common knowledge

State releases roadmap for Common Core-aligned social studies

Social studies teachers who want to align their instruction to the Common Core have so far gotten only limited guidance: The new curriculum standards exist only for literacy and math, and a search of the city’s resource library comes up bare.

Now, they are getting a helping hand from the State Education Department, which today released a proposal for revising what is taught in social studies and when.

The department is soliciting feedback on the proposed guidelines, which lay out expectations for social studies teachers and students in kindergarten through eighth-grade, through EngageNY, its teacher resource website. The 85-page draft, which was released this morning, will be submitted to the Board of Regents for approval in October, and would help districts and teachers develop their social studies curriculums for next year and beyond.

The guide to the new standards released today follows the broad contours of the current curriculum, meaning first grade will still be focused on families, and the last two years of middle school will still be spent on American history. But in addition to emphasizing content knowledge, the Common Core “framework” also tells teachers to focus on “key ideas and conceptual understandings,” “unifying themes,” and “practices,” such as chronological reasoning and using evidence. It also offers a detailed chart on how students should be using primary and secondary historical sources to understand and write about the past, reflecting the Common Core’s emphasis on literacy instruction across disciplines.

The framework says it is not meant to give teachers concrete guidance about how and what to teach on a daily basis. That will come later in a practical “field guide.”

New York City is requiring every teacher to deliver some lessons this year that reflect the new standards, which are aimed at boosting college readiness by emphasizing critical thinking and literacy skills. But so far official materials on how to do that have focused on elementary and middle school English and math — the first subjects that will have new, Common Core-aligned tests. This year social studies teachers have been asked to follow the old state standards, and the state tests will not reflect the new standards until 2014.

The city has developed some resources for social studies teachers whose lessons focus on literacy, which can be found in the “new tasks” section of the Common Core library, and promises more are in the works.

Chad Gleason, a social studies teacher at the School of the Future, a secondary school where students are not required to take most state exams required for graduation, said the new standards seem to do a better job of spelling out the skills students and teachers need. However, he is not sure whether the guide will motivate teachers to change their teaching practices.

“There isn’t much to disagree with here,” he said in an email. “Most teacher’s instructional decisions will be driven by the test that is developed rather than this document. To what extent the new assessments are aligned with this framework remains to be seen.”

Gleason also warned that the standards don’t leave much space for teachers to weave contemporary subject matter into their history lessons, even though those subjects can create valuable opportunities for reflection.

“I don’t see much room to study issues that develop after the content standards have been written. This is always one of the challenges with social studies curriculum maps,” he said.

The state’s complete proposed blueprint for social studies instruction in elementary and middle schools is below.

defensor escolar

Memphis parent advocacy group trains first Spanish-speaking cohort

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Manuela Martinez (center left) and Lidia Sauceda (center right) are among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship.

Manuela Martinez doesn’t want Spanish-speaking families to get lost in the fast-changing education landscape in Memphis as the city’s Hispanic population continues to grow.

The mother of two students is among 19 parents in the first Spanish-speaking class of Memphis Lift’s Public Advocate Fellowship, a program that trains parents on local education issues.

“We want to be more informed,” said Martinez, whose children attend Shelby County Schools. “I didn’t know I had much of voice or could change things at my child’s school. But I’m learning a lot about schools in Memphis, and how I can be a bigger part.”

More than 200 Memphians have gone through the 10-week fellowship program since the parent advocacy group launched two years ago. The vast majority have been African-Americans.

The first Spanish-speaking cohort is completing a five-week program this month and marks a concerted effort to bridge racial barriers, said Sarah Carpenter, the organization’s executive director.

“Our mission is to make the powerless parent powerful …,” she said.

The city’s mostly black public schools have experienced a steady growth in Hispanic students since 1992 when only 286 attended the former Memphis City Schools. In 2015, the consolidated Shelby County Schools had 13,816 Hispanic children and teens, or 12.3 percent of the student population.

Lidia Sauceda came to Memphis from Mexico as a child; now she has two children who attend Shelby County Schools. Through Memphis Lift, she is learning about how to navigate Tennessee’s largest district in behalf of her family.

PHOTO: Caroline Bauman
Hispanic parents attend a training with the Memphis Lift fellowship program.

“Latinos are afraid of talking, of standing up,” Sauceda said. “They’re so afraid they’re not going to be heard because of their legal status. But I will recommend this (fellowship) to parents. How do we want our kids to have a better education if we can’t dedicate time?”

The training includes lessons on local school options, how to speak publicly at a school board meeting, and how to advocate for your children if you believe they are being treated unfairly.

The first fellowship was led by Ian Buchanan, former director of community partnership for the state-run Achievement School District. Now the program is taught in-house, and the Spanish-speaking class is being led this month by Carmelita Hernandez, an alumna.

“No matter what language we speak, we want a high-quality education for our kids just like any other parent,” Hernandez said. “A good education leads to better opportunities.”

Stopping summer slide

On National Summer Learning Day, Memphis takes stock of programs for kids

PHOTO: Helen Carefoot
Torrence Echols, a rising first-grader in Memphis, builds a tower with giant legos at the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on National Summer Learning Day.

When it comes to summer learning, it’s been a better year for Memphis, where a range of new programs have helped to stem learning loss that hits hard in communities with a high number of low-income students.

On Thursday, Mayor Jim Strickland celebrated that work in conjunction with National Summer Learning Day and against the backdrop of the children’s reading room of the city’s main library.

He estimated that 10,000 children and teens are being reached this summer through learning programs spearheaded through Shelby County Schools, Literacy Mid-South, Memphis Public Libraries, churches and nonprofit organizations across the community.

That’s a record-breaking number, Strickland says, in a city with a lot of students struggling to meet state and local reading targets.

Summer learning loss, also known as summer slide, is the tendency for students to lose some of the knowledge and skills they gained during the school year. It’s a large contributor to the achievement gap, since children from low-income families usually don’t get the same summer enrichment opportunities as their more affluent peers. Compounded year after year, the gap widens to the point that, by fifth grade, many students can be up to three years behind in math and reading.

But this summer for the first time, Shelby County Schools offered summer learning academies across the city for students most in need of intervention. And Memphis also received a slice of an $8.5 million state grant to provide summer literacy camps at nine Memphis schools through Tennessee’s Read to be Ready initiative.

Literacy Mid-South used Thursday’s event to encourage Memphians to “drop everything and read!”

The nonprofit, which is providing resources this summer through about 15 organizations in Greater Memphis, is challenging students to log 1,400 minutes of summertime reading, an amount that research shows can mitigate learning loss and even increase test scores.

Reading is a problem for many students in Memphis and across Tennessee. Less than a third of third-graders in Shelby County Schools read on grade level, and the district is working to boost that rate to 90 percent by 2025 under its Destination 2025 plan.

The city of Memphis, which does not fund local schools, has made Memphis Public Libraries the focal point of its education work. This summer, the library is offering programs on everything from STEM and robotics to art and test prep.

Parents are a critical component, helping their kids to take advantage of books, programs and services that counter the doldrums of summer learning.

Soon after the mayor left the Benjamin L. Hooks Library on Thursday, Tammy Echols arrived with her son, Torrence, a rising first-grader at Levi Elementary School. Echols said they visit regularly to read books and do computer and math games.

“We always do a lot of reading and we’re working on learning sight words,” Echols said as she watched her son build a tower out of giant Lego blocks. “Torrence is a learning child and it’s easy to forget what you just learned if you’re not constantly reinforcing.”

You can find summer learning resources for families from the National Summer Learning Association.