THE CURRENT STATE OF SECONDARY SOCIAL STUDIES IN WESTERN NEW YORK
Serure, Dana Faye
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This study explored the current state of secondary social studies in Western New York (WNY) through the lens of social studies orientations, specifically the traditional, disciplinary, and progressive strands (Fallace, 2010), and their alignment with the K-12 Social Studies Framework, approved by NYS's Department of Education in 2014, with new NYS Regents assessments to begin in 2019. It was, therefore, important to collect baseline data on secondary social studies teachers' social studies purpose, practices, and knowledge of NYS reforms. A mixed-method study began in the spring of 2017, which collected data from the WNY S4 survey and two focus groups. Survey participants totaled n = 136, representing six counties in WNY; focus group members totaled n = 9. The WNY S4 replicated survey items from a nationwide instrument, Survey on the Status of Social Studies — S4 (Fitchett & VanFossen, 2013) and analyzed data with descriptive and inferential statistics. The researcher developed a semi-structured interview guide to collect focus group data, which were analyzed by the long-table approach (Krueger & Casey, 2009). Major survey findings were: (1) 99% reported an unawareness of their state/district standards; (2) 100% reported developing critical-thinking skills, while 64% reported content knowledge as primary goals; and (3) top-ranked instructional practices were 87% teach political history; 83% teach social history; and 82% examine sources. Analyses of t-tests indicate gender and grade level-band indicators are influential to instructional practices. For example, female and high school teachers seem to engage students more often in non-history content emphases, such as diversity of religious views, economics, and historiography while also de-emphasizing the lecture; hence aligning more with the disciplinary strand and less with the traditional strand. Focus group results pinpoint a struggle between participants' intentions versus actual practice which may impact alignment to NYS social studies reforms. Misalignment attributed to teacher's purpose being overshadowed by their own instructional choices or outside factors, such as assessments, time, and other school district issues. Five out of nine focus group participants associated with the hybrid disciplinary-progressive approach, suggesting that secondary social studies teachers do not situate themselves to a single social studies orientation; and also consistent with past studies (Long, 2017; Vinson, 1998). Overall, WNY S4 data suggests when purpose and practices are more closely aligned to the disciplinary and progressive approaches, secondary social studies instruction may find greater success with NYS social studies education reforms. In addition, gender and identified grade level-band (middle school and high school) differences provide insights for developing and tailoring professional development for different groups of teachers. Two recommendations for policy and practice include: (1) refine the social studies orientation model into a continuum, and (2) apply the Social Studies Purpose Compass developed by the researcher to guide instructional alignment with NYS social studies reforms.