The Status of Social Studies: Views from the Field
reviewed by Joshua L. Kenna & William Russell - June 09, 2014
The Status of Social Studies: Views from the Field
Jeff Passe & Paul G. Fitchett (Eds.)
Information Age Publishing, Charlotte
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The Status of Social Studies: Views from the Field is an informative book that provides readers with a unique perspective on the current state of social studies education in America. It was made possible by a national team of social studies researchers, representing 35 US states, who administered a survey, later known as the Survey on the Status of Social Studies (S4), to more than 11,000 PreK-12 educators in 44 US states. The editors, Jeff Passe and Paul G. Fitchett attempted to answer the big questions (p. 3) about social studies education and thus they organized the book into six sections: (a) Foundations, (b) Types of Schools, (c) Curricular Emphases, (d) Teaching Strategies, (e) Professional Issues, and (f) What it All Means. Each section includes several chapters that examine the S4 data using quantitative methods; although, some chapters also include qualitative analysis. Overall, the goal of the book is to provide &broad generalizations about the nationwide status of the field&[to] both clarify numerous perennial issues&and raise new questions (pp. 4-5). Many of the perennial issues within the field of social studies education including content emphasis, instructional strategies, teacher qualifications and demographics, accommodations for diverse populations of students, and instructional time are well documented. However, prior studies were often narrowly focused on single classrooms, school districts, and small groups of teachers. Thus, the draw of The Status of Social Studies lies in the large sample of teachers from across America.
Section one, Foundations, provides an overview of the study including the survey instrument and the demographic data. Generally, the data is representative of social studies teachers from across America based on basic demographics (e.g., gender, race, grade level, etc&). However, like any study there are limitations namely with regard to sample inequality among states. Therefore, readers should be aware that although there is a large sample of teachers not all states are equally represented. For example, Americas largest state, California, is represented by five social studies teachers; while Rhode Island is represented by 30 social studies teachers. Florida is represented by the largest total number of social studies teachers (2,134); while the next closest state (Oregon) only has 834 social studies teachers. In total, there are eight states that are represented by fewer than ten social studies teachers.
In section two, Types of Schools, a quantitative picture of early, elementary, middle, and high school social studies is presented. Due to the range and intricacy of high school social studies courses a broad generalization was not permitted. Instead a factor analysis was conducted regarding different disciplines including advanced placement courses. Additionally, section two includes the study of early childhood social studies, which has rarely been studied in any comprehensive manner. Thus, this book provides one of the most complete reviews of social studies instruction in America.
Section three, Curricular Emphases, is the largest section with topics on teaching democratic values, diversity of religious views, race and class, history education, geography education, and race and ethnicity. Although, not surprising, in general most of the topics examined showed a similar pattern of greater frequency of use as the level of schooling increased. Yet, the chapters still provide some refreshing data on what social studies topics teachers emphasize across America and invite further exploration in those topics. For example, in chapter 11 (K-12 History Education: Curriculum, Instruction, and Professional Development) the author, Anne-Lise Halverson, praises the fact that social history is frequently emphasized across all grade levels; however, she states that further exploration is needed to report on the quality of that history education. In chapter 8, (Social Studies and Democratic Values) the authors, Donna K. Pearson and Robert A. Waterson, also note the frequent use of social history as a curricular emphasis across the grade levels but when equating it with teaching of democratic values the authors write, [W]hile teachers report frequently emphasizing certain key concepts, this does not guarantee that young citizens will embody such values&From this study, there is no evidence that results in student development (p. 136). Of course, these conclusions are similar for nearly all the chapters in this book as the focus of the survey is on teachers and their perceptions of instruction and less on the results of their instruction.
Section four, Teaching Strategies, focuses on the instructional strategies and materials teachers use particularly primary sources, technology, current events, and simulations/role-plays. Again, a pattern evolved that showed a greater frequency of use as the level of school increased except for simulations/role-plays, where elementary teachers most frequently utilized the practice. The section also has a chapter on the teaching of English Language Learners (ELL), which revealed that a large proportion of social studies teachers have high numbers of ELL students in their classrooms. However, the authors of the chapter emphasized that the highest concentration of ELL students reside in six states (California, Texas, New York, Florida, Illinois, and Arizona), four of which are under-represented in the S4 data when compared to their state population.
Section five, Professional Issues, is the shortest section with two chapters. The first of which examines the differences in teacher choice between testing and non-testing states. The second chapter analyzes the professional development of social studies teachers. The results of the two chapters provide ample information for discussion and future studies. The final section, What it All Means, consists of three chapters all of which provide the perspective of senior social studies education scholars (John K. Lee, Margaret S. Crocco, and William B. Stanley) on the analyses of the earlier chapters. John K. Lee utilizes the recent Common Core State Standards as a lens for his perspective; Margaret S. Crocco makes use of the definition for the word status as her theme; and William B. Stanley uses an idiosyncratic interpretation of the chapters, which is largely based on his extensive experience in the field of social studies education.
Overall, The Status of Social Studies is a valuable asset for any scholar in social studies education including professors, curriculum developers, graduate students, and district/state officials. The findings of this book are instantly valuable and pertinent and should help guide future research studies, articles, and professional development sessions. Moreover, researchers in the field of social studies education should utilize the findings as a springboard for future studies.