Sixth Anniversary of This Blog

Dear Readers,

This post marks my sixth anniversary as a blogger. I want to thank those readers who regularly read my twice-weekly posts, those who have dipped into them occasionally, those who have subscribed to the post, and finally those who have taken the time to write thoughtful comments. Over one million viewers from around the world have clicked on to the blog since August 2009. Not exactly viral but, for me, most gratifying.

For the 720 posts I have written since 2009, I have followed three rules:

  1. Write about 800 words.
  2. Write clearly on school reform and classroom practice.
  3. Take a position and back it up with evidence.

For anyone who blogs or writes often knows that sticking to these rules has been no easy task. Yet after six years, it has been very satisfying. I remain highly motivated to write about policymakers, administrators, teachers, parents, and students–all who inhabit the policy-to-practice continuum–and all who in different ways, with varied ideas, seek to improve schooling.

To me, writing is a form of teaching and learning. The learning part comes from figuring out what I want to say on a topic, researching it, drafting a post, and then revising it more times than I would ever admit so that the post says what I want it to say. Learning also has come from the surprises and mistakes I have found in the suggestions and comments readers post—“Did I really say that?” “Oops!, Sorry, “Wow! that is an unexpected view on what I said,” or “I had never considered that point.”

The teaching part comes from putting my ideas out there in a clearly expressed logical argument, buttressed by evidence, for others who may agree or disagree about an issue I am deeply interested in. As in all teaching, planning enters the picture in how I frame the central question I want readers to consider and how I put the argument and evidence together in a clear, coherent, and crisp blog of about 800 words.

Because of my background as a high school teacher, administrator, policymaker, and historian of education I often give a question or issue its historical context. I do so, and here I put my teaching hat on, since I believe that current policy-driven reforms and their journey into schools and classrooms are deeply rooted in the past. Learning from how earlier generations of reformers coped with the complexities of improving schools and districts, I believe, can inform current reformers about the tasks they face. Contemporary reformers, equally well intentioned as their predecessors, in too many instances ignore what has occurred previously and end up stumbling and repeating errors that occurred before. These frustrated reformers then blame teachers and principals for not executing properly their reform-driven policies.

Historical context is important in understanding the cornucopia of policy-driven reforms that have spilled over public schools for over a half-century. For those unacquainted with that history, in every decade since World War II, policymakers have sought to use public schools as engines of reform to solve national and local problems.

From ending racial segregation in schools to defending the nation against the Soviet Union to ending poverty to growing a strong economy, national leaders have turned to public schools to end vexing problems. This steadfast belief in education curing national problems has trumped time and again political action to alter deep-seated economic, political, and social structures that have created and sustained many of the problems afflicting the U.S. That reluctance to look beyond public schools as the solvent for national problems is just as evident in 2015 as it was in 1950.

In subsequent posts, I will look anew and historically at the policy-to-practice continuum in my continuing effort to persuade viewers that adopted policies are merely words unless put into practice. And because too many policymakers are inattentive to what has occurred in past reform efforts and what occurs daily in classrooms, chances of successful implementation approach nil. It is that journey from making policy in suites to K-12 classrooms that has occupied me for decades. And so I continue for another year.

Again, viewers, thank you.

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Teaching is a Grind (Bill Ferriter)

This post appeared April 23, 2014 on Bill Ferriter’s blog, “The Tempered Radical.” On his blog, he describes himself as follows: “Bill Ferriter has about a dozen titles—Solution Tree author and professional development associate, noted edublogger, senior fellow of the Teacher Leaders Network—but he checks them all at the door each morning when he walks into his sixth- grade classroom” in Raleigh, North Carolina.”

Teaching is a Grind.

I’m sitting in a dirty McDonald’s restaurant right now.  It’s the same dirty McDonald’s restaurant that I’ve spent the better part of the past 15 years sitting in.  Stop by and you are almost guaranteed to find me in a booth near the back — next to the filthy bathrooms and just inside the door where the sketchy teens are chain-smoking Marlboro Reds.

I come here after school and on the weekends to crank out writing for part time projects.  Sometimes I’m blogging.  Sometimes I’m putting together #edtech or #ccss lessons that I’ll use in my classroom AND in professional development workshops that I deliver during  those legendary “vacations” that teachers get.  Sometimes I’m answering emails sent by school leaders who need a bit of advice on how to move their buildings forward.

Always I’m tired.  Finding energy AFTER a full day at school ain’t easy.  

I walk into my classroom at 6 AM every morning and spend the first two hours planning, grading and answering email.  From 8:00-1:30, I work with 140 of the most engaging eleven year olds you’ve ever met.  They are simultaneously beautiful and demanding, though.  Meeting needs, answering questions, calming worries, celebrating successes and soothing hurt feelings are all wrapped around delivering the content in my curriculum.

#whirlwind

I spend the last two hours of my day in meetings — with parents, with peers, with special educators, with principals, and with professional developers.  On good days, I might even get a few more minutes of planning before picking my daughter up from school.

