Friday, September 3, 2010

The State of Social Studies Education in Ohio

Ohio has recently completed the revision of its social studies standards. While the standards have been adopted (ODE, 2010), school districts will be given some time to transition from the old social studies standards to the new standards. Under the previous model, students were expected to pass an end of the year high school graduate test in social studies (The Ohio Graduate Test). This assessment was/is aligned to the Ohio Academic Content Standards for the Social Studies (OACSSS). These standards included such areas as American History, World History, Economics, American Government, Geography, and People’s in Societies, Citizen Rights and Responsibilities, and Social Studies Skills and Methods. Ohio’s standards were amongst the first in the nation to be both content and skills based. Besides encouraging 21st Century skills and understandings, the Ohio Academic Content Standards in the Social Studies promoted an interdisciplinary approach to teaching the social studies.

Besides updating the Ohio Academic Content Standard for the Social studies, the state is also in the process of updating its high school graduation requirements. While the final requirements are still in flux most social studies professionals believe the new assessment system will be a big change from its predecessor. The old graduation requirements required that all students:

1. Complete 3 Units of Social Studies: ½ a unit must be in American History and another ½ must be in American Government.

2. Successfully pass an Ohio Graduation Test in the Social Studies. This assessment gauged students’ knowledge in American History, World History, Economics, American Government, Geography, and People’s in Societies, Citizen Rights and Responsibilities, and Social Studies Skills and Methods.

As a result of these previous graduation requirements, school districts found it essential to offer many social studies options to students. These options included: American History, World History, American Government, Economics, Geography, Sociology, Psychology, and Problems of Democracy/Current Events. These course offerings were essential in having students meet state graduation requirements AND prepare students to pass the social studies section of the Ohio Graduate Test.

However, the new standards and proposed assessment system makes significant cuts to the social studies curriculum. In the new system, students are still expected to complete 3 units of social studies for graduation: ½ unit must be in American History, ½ unit must be in American Government, and ½ unit must be in Economics/Financial Literacy. This means that students are able to take another 1 ½ units in Geography, Sociology, Anthropology, etc.

Most troubling to social studies educators and researchers in Ohio is the disregard for world history and global issues in the new social studies standards and proposed assessment system. For high school students to graduate in the new assessment system, students are not required to take world history nor are they assessed in world history in an end of the year exam. The new assessment system is very nationalistic and will only test student knowledge in American History and American Government. In the previous assessment system, all students were assessed on their knowledge in world history. Thus, school districts found themselves having to offer students world history in order to prepare them for the state graduation test. Since it’s not tested or required for graduation, many fear world history will not be taught. Simply put, social studies course offerings will dry up and valuable resources and teachers will be reduced. This reduction will have a significant negative influence on student understanding of world events, global issues, and the profound impact globalization has and continues to have politically, economically, environmentally, and socially. All this at a time when students in Ohio and around the United States need to understand the influence of global and international forces the most (i.e. Wars in Iraq, Afghanistan, and the current global economic recovery).

In order to call concern to this issue, I along with the Ohio Council for the Social Studies (OCSS) am advocating changes to the proposed social studies graduation and assessment requirements. The stakes are too high for students not to have the knowledge and skills necessary to navigate a complicated and connected global system. In order to turn out informed, active, and responsible citizens in a global age we must ensure all students receive training in world history and global studies.

(Below is a copy of a letter sent to my Ohio House and Senate representatives emphasizing the importance of their support for a strong P-12 Social Studies curriculum in Ohio Schools. Feel free to use my letter as a template in contacting members of the Ohio State House)

As a teacher educator, an avid voter, and a citizen deeply concerned about the future of the State of Ohio, I’m asking that you work to curtail the cuts made to social studies education in Ohio. At a time when our nation needs the cultivation of historically aware and geographically literate and economically attune citizens, the Ohio Legislature has weakened social studies instruction in k-12 education.

I ask that you work together with your colleagues to introduce the following measures to restore the vitality of the social studies for our youth. This Educating Ohio’s Citizen’s for a Globally Interconnected Age Bill should do the following:

o Restore K-8 assessments
There is ample research and evidence to illustrate that schools reduce the instructional time and resources for social studies when it is not part of the state assessment program. The “suspension” of the 5th and 8th grade Ohio Achievement Tests for social studies will likely continue (according to legislators) in the next biennium and will erode the social studies program K-8, leaving Ohio’s students unprepared for more rigorous studies at the high school or college level.

o Require world studies as part of the 3 required social studies credits
By including world studies in the Ohio Graduation Test, Ohio assures that all Ohio public school students will receive a survey course in modern world studies. The assessment program that is replacing the OGT may focus only on American History and American Government, relegating world studies to an elective status. We believe that students cannot be prepared for college, careers, or engaged citizenship without a basic understanding of modern world events and trends, such as globalization. Currently, Ohio Revised Code lists ½ credit in American History and ½ credit in American Government as requirements. Since there are three Carnegie Units in social studies required, adding world studies to the required courses would not add to what schools currently offer, and because schools already staff for world studies, it would not add costs to schools.

o Require assessment of world studies as part of the high school assessment program. World studies is currently assessed on the OGT and needs to remain part of the assessment program as Ohio transitions to the end-of-course exams.

I look forward to your support and vote towards successfully educating the youth of Ohio in a globally interconnected age.


Dr. Brad M. Maguth
Professor of Teacher Education
Social Studies Program Coordinator
Hiram College

Global and Social Studies Education

The website/blog allows educators in the social studies to reflect upon key issues in the social studies. It also allows teachers the opportunity to access resources that help infuse instructional media and technology, and global perspectives in their teaching.