New state social studies standards open to public comment

New social studies standards are presently be reviewed by the public for input at the Michigan.gov/socialstudies website. Teachers have been waiting for the past five years to have new standards in place so they can adjust the curriculum.

MANISTEE — With so much emphasis being put on student achievement in today’s K-12 school systems it seems almost hard to believe that it has been 12 years since the last time the social studies standards have been updated.

It last took place in 2007 and although some of the reasons were politically and socially motivated for the delay, it appears now that they may have a set of standards that will be agreeable to most of the general public.

The Michigan Department of Education has plans to hold what they call nine listen-and-learn sessions from April 24-May 9  at various locations around the state. The location of those sessions, a copy of the standards and  an online survey will be shared at Michigan.gov/socialstudies.

Locally Manistee Intermediate School District general education director Lisa Lockman, Northern Michigan Learning Consortium social studies consultant Dave Johnson and Manistee Area Public Schools curriculum director Amber Kowatch weighed in the new guidelines. Johnson also was one of the writers of the new standards.

“We have been working on those standards for five years at this point,” said Johnson. “What went out last summer was probably influenced by some outside forces that weren’t present this time around. So we started a new round and were very inclusive this time around to pull in representation from all around the state to weigh in as opposed to just one undue influence.”

Johnson said that made the standards that are being evaluated now much more balanced. The teachers who have looked at the drafts of the standards appreciate the examples and topics that are included in the new draft.

“The topics at every grade level have been changed, but the kindergarten to high school civics classes are still going to be covering everything that has been covered before,” said Johnson. “The biggest change is  including inquiry based instruction rather than they just memorize everything.”

Lockman said teachers are ready to get new standards in place.

“I think the biggest thing coming from the teachers in my area is they are ready for new standards so they can move forward with professional development and looking at resources,” said Lockman. “A lot of schools have held off waiting for the new standards before purchasing things to address them. Teachers are excited to put the new focus on social studies and to definitely have direction from the state and know how to move forward.”

Lockman said social studies has hung out in limbo for so long, so teachers have been waiting for some guidance and are really looking to embrace new standards.

Kowatch agreed with that assessment.

“My biggest thought around all of this is we are just looking to get these standards established, so we can create a process for implementing them,” said Kowatch. “It’s been a source of frustration for any social studies teachers because they have been promised that they are coming and yet here we are.”

She said she understands the concerns on both sides, but are just awaiting their adoption, so they can go to work on them.

All of the public comment is leading up to an adoption vote by the state board of education on June 11, but it will take time to roll everything out to the schools.

“We are looking at the feedback that comes in so we are able to present the final draft to the board,” said Johnson. “For example, we had someone from a religious group approach us about the way we had put a history standard in was incorrect. We are able to take that feedback and do something about it right now. So with that feedback we are going to be looking for larger issues, so we are ready to give the final draft to the state board in June.”

He said if the state board of education accepts those standards they then are looking to a three to five year roll out with professional learning and implementation of the new standards.

“We will begin this fall, but the state assessments wouldn’t change for three to five years,” said Johnson. “We haven’t really tackled the instruction part of it.”

Lockman said social studies differs from other subjects in that various groups all have different things they would like to see in the curriculum.

“All topics of social studies are pretty integrated with politics and lots of people have opinions on what should be taught and what exposure students should have at different grade levels,” said Lockman. “I think the team did a really good job of getting a diverse group of individuals together to talk about those and have great discussions and input. They had an additional group review them for any bias, so the committee has really done its homework to make sure it can be accepted by liberals, conservatives of special interest groups across the state for standards.”

Johnson said he encourages everyone to go to the website and review the standards and then give any input they have on the subject material.

“They should take the online survey as it is one thing to complain or praise the standard and another thing to let us know,” said Johnson. “So we welcome all the public comment including the good, the bad and the ugly.”

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Posted by Ken Grabowski

Ken is News Advocate’s education reporter. He coordinates coverage for all Manistee County schools and West Shore Community College. He can be reached by phone at (231) 398-3125 or by email at kgrabowski@pioneergroup.com.

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