As soon as my wife gets home at 4:30, however, I head to McDonald’s to start my second job.  Most nights, I work until 7:30.  Most Saturdays and Sundays, I work from 6:30 until noon.

Always, I’m worried about making ends meet because my family literally relies on my part time income to pay our bills.

Living in a state that ranks 46th in the nation for teacher pay — a full $10,000 behind the national average — means I’ve GOT to generate part time revenue in order to financially survive.  If the content that I create on nights and weekends doesn’t resonate — if I can’t convince SOMEONE to buy my ideas or my time — we’d be flat broke.

The hacks that harp on the horrors of the public education system would probably revel in this reality, wouldn’t they?  They’d argue that the stress of my poor salary has pushed me to be a better teacher. “Competition blah-blah-blah.  Pay for performance blah-blah-blah.  Cushy teaching jobs blah-blah.  Wasting our tax dollars blah-blah.”

And in a way, they’d be right:  While a part of me is constantly improving my practice because I know that improving my practice means improving the lives of my students, I’m ashamed to admit that I’m also constantly improving my practice because I’m hoping that someone will see me as an expert and hire me as a consultant so that I can cover next month’s day care bill for my four-year old daughter.

Long story short:  Teaching is a grind.  

On a good day, the grind feels like a noble sacrifice because I know that my work has made a difference for the kids in my class and the families in my community.  On a bad day, the grind feels like professional masochism.  I guess that’s the uncomfortable truth for those of us who have chosen a career that has always been undervalued and — more recently — been unappreciated.

The question is how long can I keep on grinding?

 

Six weeks later, Ferriter posted the following on his blog:

 

It’s no secret to regular Radical readers that I often get worn down by the grind of teaching.  Wrap the public criticism piled on teachers at every turn up with the crappy policies that have stripped the joy out of the public school classroom and you have a profession that leaves me wondering more and more every year.But there IS joy in teaching — and this week, it came in the form of a pile of birthday cards from my students:

Such a small thing, right?  But to me, it meant everything.  

The kids thanked me and teased me and joked about my hairline and the fact that I’m apparently older than dirt.  Some snuck the cards into my room and left them for me to discover on my desk.  Others came in groups of two or three to share creations that they had worked on together.

They worked on their cards during homeroom, during our school wide enrichment block and during their classes.  My guess is that they missed a ton of content, distracted by the simple act of celebrating one of their teachers.

I missed a ton of content, too:  At the end of the day, I ignored the four thousand email messages sitting in my inbox and smiled my way through a pile of special memories from a group of kids that I care about.

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Judging Success and Failure of Schools and Districts: Whose Criteria Count?

The dominant standard used by most policymakers, media editors, and administrators to judge success is effectiveness: Have you done what you said you were going to do and can you prove it? In a society where “bottom lines,” Dow Jones averages, sports statistics, and vote-counts matter, quantifiable results determine success. No Child Left Behind and its focus on standardized test scores is effectiveness on steroids.

Yet even before No Child Left Behind, policymakers had relied on the effectiveness standard to examine what students have learned by using proxy measures such as state test scores, college attendance, and other indicators. For example, in the late-1970s policymakers concluded that public schools had declined because scholastic aptitudes test (SAT) scores had plunged downward. Even though test-makers and researchers repeatedly stated that such claims were false—falling SAT scores fueled public support for states raising academic requirements in the 1980s. What mattered most to decision-makers and media were numbers that could be used to establish school rankings, thereby creating easily identifiable winners and losers.

Note, however, that test results in some instances proved unhelpful in measuring a reform’s success. Consider the mid-1960s’ evaluations of Title I of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). They revealed little improvement in low-income children’s academic performance thereby jeopardizing Congressional renewal of the program. Such evidence gave critics hostile to federal initiatives reasons to brand President Lyndon Johnson’s War on Poverty programs as failures.

Low test scores, however, failed to diminish the program’s political attractiveness to constituents and legislators. Each successive president and Congress has used that popularity as a basis for allocating funds to needy students in schools across the nation including No Child Left Behind.

Popularity, then, is a second standard that public officials use in evaluating success. The spread of an innovation and its hold on the imagination of voters, has meant that fashionableness can translate into political support for reform. The rapid diffusion of special education, bilingual education, accountability, and computers in schools since the 1980s are instances of innovations that captured both policymakers’ and practitioners’ attention. Few educators or public officials questioned large outlays of public funds for these popular reforms because they were perceived, at least at first, as resounding successes.

A third standard used to judge success is assessing how well innovations mirrored what reformers intended. This fidelity standard assesses the fit between the initial design, the formal policy, the subsequent program, and its implementation.

Champions of the fidelity standard ask: How can anyone determine effectiveness if the reform departs from the blueprint? If federal, state, or district policymakers, for example, adopt and fund a new reading program because it has proved to be effective elsewhere, local implementers (e.g., teachers and principals) must follow the original program design as they put it into practice or else the desired outcomes will not be achieved. When practitioners add, adapt, or even omit features of the original design, then policymakers, heeding this standard, say that the policy and program cannot be determined effective because of these changes.

