September 1, 2014

By David Bosso

While many of the blogs presented herein focus on classroom implications of the C3 Frameworks, as they rightly should, there is also a need to provide insight into related policy issues and broader curricular repercussions of the instructional, logistical, and value-laden shifts connected to an inquiry approach.  To these ends, the following overview of the process that has occurred in Connecticut over the last year or so related to the C3 Frameworks is intended to illustrate the practical elements and challenges of engendering this transition. 

Critical to this transformation has been a steadfast and coordinated advocacy effort on the part of members of the Connecticut Council for the Social Studies and other vital partners –  these experiences are described in an article on New Haven Register and in recent post on the U.S. Department of Education’s Teach 2 Lead initiative website.  The evolution of the Social Studies frameworks development in the state of Connecticut illuminates many facets surrounding the utilization of the C3 Frameworks to guide state-level work.  Moreover, the Connecticut experience can act as a lesson and model for groups in other states to commence efforts along these lines. 


The Background

After several years of the Connecticut Social Studies frameworks remaining in draft form, the C3 Frameworks provided a welcome boost to begin work on reexamining the existing document.   Although there were several related political factors at play, it was determined that the window of opportunity had presented itself and the time was right to take substantial steps to move Social Studies education in Connecticut from the margins to the center.  Led by the inimitable Steve Armstrong, President of the National Council for the Social Studies and state Social Studies consultant, a large, varied team came together to discuss, review, build, revise, and ultimately determine a revitalized set of Connecticut Social Studies frameworks with the C3 Frameworks as the guide.  Teachers from elementary, middle, and high school levels; college professors; members of the State Department of Education; state resource centers; community organizations; and several other entities played significant roles throughout the process.


The Process and the Challenges

Following an initial meeting designed to solicit input and discuss expectations, a writing team and an editing team were determined.  Striking the proper balance between content and skills was a constant concern, as was deciding the sequence of courses and the degree to which the frameworks ought to prescribe specific content to be taught.  Also challenging were issues such as the period of history and geographical regions certain courses ought to cover.  For example, while U.S. History tends to be relatively compact in terms of time and space, what should be the starting point for a world history course?  Which regions should such a course cover?  Realistically, in a half-year or full-year course, can a curriculum adequately provide an effective and meaningful depth of coverage while attempting to include ancient civilizations as well as current events?  While in some cases these are decisions better left to individual districts, schools, and teachers, it was also clear that some districts and teachers would desire more specificity and prescriptiveness with regards to curricular design and course content.  It was also evident that elementary teachers, in general, would prefer frameworks that more clearly outlined grade level expectations and content.

Other issues and questions came to the fore that resulted in fruitful discussion.  Should certain grades be “banded” in order to allow for individual districts to determine what is most suitable?  To what extent might traditional scope and sequence factors and teacher practices affect the appeal of the revised frameworks and their subsequent implementation?  Furthermore, while the C3 Frameworks suggest History, Geography, Economics, and Civics as the linchpin of curriculum frameworks, the Connecticut team decided that, in most cases, each individual course would be spearheaded by one of the disciplines and strongly supplemented by the remaining three.  Grade 8 U.S. History, for instance, would naturally be guided by the discipline of History, while the Grade 6 and 7 World Regional Studies would have Geography as its core.  Another issue centered on supporting teachers to employ an inquiry paradigm and the reality of providing sound professional development opportunities to do so.  This summer, the Connecticut Council for the Social Studies hosted two four-day workshops designed for this purpose.  They were each well attended and well received.  The 2014-2015 school year promises to provide additional programs to continue to facilitate the transition.


The Future

In light of recent discourse over the validity of the Common Core State Standards, their implementation, and associated testing, it is important to point out that, regardless of what the future holds for the Common Core, the C3 Frameworks reflect the value of an inquiry approach to Social Studies education that will undoubtedly have an enduring impact on student understanding and performance.  Accordingly, while the C3 Frameworks have emerged in the educational landscape of the Common Core State Standards, they also represent best practice in the Social Studies classroom and allow for the flexibility and autonomy of individual states to determine their respective curriculum standards.  In other words, regardless of what the future holds for the Common Core State Standards, the C3 Frameworks reflect the fundamental practices and values that have always undergirded successful Social Studies teaching and learning.

While Connecticut offers a compelling example of how a vigorous transformation might take place, every state will necessarily encounter different dynamics.  Nevertheless, it must be stated that, in the Connecticut experience, teacher voice remained at the forefront during the entire proceedings.  This must be the case in any other state moving forward with similar goals.  Unquestionably, such a process must be shaped by the input, perspectives, values, and wisdom of expert, professional, experienced practitioners who are attuned to the needs of their students and schools and who understand the multifarious elements at play in their classrooms.  Whatever approach individual states take, and whatever their experiences turn out to be, advocacy efforts and policy movements that impact teachers and students must be driven by the interests and well-being of those must intimately and immediately affected by such change.