February 6, 2008

NCLB Slashes Social Studies or does it

Edwonk and Eduwonkette are going at it over whether NCLB is causing schools to cut back on social studies.

Both pundits make some good points, but ultimately I can't help thinking why do we even care in the first place.

Why do we care that some schools have responded to NCLB by cutting back instructional time spent on social studies? Or, more accurately, why do we care that some schools that were failing to adequately educate their students pre-NCLB have responded to NCLB by cutting back instructional time spent on social studies?

First, whatever these failed schools were doing with respect to social studies before NCLB, wasn't working. So, the established baseline time spent teaching social studies for these schools is meaningless.

Second, there is no established optimal amount of time that needs to be spent teaching social studies. No one can argue that students need, say, an hour's worth of instructional time in social studies to be "proficient," whatever that means.

Because of NCLB, Schools are now experimenting with various changes in their instruction to improve education outcomes. That's a good thing, even though many of those experiments will result in failure. Hopefully, there will be some successes and those successes will hopefully be replicated. But that won't happen until we give schools some freedom to try new things. NCLB gives them 14 years.

When schools find out how to teach social studies so that most students are actually learning social studies, then we might begin to know how much time should be spent teaching social studies. And, one day when we learn how to teach the rest of the subjects as well, we'll begin to know how to optimize the instructional time to maximize learning in all subjects.

But today is not yet that day. And until that day comes it seems foolish to get one's panties in a twist over reducing or increasing time in any subject. No one knows the optimal amount of time to spend on social studies and whether schools are spending too much or too little time teaching social studies. Today, there simply is no basis for making the assertion.

In the meantime, it seems foolish to me for anyone to assert they know precisely how much time we should be spending teaching any subject.

And in case you're keeping score at home, this argument favors Edwonk.

Update: Just so it's clear, I understand that social studies isn't being tested under NCLB and that some schools might be giving the subject short shrift becaue it isn't a tested subject. I also understand that properly taught, social studies should teach critical background knowledge that could aid reading comprehension, a tested NCLB subject. However, it is not right to assume that social studies, as it was being taught in these failed schools, was actually teaching this critical background knowledge. I do believe that civics, history and geography are important subjects, but I'm not so sure that social studies, especially poorly taught social studies, is an adequate substitute.

4 comments:

Robert said...

"Hopefully, there will be some successes and those successes will hopefully be replicated."

Sadly even double hedged this seems overly optimistic.

This is the big question: what needs to change/happen to make successes in educational practice spread significantly?

On the social science question, clearly they have good controlled longitudinal studies on this right?

KDeRosa said...

Sadly even double hedged this seems overly optimistic.

I know. I know.

This is the big question: what needs to change/happen to make successes in educational practice spread significantly?

Pretty much evertything.

On the social science question, clearly they have good controlled longitudinal studies on this right?

There are some longitudinal studies, but educators don't like the results. So that's why they are flaling about willy nilly treating to invent their own solutions.

Robert Pondiscio said...

I spent way too much time formulating my response to the EW vs. EWK flame war. I should have just waited and pointed to your post instead. Well done.

http://www.coreknowledge.org/blog/2008/02/07/wonk-vs-wonk/

Robert Pondiscio
rpondiscio@aol.com

Independent George said...

To me, it always comes down to this: how on earth do you expect kids to learn history & science if they can't read or count to begin with? If it takes that much time & effort get kids to barely meet grade level reading & math, they weren't going to learn any science and social studies anyway.