Where do these dominant standards of effectiveness, popularity, and fidelity come from? Policymakers derive the criteria of effectiveness and fidelity from viewing organizations as rational tools for achieving desired goals. Through top-down authority, formal structures, clearly specified roles, and technical expertise, administrators and practitioners can get the job done.

Within organizations where rational decision-making and control are prized, policymakers ask: Have the prescribed procedures been followed (fidelity) and have the goals been achieved (effectiveness)? Hence, in judging reforms, those who carry out the changes must be faithful to the design before the standard of effectiveness in achieving goals is invoked.

Popularity as a standard in judging success, of course, comes from the political domain. Schools are dependent upon taxpayers voting funds to operate schools. What voters determine is successful–regardless of the lack of or ambiguity in the evidence–gets renewed year after year.

The authority and therefore the power to put into place one or more of these criteria in the U.S. derive from the 50 states (see Tenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution). States establish local districts which directly govern its schools–there are about 14,000 districts in the U.S.   California has over 1,000 districts, Virginia has 227, and the state of Hawaii governs all of its schools as one district. States, then, set overall criteria for success. Most states choose effectiveness criteria with occasional bows to popularity and fidelity. Local districts run the schools and try to meet those criteria. Since 2002, however, federal legislation–yes, the No Child Left Behind Act–sets effectiveness criteria–test scores–for the states which then, in turn, demand that local districts adhere to that standard. The entire debate in the U.S. Congress to reauthorize NCLB has hinged upon who will have the authority to set the criteria for success, the federal or state government.

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Cartoons on Preschool and Kindergarten

For this month’s cartoon feature I have a bunch of cartoons on early childhood education. In the past few week, I have written two posts (see here and here) on the dilemmas inherent to kindergarten teaching so I conclude the series with these exaggerated views of schooling the very young that flow from cartoonists’ pens (if they still use pens). Enjoy!

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an-a-in-finger-painting

 

"I don't think I can express what I have to say in just colored paper and glue."

“I don’t think I can express what I have to say in just colored paper and glue.”

 

'Jason goes to a progressive school. He's in his kindergarten's MBA track.'

‘Jason goes to a progressive school. He’s in his kindergarten’s MBA track.’

 

GagCartoon_FulldayKindergarten_ClassActs_OCT_MikeCope_Copetoons

 

Floorplan-of-the-perfect-NCLB-preschool

 

'First the birth canal, and now preschool! Where does this all end?'

‘First the birth canal, and now preschool! Where does this all end?’

 

edward-koren-i-remember-you-vividly-in-preschool-when-you-played-the-earth-and-i-star-new-yorker-cartoon

 

preschool-cartoon

 

PreschoolKiGaPortalCartoonsRenate-AlfShow-and-Tell52aeef20addfc_w65252af642cdee1a

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The Seconds Are Just Packed (Nicholas Carr)

 

This post, shortened here, appeared June 9, 2015. Nicholas Carr writes about technology and culture. He is the author of The Glass Cage: Automation and Us that examines the personal and social consequences of dependency on computers. His previous work, The Shallows: What the Internet Is Doing to Our Brains, was a 2011 Pulitzer Prize finalist and a New York Times bestseller.

 

“Everything is going too fast and not fast enough,” laments Warren Oates, playing a decaying gearhead called G.T.O., in Monte Hellman’s 1971 masterpiece Two-Lane Blacktop. I can relate. The faster the clock spins, the more I feel as if I’m stuck in a slo-mo GIF loop.

It’s weird. We humans have been shown to have remarkably accurate internal clocks. Take away our wristwatches and our cell phones, dim the LEDs on all our appliances and gizmos, and we can still make pretty good estimates about the passage of minutes and hours. Our brains have adapted well to mechanical time-keeping devices. But our time-tracking faculty goes out of whack easily. Our perception of time is subjective; it changes, as we all know, with circumstances. When things are happening quickly around us, delays that would otherwise seem brief begin to feel interminable. Seconds stretch out. Minutes go on forever. “Our sense of time,” observed William James in his 1890 Principles of Psychology, “seems subject to the law of contrast….

“A compression of time characterizes the life of the century now closing,” wrote James Gleick in his 1999 book Faster. Such compression characterized, as well, the preceding century. ‘The dreamy quiet old days are over and gone forever,” lamented William Smith in 1886; “for men now live, think and work at express speed.” I suspect it would take no more than a minute of googling to discover a quotation from one of the ancients bemoaning the horrific speed of contemporary life. The past has always had the advantage of seeming, and probably being, less hurried than the present.

Still, something has changed in the last few years. Given what we know about the variability of our time sense, it seems clear that information and communication technologies would have a particularly strong effect on our perception of time. After all, those technologies often determine the pace of the events we experience, the speed with which we’re presented with new information and stimuli, and even the rhythm of our interactions with others. That’s been true for a long time — the newspaper, the telephone, and the television all quickened the speed of life — but the influence must be all the stronger now that we carry powerful and extraordinarily fast computers around with us all day long. Our gadgets train us to expect near-instantaneous responses to our actions, and we quickly get frustrated and annoyed at even brief delays.

