I spent yesterday working on final drafts of the Kansas state social studies standards. It’s been a very interesting ride. We believe that the document that has developed over the last year or so is a good one – one that focuses on historical thinking skills rather than just the memorizing of foundational content. It incorporates a wide variety of discipline specific habits of mind and Common Core literacy skills.

The problem?

Well, there are several problems actually. There will be tons of in-service training needed to help classroom teachers understand and integrate historical thinking skills into their instruction. There will need to be a huge shift in the design and implementation of the state assessments. And I’m pretty sure those won’t get solved any time this week.

So the real problem we dealt with yesterday?

Should we incorporate the soon to be released national social studies standards? If yes, how to do that? Technically the national standards are called the College, Career, and Civic Life Framework for Inquiry in Social Studies State Standards. Or CCCLFISSSS, for short.

Okay. CCCLFISSSS is my own personal shortcut. I think most people just call them the C3 Standards. But I would argue that my version is way more fun to say.

Anyway . . . about two years ago, the Council of Chief State School Officers decided to create a national set of Social Studies standards along the lines of the Common Core State Standards.

A good idea in theory, I suppose.

More difficult in practice. The standards were scheduled to be released last month at the National Council for the Social Studies national conference. But nope. Delayed until next spring. Maybe May. Maybe never.

The idea was to focus on doing and thinking and habits of mind and all of the things we know are good for kids to be able to do, not the content of history and geography and economics and all of the things kids can Google any time they want. The last two years have been spent working to create a framework of social studies skills rather than a true set of standards. And based on research and current best practice, this was the way to go.

The forthcoming framework, to be released in 2013, will be a significant resource for all states to consider in their local processes for upgrading state social studies standards, rather than set standards for states to adopt.

But it sounds like there is now pressure to add specific content to the document, to make the document a set of actual standards rather than a framework on which individual states / districts / teachers could hang their own content.


More content doesn’t mean more learning. It usually means more memorizing, more “covering” of stuff, less retention, less engagement. It usually means kids who can’t solve problems, who can’t think in deep ways, who will find success in the 21st century difficult.


Since the Framework isn’t actually done, we can’t incorporate their thinking into our document. We’ve been hoping to use the Framework as it was originally designed – as a sort of Velcro that we could use to hang our own stuff on.

The CCSSO did release what they are calling a Vision of their standards. And the Vision does provide a glimpse of what all of the fuss has been about.

  • Developing Questions and Planning Investigations
    Students will develop questions as they investigate societal issues, trends, and events.
  • Applying Disciplinary Concepts and Tools
    Students will analyze societal issues, trends, and events by applying concepts and tools from civics, economics, geography, and history.Dimension 3. Gathering, Evaluating, and Using Evidence
  • Gathering, Evaluating, and Using Evidence
    Students will work toward conclusions about societal issues, trends, and events by collecting evidence and evaluating its usefulness in developing causal explanations.
  • Working Collaboratively and Communicating Conclusions
    Students will draw on knowledge and skills to work individually and collaboratively to conclude their investigations into societal issues, trends, and events.

And so we spent the morning yesterday looking at our document and asking ourselves whether or not these Dimensions are reflected in our document. We walked away thinking, yep, pretty close.

But we’ve gone back and forth between the balance between skills and content. What does a 21st century grade level social studies document look like? We compromised, just so you know. The original thinking included no place for content. Our actual standards consist simply of broad themes:

  • Choices have consequences
  • Individuals have rights and responsibilities
  • Societies are shaped by beliefs, ideas and diversity
  • Societies experience continuity and change over time
  • Relationships among people, places, ideas, and environments are dynamic

The planned social studies state assessment will measure student knowledge of these broad themes and their ability to use historical thinking skills to demonstrate their knowledge. To help teachers, we created a document titled Best Practices and Literacy Expectations. (And are working to create a detailed Skills document with examples.)

But the compromise is that we also created specific grade level documents that suggest possible instructional content. This content is not mandated or required and is provided as a planning guide for districts and teachers, not as a list of testable items. Most of these grade level documents contain only a simple chart consisting of a minimum number of Ideas, People, Places, and Events. (If you look, you’ll notice that the K-4 pieces a bit more detailed.)

The good news? We believe we’re headed down the same path that the CCCLFISSSS / C3 people have been heading down. We’ve got more editing to do (especially the different unit narrative pieces) but we think we’re getting close.

I’ve posted PDFs below of what we’ve finished so far. if you’re interested. Remember that the grade level docs are not the standards, simply suggested content that teachers might use to help kids grapple with the broad themes outlined in the actual standards. Find those in the Mission, Purpose, and Standards document.

We’re planning on presenting the final document to the state board in March. I would be very curious to know what you think.

Download Mission, Purpose, and Standards
Download Kindergarten
Download 1st Grade
Download 2nd Grade
Download 3rd Grade
Download 4th Grade
Download 5th Grade
Download 6th Grade
Download 7th Grade Geography
Download 7th Grade Kansas History
Download 8th Grade U.S. History
Download High School Geography
Download High School World History
Download High School U.S. History
Download High School U.S. Government
Download High School Economics
Download High School Psychology