Plan reduces social studies

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Some teachers in Texas unhappy about possible loss of class

As state officials hammer out details for implementing the education reforms outlined in House Bill 5, a small but significant backlash is beginning to be played out in area school districts.

High school teachers — including a contingent from Lewisville — are asking state and local officials to restore the requirement for four credits of social studies that was scaled back to three under the proposed graduation plan.

“Social studies provides a training ground for 21st century skills,” Amy Harp, a Lewisville High School government and U.S. history teacher, said earlier this month when she addressed the Lewisville school board.

She was one of four Lewisville school district teachers who asked the board to require both world history and world geography for high school students.

Such requests are coming at a time when school districts throughout Texas are preparing to revamp their high school curricula to comply with the new education law that is intended to enhance local control and give students more flexibility.

“Social studies is the only core content area that was cut,” said Teresa Francis, president of the Texas Social Studies Supervisors Association. “That loss has gotten lost in the shuffle with all the other changes with House Bill 5.”

Denton school district officials said they are still evaluating the changes.

“The implementation of HB 5 is broad and complex,” said Denton Superintendent Jamie Wilson, in an e-mail response to questions. “As concerns or issues arise, we will work through them.”

 

‘Diminishing of civic education’

The legislation eliminated the old “four-by-four” plan that required most high school students to take four classes each of English, math, science and social studies, plus some other courses.

It creates multiple pathways to earn a high school diploma and gives students more leeway in choosing their courses, depending on whether they plan to continue their education or join the workforce after graduation.

In November, the State Board of Education approved a draft of the new graduation requirements. It requires only three social studies credits for all new graduation tracks: the 22-credit “foundation” diploma as well as the 26-credit “foundation, plus endorsements” and “distinguished level of achievement” diplomas.

Francis said the Social Studies Supervisors Association, which represents social studies educators across the state, has asked its members to address their school boards or contact their political representatives about restoring the lost credit.

“We are concerned about the diminishing of civic education,” said Francis, who is the kindergarten through 12th grade social studies coordinator for the Mansfield school district.

Despite her concerns, she said Mansfield officials are recommending a 25-credit graduation plan that includes only three social studies credits.

“The reason for the reduction in that one course was to try to give districts more flexibility to design what they call ‘coherent sequences’ in vocational programs,” said Rep. Jimmie Don Aycock, R-Killeen, chairman of the House Education Committee.

Aycock, key sponsor of the education reform bill, said he thinks that many districts will choose to restore the fourth social studies credit but they have flexibility to craft more vocational programs.

 

World perspectives

It’s unclear how many educators are following the lead of the Lewisville school district teachers in taking their concerns directly to school board members.

The teachers told trustees that world history and world geography help young minds develop critical-thinking and writing skills, and that both courses are necessary in today’s global economy.

Generally, world geography is a freshman class and sophomores take world history. Under the proposed rules, students will choose between the two courses.

“Just because they both have the word ‘world’ in them doesn’t mean they can be substituted for one another,” said Erika Lowery, who teaches at the Lewisville High School — Harmon Campus.

She said one provides an understanding of geography while the other gives students the necessary historical prospective to understand current events.

“They complement one another,” said Lowery, a recipient of the 2013 Distinguished Teaching Award from the National Council for Geographic Education.

The teachers’ pleas may be fueled by another concern: If fewer social studies courses are required, fewer teachers will be needed.

“There’s not going to be any job loss related to this,” said Dr. Kevin Rogers, chief operating officer for the Lewisville school district. “If we have to shift staffing, we’ll do that. Three years from now, if we need a few less social studies teachers, we’ll do that through attrition.”

 

Awaiting a final decision

For now, school district officials have more pressing concerns.

Students usually begin selecting next year’s high school classes after the first of the year, but the State Board of Education isn’t slated to finalize graduation requirements until its Jan. 28-31 meeting.

Some local school boards are waiting until then to draft their own requirements. They can’t change any of the state’s mandated courses but can require additional ones.

The Lewisville school board has scheduled that critical vote for its Jan. 13 meeting.

“We hope the board will take action so we can start providing some counseling on course selection for next year,” Rogers said. “We can’t drag this out until March. [Students] normally start registering in February.”

The school district’s House Bill 5 Committee, which includes administrators, teachers, parents and students, has provided some recommendations for the board.

Members agreed that English IV and speech should be options for students, not required courses. But they were split on whether or not to require algebra II, world history and world geography.

When the time comes to vote, trustees will have to decide if they will add to the required course load and remove some of the choices for students.

“[Lawmakers] wrote it to create some flexibility for students,” Rogers said. “The question is: Do you take away some of that flexibility?”

Teacher Amy Hart said that’s a tough decision.

“That’s what I’ve had to wrestle with myself,” she said. “I would say that global citizenship trumps the flexibility piece.”

Denton Record-Chronicle staff writer Britney Tabor contributed to this report.

 

Proposed graduation requirements

House Bill 5 created flexibility for high school graduates to pursue college or a career. It will be effective for students who will be freshmen during the 2014-15 school year. The State Board of Education is slated to finalize graduation requirements in January. The Texas Education Agency (www.tea.state.tx.us) is now accepting public comments on the proposals:

FOUNDATION ONLY

4 credits English

3 credits math

3 credits science

3 credits social studies

2 credits world language or computer programming

1 credit physical education

1 credit fine arts

5 credits of electives

TOTAL: 22 credits

FOUNDATION, PLUS ENDORSEMENTS

(STEM - science, technology, engineering, math; business/technology; public services; arts/humanities; multidisciplinary studies)

4 credits English

4 credits math

4 credits science

3 credits social studies

2 credits world language or computer programming

1 credit physical education

1 credit fine arts

7 credits in electives

TOTAL: 26 credits

DISTINGUISHED LEVEL OF ACHIEVEMENT

4 credits English

4 credits math

4 credits science

3 credits social studies

2 credits world language or computer programming

1 credit physical education

1 credit fine arts

7 credits in electives

TOTAL: 26 credits

Sources: Texas Education Agency, Lewisville ISD


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