I know from my own experience with computers that my perception of time has been changed by technology. If I go from using a fast computer or web connection to using even a slightly slower one, processes that take just a few seconds longer — waking the machine from sleep, launching an application, opening a web page — seem almost intolerably slow. Never before have I been so aware of, and annoyed by, the passage of mere seconds.

Research on web users makes it clear that this is a general phenomenon. Back in 2006, a famous study of online retailing found that a large percentage of shoppers would abandon a merchant’s site if its pages took four seconds or longer to load. In the few years since, the so-called Four Second Rule has been repealed and replaced by the Quarter of a Second Rule. Studies by companies like Google and Microsoft now find that it takes a delay of just 250 milliseconds in page loading for people to start abandoning a site. “Two hundred fifty milliseconds, either slower or faster, is close to the magic number now for competitive advantage on the Web,” a top Microsoft engineer said in 2012.  To put that into perspective, it takes about the same amount of time for you to blink an eye.

A recent study of online video viewing provides more evidence of how advances in media and networking technology reduce the patience of human beings. The researchers, affiliated with the networking firm Akamai Technologies, studied a huge database that documented 23 million video views by nearly seven million people. They found that people start abandoning a video in droves after a two-second delay. That won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has had to wait for a YouTube clip to begin after clicking the Start button. (The only surprise was that 10 percent of people were willing to wait a full fifty seconds for a video to begin. Almost a whole minute! I’m guessing they spent the time checking their Facebook feed.) More interesting is the study’s finding of a causal link between higher connection speeds and higher abandonment rates. Check it out:

Every time a network gets quicker, we become antsier. “Every millisecond matters,” says a Google engineer.

As we experience faster flows of information online, we become, in other words, less patient people. But impatience is not just a network effect. The phenomenon is amplified by the constant buzz of Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, texting, and social networking in general. Society’s “activity rhythm” has never been so harried. Impatience is a contagion spread from gadget to gadget.

All of this has obvious importance to anyone involved in online media or in running data centers. But it also has implications for how all of us think, socialize, and in general live. If we assume that networks will continue to get faster — a pretty safe bet — then we can also conclude that we’ll become more and more impatient, more and more intolerant of even milliseconds of delay between action and response. As a result, we’ll be less likely to experience anything that requires us to wait, that doesn’t provide us with instant gratification. That has cultural as well as personal consequences. The greatest of works — in art, science, politics, whatever — tend to take time and patience both to create and to appreciate. The deepest experiences can’t be measured in fractions of seconds.

It’s not clear whether a technology-induced loss of patience persists even when we’re not using the technology. But I would hypothesize (based on what I see in myself and in others) that our sense of time is indeed changing in a lasting way. Digital technologies are training us to be more conscious of and more antagonistic toward delays of all sorts — and perhaps more intolerant of moments of time that pass without the arrival of new messages or other stimuli. Call it the patience deficit. Because our experience of time is so important to our experience of life, it strikes me that these kinds of technology- and media-induced changes in our perceptions can have particularly broad consequences. How long are you willing to wait for a new thing? How many empty seconds can you endure?

 

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Then and Now in Reforming the Teaching of History (Part 2)

A half-century ago, academics led an effort to reform the teaching of history and the social studies in a movement called the New Social Studies (NSS). Since the mid-1990s, again professors, social studies curriculum specialists, and classroom history teachers have focused upon creating usable lessons that introduce students to historical thinking and writing textbooks for novice and career teachers. Similar in ways that the New Social Studies during the 1960s created instructional units, current efforts, however, goes well beyond those materials in using teacher-friendly digital lessons and assessments tailored to the age-graded school conditions that teachers face daily, a factor missing in the earlier movement. [i]

One of the leaders of this movement is Professor Sam Wineburg at Stanford University. Trained as an educational psychologist at Stanford in the late-1980s, Wineburg worked under the tutelage of Professor Lee Shulman who, after receiving Carnegie Foundation grants to assess teaching and learning across subject areas, recruited able graduate students. Wineburg’s peers included Suzanne Wilson and Pam Grossman both of whom have gone on to illustrious academic careers. As has Wineburg. [ii]

Appointed assistant professor of educational psychology in 1989 at the University of Washington’s school of education, Wineburg launched a career that garnered teaching awards and research grants. He worked with teachers in the Seattle public schools in various projects including creating materials for students to read and think like historians. He published articles in both psychological and historical journals that generated even more grants.

