State Schools Superintendent Steve Paine told the West Virginia Board of Education this week that “interestingly, there’s strong sentiment not to reduce a social studies credit, very strong.”
He was talking about feedback received so far on the state school board’s proposed changes to a rule known as Policy 2510. The proposed changes include reducing, from four to three, the social studies credits public high school students would need to earn to graduate. They would also push for a one-course version of high school U.S. history, instead of two, and allow students to avoid world studies by taking non-Advanced Placement social studies classes.
The official public comment period on the proposals ends 4 p.m. Monday. To read the changes and comment, go online to wvde.state.wv.us/policies and click on the links in the box at the top of the page.
If the changes pass, county public school systems could still set higher graduation requirements that the state policy.
One state group, the West Virginia Council for the Social Studies, doesn’t agree with the changes.
“The required classes are ethnocentric in nature and do not prepare students to be part of the global community,” say comments approved by the council’s executive committee. “If our students leave West Virginia for college or careers, they will need to be educated in diverse cultures and traditions of the world, not just the United States.”
The proposed changes could also reduce the quality of American history students learn. Thomas Cooper teaches contemporary studies, a U.S. history course that would be diminished under the proposed changes.
“It’s truly the only subject that teaches how to be a thoughtful, empathetic human being,” Cooper said of social studies. “English, you could argue they do that, but science doesn’t do that, math doesn’t do that … math doesn’t teach you the history of exploitation and how it’s led to our current economic state in West Virginia.”
Cooper said he’s in his third year of teaching at Kanawha County’s Riverside High, and he’s witnessed a shift away from social studies in that time. In 2015, the state school board decided to go from having social studies standardized testing in grades three through 11 to having it in no grades at all.
The state board already changed Policy 2510 last year, although six of the board’s nine voting members have changed since that time, and Paine has replaced Michael Martirano as state superintendent.
The Policy 2510 changes last year allowed high schoolers to take U.S. studies-comprehensive, intended to cover all of U.S. history in one course, instead of U.S. studies, which has standards covering history up to World War I.
Last year’s changes allowed for both classes to be substituted with Advanced Placement U.S. history, which is also supposed to be comprehensive. AP courses are generally harder than normal classes, but students can get college credit if they perform well enough.
Last year’s changes also let students replace contemporary studies — the course spanning WWI to the modern day, essentially the half left out in U.S. studies — with economics, geography, psychology and other courses considered to be social studies.
The changes proposed now would further erase the former requirement that students not taking AP social studies courses take the split American history classes of U.S. studies and contemporary studies. The proposals would force students who don’t take AP U.S. History to take U.S. studies-comprehensive, cutting their ability to take U.S. studies in lieu of those.
The proposals would erase contemporary studies from the elective courses that high schools are currently required to offer students, and would nix the requirements to offer economics and geography as electives. The proposals would erase a line from the policy suggesting students take contemporary studies if they take U.S. studies earlier.
“Condensing American history into one year-long class or one semester block class lends itself to teaching content and not skills,” the social studies council says in its comments. “Sufficient depth of knowledge about any person, event, or era cannot be achieved with such a large time span to be covered. Our students need have a deep understanding of our shared history as Americans in order to address the problems facing their generation.”
Currently, an AP social studies course is required to avoid the requirement for world studies. The proposals include allowing non-AP social studies courses to also replace world studies,
Among the courses students could substitute for world studies, should counties and high schools decide to offer them, are geography, economics, psychology, sociology, financial literacy and Junior Reserve Officers’ Training Corps, if students take four courses worth of JROTC.
Joey Wiseman, executive director of the state Department of Education’s Office of Middle/Secondary Learning, said “there’s so much civics and others pieces within (JROTC), it can count.”
“The majority of them don’t need a world studies,” Wiseman said of students, referencing what he said were requirements to attend most colleges and universities. “We teach world studies in grade seven, the high school course is kind of a mirror image taking it a step further.”
Regarding the erased requirement to offer economics, geography and contemporary studies as electives, he said the changes give “local control to the counties.”
“We allow them to actually choose which one of those courses they want to offer,” Wiseman said. “… Every social studies course we have already has standards for economics and geography built in with them.”
The proposed ability to substitute JROTC, a military-connected program for students, in place of world studies comes alongside the fact that the U.S. studies-comprehensive standards don’t specifically require as deep a look at the context of modern wars as do the contemporary studies standards.
“Evaluate the causes and effects of acts of foreign and domestic terrorism before and after 9/11. (e.g. Iran hostage crisis, 1993 World Trade Center, Oklahoma City, USS Cole, 2001 attacks on World Trade Center & Pentagon, PATRIOT Act, death of Osama bin Laden),” reads a comprehensive standard. “… Evaluate and explain modern American policies (i.e., foreign and domestic), immigration, the global environment, and other current emerging issues.”
The contemporary studies standards include:
“Evaluate American foreign policy concerning abuses of human rights. Critique the domestic and military policies of the 1990’s. … Evaluate acts of terrorism before and after 9/11. Demonstrate an understanding of America’s continued role in shaping the complex global community since September 11, 2001. Assess the results of American foreign policy relating to Middle Eastern countries. Outline provisions of the P.A.T.R.I.O.T. Act … and assess the necessity of such infringements on American civil rights. Critique the effectiveness of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan on the war against terror. … Research and analyze U.S. and World responses to ISIS’s (Islamic State in Iraq and Syria) rise in Iraq and Syria.”
These proposals are all coupled with the proposal to reduce the required number of social studies credits for graduation from four to three. Two electives represent the other two credits proposed to be cut to reduce overall required graduation credits from 24 to 21 — students can currently pick which of these electives to take, and among their possible choices, depending on their school, could be more social studies classes.
Lou Maynus, assistant state superintendent over the Division of Teaching and Learning, said high schools may use the reduction in the required number of credits to allow additional time for students to master content.
Matthew Cox, president of the West Virginia Council for the Social Studies, said West Virginia is one of only four states that requires four social studies credits, but he nevertheless opposes the proposed changes.
“Every student who graduates will be a citizen,” he said, “not every student who graduates might need upper level math or anything like that.”