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Open Access Publications from the University of California

What to Teach? An examination of content decisions among social studies teachers in California

  • Author(s): Hartman, Curtis James
  • Advisor(s): Anderson-Levitt, Kathryn
  • McDonough, Patricia
  • et al.

When the standards reform movement was introduced, researchers postulated the dual methods of rigorous standards and assessment to measure performance on those standards. Through the early part of the 21st century, the standards corpus has grown, and so too have the accompanying testing regimes (Delandshere and Arens, 2001). However, in California, the social studies standards landscape has grown, but measurement via testing was abandoned in 2013. In 2016, the state launched the curriculum framework, a document intended to clarify and harmonize, but not replace, the 1998 content standards and the 2010 Common Core standards that govern social studies instruction in California. Given the lack of any assessment, how are teachers incorporating the new standards guidance, along with older standards guidance, and making content decisions about what to teach?

For this qualitative comparative case study analysis, I interviewed fourteen teachers at two large, urban, comprehensive high schools in Southern California to determine how these teachers were using standards documents in planning, and how these teachers generally make content decisions. Interviews revealed that this sample of teachers have not adopted the 2016 Curriculum Framework into their practices, nor are they consulting the underlying standards in their planning and assessment. Instead, the teachers interviewed overwhelmingly relied on textbooks, professional content creators, and the College Board to make content decisions for their courses.

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