In 2002, he joined the faculty of Stanford’s Graduate School of Education working with doctoral students, beginning social studies teachers, historians, and psychologists. Wineburg’s previous work with Roy Rosenzweig at George Mason University moved him toward incorporating digital historical sources into units and lessons for teachers to use. [iii]

Wineburg expanded his agenda by starting the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG). His doctoral students designed lessons that dipped into primary and secondary sources showing teachers and students how to read and think like historians. One doctoral student developed document-based lessons on the Civil War for middle school teachers in San Francisco and in her dissertation designed an intervention for history teachers in five high schools. These ideas and practices of historians also found a home in the Curriculum and Instruction courses that he and doctoral students taught for entry-level social studies teachers in the Graduate School of Education. Finally, Wineburg created a network of partners and resources (e.g., Library of Congress, American Historical Association, Organization of American Historians, National Council for the Social Studies) that covered both the discipline and teachers across the country.[iv]

From the collaborative work with doctoral students and teachers, SHEG increased production of teacher-friendly lessons in U.S. history and world history demonstrating how historians read documents, evaluate sources, and interpret historical events ranging from Pocahontas in 17th century colonial America to the Nanking Incident during Japan’s invasion of China in 1937. Posted on the Internet, these lessons permitted teachers to download them free. In early 2015, the Stanford History Education Group topped 2 million downloads. And they have added coaching services and professional development workshops for social studies teachers in San Francisco, Los Angeles city schools, and Lincoln (NE).[v]

With recognized standing in psychology and history, Wineburg bridges both worlds of research and classroom practice. Moreover, Wineburg is familiar with prior movements in the social studies, one of the New History a century ago led by James Harvey Robinson, the New Social Studies in the 1960s, and the movement to alter history teaching  since the mid-1990s. Rare, indeed, can scholars bridge disciplines and practice while retaining a deep familiarity with past and present social studies reform efforts.

Wineburg’s comparisons and contrasts of current efforts to the New Social Studies a half-century earlier offers glimpses of how he sees the past and present moments in altering how history teachers teach.

As for the relation between Reading like a Historian and the New Social Studies, obviously there’s a great deal of overlap. I cut my teeth on the Amherst history project materials and Charles Seller’s “As It Happened,” a textbook made up of almost exclusively primary sources. The whole issue of inquiry comes from the movement. So, in a sense, we owe a tremendous debt to our predecessors.

Wineburg then pointed out the differences between NSS and his current efforts.

First, all of our materials come with extensive scaffolding. We ‘tamper’ with history … by actually changing primary sources (and still calling them ‘primary’). We built this approach in high schools in San Francisco’s Mission [district] where 99% of the kids are native Spanish speakers and reading at 4th or 5th grade levels in the eleventh grade but often thinking (original italics) at college levels…. So our approach from the start had to deal with the reality of teachers in urban schools. Our lessons don’t go for a week either; each is tailored to a fifty-minute class. And we recognize that teachers simply don’t have the time to surf the net in search of documents or the appropriate graphic organizers to accompany a lesson. We provide everything.

Second, the New Social Studies did little in terms of testing their ideas in any kind of formal research setting. Lots of great stories; not much by way of rigorous evaluation. We field tested this work in San Francisco using a quasi-experimental design. And we continue in on-going field testing.

Third, we focus on explicit teaching of cognitive skills in a way that would have been foreign to the ‘discovery’ ethos of the 60s. I am a Vygotskian by heart and temperament. We provide teachers with guidance in how to explicitly model the cognitive skills they use when they interpret a document. We don’t want classrooms to [be] guessing games. If students don’t know how to ‘source’ a document, their teachers need to model it for them … making their own thoughts and hunches audible so that kids can have an explicit model of what a skilled reader does with a difficult text before trying to decode it themselves.

Fourth, we have taken up the issue of … formative assessment. When I co-directed the DOE’s [U.S. Department of Education] National History Education Clearinghouse, I got into a lot of hot water (original italics) when I basically blew the whistle on Teaching American History grants that were dedicated to ‘critical document analysis’ but then were testing kids with multiple choice items on battles of the Revolutionary War. It seemed like their two only options in the social studies testing world [were] multiple choice tests or 10-12 DBQs [document-based questions]. Neither was a useful tool for quick on-going formative assessment that gave teachers insight into what their kids were thinking and the processes they used. So with Rich [Shavelson] and Ed [Haertel]’s help, I took up the assessment mantle….That, too, is different from the New Social Studies.[vi]

In citing the similarities and differences between Stanford History Education Group and the New Social Studies of the 1960s, Wineburg made certain critical decisions over the past decade in SHEG coaching and materials to extend their use in classrooms beyond the shelf life of earlier NSS.

The first strategic decision Wineburg mentioned is shaping SHEG materials to the urban teacher’s work conditions within age-graded schools, the students they face daily, and the overwhelming demands of meeting standards, accountability and testing requirements. He and his colleagues adapted lessons to workplace conditions. In effect, he acknowledged the deep “grammar of schooling” shaping teacher behavior and worked within its boundaries.[vii]

Designing well scaffolded 50-minute lessons, as he points out, for teachers to use with students reading on different levels diverged from NSS leaders decades earlier who, more often than not, pitched their secondary school materials to “able” students except for Edwin (Ted) Fenton who realized that error in 1965 and launched his “slow learner” project. In addition, Wineburg built in formative assessments and highly interactive digital materials within SHEG lessons adding further appeal of these materials to teachers.[viii]

