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Crowdsourcing the standards: How would you make them better?

It’s been seven years. Seems like yesterday. And now it starts again.

I’m not sure if it’s a law or a regulation. Maybe both. Either way, the Kansas Department of Education is required to review content standards every seven years. 2018 is that year for social studies.

Seven years ago, 30 of us got together for the required review. We sat down and started a process that some of us ended up calling “the Philadelphia.” We had a set of social studies standards but we knew they weren’t doing what we wanted them to do. They emphasized drill and kill teaching. Multiple choice assessments. And clearly failed to encourage critical thinking.

The KSDE mandate was to “review and revise as needed.” We agreed to that. Just like the Founding Fathers who gathered in Philadelphia to review the Articles of Confederation in 1787. They knew going in that they wanted to do more than just review and revise. They wanted something new, effective, and powerful. So they threw out the Articles and walked out a couple of months later with the Constitution.

And no. The Kansas social studies standards are not the Constitution. The 30 educators who met back in 2011 were not the Founding Fathers. But the group did come into the room ready to throw out the old standards, start from scratch, and build something completely new.

What we came up with is a document that focuses much less on memorizing content and more on encouraging critical thinking / discipline specific skills like sourcing, contextualizing, evaluating evidence, solving problems, supporting claims, connecting past with present, and constructing new products. These are the kinds of skills that make good citizens. Don Gifford, KSDE social studies consultant, put it best when he said:

We want to develop people who can make the world a better place. People who want to do good and want to do well.

The new standards were written broadly – designed to span across all grade levels and content areas. There are five:

  • Choices have consequences
  • Individuals have rights and responsibilities
  • Societies are shaped by beliefs, ideas, and diversity
  • Societies experience continuity and change over time
  • Relationships among people, places, ideas, and environments are dynamic

Each standard has four benchmarks that include measurable verbs such as evaluate, analyze, investigate, and construct.

And other than a broad K-12 scope and sequence, there is no mandated content. We developed a list of suggested people, places, ideas, and events but we didn’t want them to become a checklist that teachers used to justify ineffective strategies.

This narrative and outline is not intended to be a state-mandated curriculum for how and when content is taught.

The “new” document was officially adopted in the spring of 2013. Now it’s time to review and revise again.

We think we got the basics right seven years ago. We like the flexibility for teachers. The seemingly simple yet deep and complex set of five standards. The idea that content is used to support critical thinking across disciplines. The emphasis on reading, writing, and communicating.

But I think that there are places for improvement. And we’re getting the gang back together this summer to work on fixing those places.

This is where you come in. I would love to hear multiple voices on what those revisions should look like. And while Kansas teachers obviously have a vested interest in this, there are a lot of you out there with helpful opinions.

So . . . if you’re teaching social studies in the Sunflower state, let me know what you’re thinking – cause you’re using these everyday. What do you like? What do you not like? Suggestions?

If you teach outside Kansas and have a little free time, same thing. Likes? Dislikes?

Want to help make social studies better for kids? Maybe easier for you? Awesome. Jump down to the Google Form below:

Give me a couple of weeks and I’ll share out the results.

(A disclaimer – this is just me. This is not KSDE or other standards revision committee members.)

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