and social studies.
In 2008, Year 5 of NCLB, the Center on Education Policy published a report that describes shifts in time in instruction as school districts respond to NCLB. If you want to drill down to the particulars, here is the report: From the Capital to the Classroom: Year 5 of the No Child Left Behind Act
Self-contained K-5 classrooms and middle and high schools report differently, so I'll break them out here.
Grades K-5 Among districts that reported increasing time for English/language arts and math, i.e., most of them, 72% indicated that their elementary schools reduced time by a total of at least 75 minutes per week for one or more other subjects. Of these, more than half (53%) cut instructional time in social studies from 239 to 164 minutes, or exactly 75 minutes.
Grades 6-12 Middle and high school programs have increased credit requirements for math and science, and in low-performing schools, increased the number of reading/language arts credits students must take. Reporting for these grade bands isn't as tidy as for K-5, but any way you look at it, for most of their school career, today's students are spending less time learning social studies.
Why is this a problem? Diminished time for social studies is unfortunate because competence in these subjects has a benefit that goes beyond the individual. The ideals embodied in the study of culture, history, economics, government, geography, and global issues are central to a functioning society. Quality learning experiences help students develop character, a sense of connectedness, and civic responsibility.
So, returning to my central thesis, it's important that the social studies experiences students do have be rigorous and meaningful. To that end, I've identified three principles to guide social studies project design. I'll share these in my next post.