Another strategic decision was to align the lessons to the Common Core state standards in literacy. Wineburg realized that if these SHEG lessons containing cognitive skills embedded in how historians analyze sources, detect bias, and interpret facts were to last beyond NSS materials, they had to be tightly coupled to the Common Core standards’ focus on literacy skills. The standards in reading embraced most of the skills (e.g., how to “source” a document, how to corroborate the accuracy of a source) contained in SHEG-produced lessons. By fastening these materials to the standards’ literacy requirements and their accompanying tests, chances of a longer life span for this historical approach to teaching increased. [ix]

Beyond strategic decisions, Wineburg made a personal decision in teaching, writing, and scholarship. Over the past few years, he decided to reach beyond the specialized (and small) audiences he had written for in psychology and history journals to the larger audience of social studies teachers. In speeches and articles, Wineburg talked about his “crisis of faith” in academic research, making clear that he no longer believed published research in peer-reviewed journals with readership in the low thousands would improve teaching practices. Working more directly with schools and teachers was a new direction he charted for himself and SHEG.[x]

Now whether all of these strategic and tactical decisions will sustain SHEG lessons for more than a few years I cannot say. Nor can I say anything about the effects of these lessons on students since no studies have yet been done to determine their effectiveness. I can say that Wineburg and his colleagues have digested lessons from an earlier NSS generation of reformers and have made adaptations that have a reasonable chance of continued use among history teachers.

_________________________________

[i] Beginning in the mid-1990s, both academics and teachers completed research studies and described classroom lessons using the historical approach. For academics, see, for example, Peter Sexias, “Parallel Crises: History and the Social Studies Curriculum in USA,” Curriculum Inquiry, 1993, 25(3), pp. 235-250; Terri Epstein, “Makes No Difference If You Are Black or White? African-American and European-American Adolescents’ Perspectives on Historical Significance and Historical Sources,” 1994, Paper Presented at Annual Meeting of American Educational Research Association, New Orleans, LA; Linda Levstik and Keith Barton, “ ‘It Wasn’t a Good Part of History:’ National Identity and Ambiguity in Students Explanations of Historical Significance,” Teachers College Record, 1998, 99(3), pp. 478-513; Jere Brophy and Bruce VanSledright, Teaching and Learning History in Elementary School (New York: Teachers College Press, 1997); Sam Wineburg, Historical Thinking and Other Unnatural Acts (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 2001); S. G. Grant, History Lessons: Teaching, Learning, and Testing in U.S. High Schools Classrooms (Mahwah, N.J.: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003).

Teachers who have written about their work include Bob Bain, “Into the Breach: Using Research and Theory to Shape History,” in Peter Stearns, Peter Sexias, and Sam Wineburg (Eds.), Knowing, Teaching, and Learning History (New York: New York University Press, 2000); Bruce Lesh, ‘Why Won’t You Just Tell Us the Answer’: Teaching Historical Thinking in Grades 7-12 (Portland, ME: Stenhouse Publishers, 2011).

Occasionally, an academic became a classroom teacher and studied how students learned history. See, for example, Suzanne Wilson, “Mastodons, Maps, and Michigan: Exploring Uncharted Territory While Teaching Elementary School Social Studies,” Elementary Subjects Center Series, No. 24 (East Lansing, MI: Institute for Research on Teaching, Michigan State University, 1990).

[ii] Wineburg’s dissertation (the committee was Lee Shulman, historian David Tyack, and psychologist Dick Snow) dealt with how students and historians read history texts.

Suzanne Wilson has been the Department of Teacher Education at Michigan State University since 1991; Pam Grossman began at the University of Washington in 1988 in Teacher Education and became full professor there until 2000 when she went to Stanford University in that year, staying until 2014 when she was appointed Dean of Education at University of Pennsylvania.

I focus on Sam Wineburg for two reasons. First, he is clearly a thought leader in reading and thinking like a historian. Other academics and teachers cite him repeatedly. His early work in the field, awards given by professional associations, and influence as a writer and speaker have been substantial. Second, as I knew Ted Fenton in the early 1960s and his work and mine coincided when I was at Cardozo High School, I also have known Wineburg for over a quarter-century. When he was a graduate student at Stanford University, I was one of the historian-subjects he interviewed for his dissertation. We have stayed in touch over the years and since his return to Stanford in 2002, we have had many conversations about career, the status of history education, writing, and his work in the field. For this chapter, I interviewed Wineburg (January 15, 2015). I also have emails he sent to me (he has given me permission to quote from them), articles he and doctoral students have written, textbooks, and videos of interviews and speeches he has given.

See Wineburg resume at https://ed.stanford.edu/faculty/wineburg

[iii] In 2008, “Why Historical Thinking Matters,” an interactive presentation on the Battle of Lexington that Wineburg and his colleagues had designed won the American Historical Association’s James Harvey Robinson Prize for an Outstanding Teaching Aid.

