Putting the Squeeze on Social Studies: Managing Teaching Dilemmas in Subject Areas Excluded from State Testing
by John S. Wills — 2007
Background/Context: Recent research indicates that social studies is being "squeezed" from the elementary curriculum as instructional time is shifted to language arts and mathematics in response to state testing and the federal No Child Left Behind Act, especially in schools serving poor students and students of color. However, less is known about the specific curricular and instructional choices teachers make as they confront reduced instructional time for social studies, and the enacted curriculum resulting from these choices.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: The purpose of this study is to analyze what happens to the enacted curriculum in social studies in elementary schools where instructional time for social studies was reduced in response to state testing in language arts and mathematics.
Setting: This research was conducted at a rural elementary school in Southern California serving poor Latino, African-American, and White students, a low performing yet improving school as measured by state testing in language arts and mathematics.
Research Design: A ten-month qualitative case study of social studies curriculum and instruction was conducted in one fourth-grade and two fifth-grade classrooms at one elementary school.
Data Collection and Analysis: Data collection consisted of observation and videotaping of classroom lessons and activities in social studies during the 2002–2003 school year in three teachers' classrooms, consisting of a total of 125 videotaped observations. Interviews with teachers, students, and the principal, and the collection and analysis of student work and curricular materials supplemented this data. For this article, data analysis was based on the coding of field notes, analysis of transcripts of lessons and activities, and teacher interviews, to understand the curricular and instructional choices teachers made in social studies and the effect of these choices on the enacted curriculum.
Findings/Results: Reduced instructional time in social studies has resulted in a reduction of the scope of the curriculum, the curtailment or elimination of opportunities to promote students' higher order thinking, and an increased emphasis at times on the simple reproduction of content knowledge.
Conclusions/Recommendations: The institution of a system of accountability meant to improve teaching and learning for all students is instead undermining the quality of students' education in social studies, especially at low performing elementary schools serving poor students and students of color. As instructional time is shifted to language arts and mathematics the scope of the social studies curriculum and opportunities for thoughtfulness that would deepen students' understanding of history are being squeezed from the enacted curriculum.
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