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Alan Singer

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Social Studies Get the Short End of the Stick, Again

Posted: 04/ 1/11 05:15 PM ET

Chancellor Meryl Tisch and the New York State Board of Regents seemed determined to purge social studies and the study of history from the New York State elementary and middle school curriculum. First they dropped 5th and 8th grade social studies assessments for academic year 2010-2011 to help close a budget deficit.

Now, according to recommendations made by Deputy Commissioner Jon King, they want to integrate social studies and art into the England/Language Arts curriculum, which given testing pressure, means schools and students can kiss art and history goodbye.

Tisch and the Regents justify the attack of history and the social studies as part of their response to Race to the Top (the top of what is not clear). Because the federal government does not mandate history and social studies assessments and does not monitor the scores, New York is free to lower the standards in these areas to the level of Mississippi and Alabama -- unless the public loudly protests.

The purge of history would also be extended to the high schools, where under the latest proposal, students would no longer be required to take standardized Regents assessments in global history and United States history. Instead, they could chose from a menu of exams that would allow them to avoid history altogether. In addition, they are proposing that districts and students be charged for tests, which will mean students opt to take fewer exams and fewer subjects.

The New York State Council for the Social Studies and the Long Island Council for the Social Studies have organized email and letter writing campaigns opposing the elimination of history and social studies (economics, geography, anthropology, and sociology) from the required curriculum. According to Brian Dowd, co-chair of the LICSS, "We recognize the need to prepare students for college and careers in the 21st century. Indeed we support the history reading and writing standards that have been articulated in the Common Core. However, we worry that the instructional foundations that prepare students to think critically and develop background knowledge about our shared history, geography, civics, and economics are being eroded." In addition, literacy is best learned through meaningful content that includes history, geography, civics, and economics.

Steve Goldberg, president of the National Council for the Social Studies and a New York State social studies teacher and supervisor, attended a meeting with Tisch and other members of the Board of Regents. He concluded, "After two hours of rhetoric by the regents and passionate, frustrated responses by the attendees, I reached the conclusion that New York, once a model for state wide social studies programs and assessments, had indeed plummeted and has joined the growing number of states where elementary social studies has been marginalized." He called for renewed pressure on the federal government to revise the Elementary and Secondary Act to mandate and assess instruction in history and the social studies.