[iv] Avishag Reisman, “The Document-Based Lesson: Bringing Disciplinary Inquiry into High School History Classrooms with Adolescent Struggling Readers,” Journal of Curriculum Studies, 2011, 44(2), pp. 233-264 and “Reading Like a Historian: A Document-Based History Curriculum Intervention in an Urban Classroom,” Cognition and Instruction, 2012, 30(1), pp. 86-112. Partners of the Stanford History Education Group are listed and described on website. See: https://sheg.stanford.edu/partners

Wineburg’s Curriculum and Instruction Course taught to social studies teachers in the Secondary Teacher Education Program at Stanford University is at: https://gse-step.stanford.edu/sites/default/files/educ268_2014_0.pdf

[v] On the number of downloads and where they originated, email communication from Joel Breakstone January 23, 2015 (in author’s possession).

[vi] Email from Sam Wineburg to Larry Cuban, June 15, 2013 (in author’s possession). Richard Shavelson and Ed Haertel were colleagues of Wineburg and experts on assessment and tests.

[vii] David Tyack and William Tobin, “The ‘Grammar’ of Schooling: Why Has It Been So Hard To Change?” The American Educational Research Journal, 1994, 31(3), pp. 453-479.

[viii] Without federal funding, Fenton launched the “slow learner” project in 1967, a four-year social studies curriculum for grades eight through eleven. Holt, Rinehart, and Winston published the eighth grade text, The Americans. Fenton papers, Carnegie Mellon University, Box 4, folder 22.

[ix]See Sam Wineburg, Daisy Martin, and Chauncey Monte-Sano, Reading Like a Historian: Teaching Literacy in Middle and High School History Classrooms (New York: Teachers College Press, 2013). A large yellow circle is stamped on the cover saying “Aligned with Common Core State Standards.”

[x]Sam Wineburg, “Choosing Real-World Impact over Impact Factor,” The Chronicle of Higher Education, August 26, 2013; Interview with Wineburg, January 15, 2015.

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Reforming the Teaching of History Then and Now (Part 1)

The following posts are drawn from my forthcoming book on “Teaching History Then and Now: Stability and Change in Urban High Schools” (Harvard Education Press). If readers want specific citations and pages for quotes, contact me and I will send them the citations.

Both participants and researchers have told the story behind the 1995 U.S. Senate vote of 99-1 in favor of a resolution condemning new history standards produced by historians, curriculum specialists, and teachers.

Senator Slade Gorton (WA) summed up the essence of the conflict over what content from the past should students learn by asking his colleagues:

Is it a more important part of our Nation’s history for our children to study—George Washington or Bart Simpson?….With this set of standards, our students will not be expected to know George Washington from the man in the Moon. According to this set of standards, American democracy rests on the same moral footing as the Soviet Union’s totalitarian dictatorship.

Rush Limbaugh, popular radio show host, chimed in with his rebuke of the standards’ focus on historical thinking and interpreting the past by telling his listeners: “History is real simple. You know what history is? It’s what happened.” The authors of the standards, he went on, “try to skew history” by saying “Well, let’s interpret what happened because we can’t find the truth in facts…. So let’s change the interpretation a little bit so that it will be the way we wished it were.

What Gorton and Limbaugh wanted students to learn was a commemorative version of the past—the familiar “heritage” view–rather than one where students apply historical thinking. Historian Gary Nash and colleagues stated the issue this way:

Should classrooms emphasize the continuing story of America’s struggle to form a ‘more perfect union,’ a narrative that involved a good deal of jostling, elbowing, and bargaining among contending groups? A story that included political tumult, labor strife, racial conflict, and civil war? Or should the curriculum focus on successes, achievements, and ideals, on stories designed to infuse young Americans with patriotism and sentiments of loyalty toward prevailing institutions, traditions, and values?

Nash and his colleagues who drafted the standards wanted content invested with historical thinking skills (e.g., grasp of chronology, differentiating between facts and interpretations, analyzing sources, considering multiple perspectives) and students crafting meaning from the past. Or as a sympathetic U.S. Congressman put it: “History isn’t like math where two plus two equals four. It’s a lot more than facts, and they don’t always add up to the same sum.”

Those who created the New History Standards also wanted students to be patriotic but not in the traditional sense of unquestioned loyalty to the U.S. They wanted, according to scholar Joel Westheimer, a “democratic patriotism” that saw the past as a struggle to put constitutional and Judeo-Christian ideals into practice.

Or as teacher union leader Al Shanker, a member of one group who advised Nash and his colleagues, put it:

The struggle to define our democracy still continues and it will as long as our country does. It has helped turn abstract principles like equity, justice, individual rights and equality of opportunity into political movements, laws, programs, and institutions—concrete things. And if our children walk away from an American history course without understanding this, the history they have studied is a travesty.

The conflict over what students need to know and how they should study the past and its political purpose—citizenship transmission–is, of course, a familiar conflict fought by earlier generations of historians, teachers, and voters. Another way to capture those conflicting traditions of teaching, ones evident in the New Social Studies of the 1960s and occurring again in the 1990s, is to consolidate the contending ways of teaching into the heritage and historical approaches to creating a usable past for students to learn.

The heritage approach uses the past to recreate the present to “tell ourselves who we are, where we are from, and to what we belong.” Beyond the U.S. flag in every classroom and Pledge of Allegiance, examples of the heritage purpose at work in schools are lessons that focus on the Founding Fathers of the Revolutionary period and heroes such as Davy Crockett, Abraham Lincoln, Frederick Douglass, and Susan B. Anthony to recoup from the past a legacy that all American students should know. In the hands of some legislators— recall Senator Slade Gorton–pundits –recall Rush Limbaugh– textbook authors, and teachers, the heritage purpose comes close to an official story encased in state standards with knowledge aimed at inspiring pride in the U.S., loyalty toward country, and achieving the overall purpose of inculcating “good” citizenship.”

In mapping out those competing strategies for teaching history evident during the New Social Studies in the 1960s, champions of the heritage approach sought to transmit their version of citizenship. The key word is “transmit” which often is translated to mean teacher lecture, student note-taking and teacher-directed lessons. The fact, however, is that “transmitting” citizenship can mean using different pedagogical approaches in classroom lessons. That diversity in pedagogies became clear during a decade of federally funded Teaching American History grants.

The heritage strategy became official federal policy in 2001 with the passage of Teaching American History legislation sponsored by Senator Robert Byrd (WVA). The law made available over $120 million dollars a year in TAH grants to universities and school districts to teach U.S. history and improve student achievement. As the Federal Register put it:

Students who know and appreciate the great ideas of American history are more likely to understand and exercise their civic rights and responsibilities. Their understanding of traditional American history will be enhanced if teachers make the study of history more exciting, interesting, and engaging. Students need teachers who have a thorough understanding of American history as a separate subject within the core curriculum, and incorporate into their teaching effective strategies to help students learn.

With over a thousand TAH grants made in nearly a decade costing almost $900 million, many universities and school districts worked with thousands of veteran and novice teachers across the country. Anecdotally, teachers gave positive marks to university professors increasing their historical knowledge and opportunities to develop lessons in summer and yearlong TAH programs. When it comes to evaluating these decade-long efforts, however, the verdict was damning. The external evaluators examined 16 programs. They found no evidence that these programs raised student achievement, or that teachers used their class-friendly lessons that they had developed after they returned to their schools or that project directors created district networks of teachers to implement lessons.

But the heritage approach has then and now contended with the historical approach. History is not a single account of the past but many accounts. The goal is to equip students with the intellectual and academic skills that historians and citizens use daily. Historians seek verifiable truth as they sift evidence to answer questions and interpret what happened in the past; they reduce bias in their accounts by closely examining their own values as they closely read and analyze sources.

In history classrooms, it means that students investigate the past through different sources and produce stories and analyses from many accounts consistent with the evidence they have before them. In doing so, students gain skills of sniffing out biased sources, evaluating documents, and providing multiple perspectives on an event or person. They think, write, and discuss different views of what happened.  Students learn that history is an interpretation of the past, not a telegram that yesteryear has wired to the present. In short, they become historically literate.

This historical approach was integrated into those standards denounced by the U.S. Senate and eventually junked in the mid-1990s. So unlike the purpose of transmitting a national story that heightens students’ appreciation of country, the historical approach combines the purposes of working as historians do and engaging in reflective inquiry. Champions of the historical approach claimed that they helped students become “good” citizens. Of course, these competing aims in teaching history are an incarnation of that paradox facing public schools of having both to conserve community beliefs, values, and traditions and simultaneously prepare student with the knowledge and skills to change those very same traditions, values, and beliefs.

The resounding defeat of the New History Standards in 1995 was hardly the end of the tensions between the heritage and historical approaches in teaching children and youth. An echo of that media-hyped conflict was heard in 2014 after the Educational Testing Service (ETS) announced that it had revised the “Framework and Examination” for the Advanced Placement United States History course. Keep in mind that AP courses in history exemplify the historical approach to teaching the subject with students handling primary sources (“document-based questions”), interpreting facts and writing accounts that interpret the past.

In Jefferson County, Colorado’s second largest school district, school board members Julie Williams and her colleagues, part of a politically conservative majority elected to the school board in 2013, objected to the new ETS “Framework” for the AP course in U.S. history; the school board voted to have their own homegrown AP course for 10th graders. The Williams-led majority on the five-member board said that the AP Framework “rejects the history that has been taught in the country for generations. It has an emphasis on race, gender, class, ethnicity, grievance and American-bashing while simultaneously omitting the most basic structural and philosophical elements considered essential to the understanding of American History for generations.” Instead an AP U.S. history course needs to “present positive aspects of the United States and its heritage” and “promote citizenship, patriotism, essentials and benefits of the free enterprise system.”

The board action triggered protests from over 1,000 students who walked out of their schools over a 10-day period protesting what they and supportive parents called censorship of content taught in schools. Heated school board meetings where parents on different sides of the issue tangled and raw feelings about the proper content for the course in U.S. history erupted throughout the county.

The Jefferson County protests have died down. No “war” erupted. The conservative majority on the school board backed away from dumping the revised AP course and substituting another one that taught the benefits of “free enterprise” and “patriotism.” But the incident reveals anew that the heritage approach to history content remains alive among voters, taxpayers, parents, teachers, and students.

Part 2 describes the onset of another national effort to engage U.S. students in the historical approach to studying the past.

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