History and social studies remain an academic core subject in the Boston Public Schools says Interim Superintendent McDonough

Dear Friends,

Below is an official response from John McDonough, Interim Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools, pertaining to online rumors that Boston Public Schools was eliminating the History and Social Studies department:

There is a lot of misinformation circulating online and I want to set the record straight.
History and Social Studies is remaining as a single Department. It is not being eliminated
or folded into English Language Arts, which is also its own department and sits alongside
History and Social Studies in our organizational structure. Both are crucial. They will
remain as distinct departments, just as they do today.

History and Social Studies teachers will continue to teach History and Social Studies in our
schools. Despite what you may have heard, English teachers are not being asked to take
over the teaching of History and Social Studies.

Instead, we are improving and coordinating the use of instructional materials throughout all
subject areas. This means we will improve our ability to support English teachers who wish
to take advantage of historical lessons in their classes, and for History and Social Studies
teachers who wish to take advantage of literature that frames an understanding of
historical content. This is different than eliminating one course and asking another subject
to take it over. This is about coordinating our curriculum at all levels and connecting the
dots for students. To help us do this successfully, we are bringing these areas together
under the Humanities umbrella. This allows us to maintain separate History and Social
Studies, English Language Arts and World Languages departments while aligning
ourselves academically to promote interdisciplinary cross-collaboration. This was one of
the major recommendations offered in the Academics review we requested this spring
from the Council of the Great City Schools.

We could have done a better job explaining our thinking from the start. Some of the
confusion may have come from an earlier decision to hire an assistant director for History
and Social Studies. This did not lead to a clear understanding of our priorities and mission,
so we have decided to make that position a Director-level position. Our History and Social
Studies Department will have the right staffing support to be successful.

Let me be very clear: History and Social Studies remain a vital part of our organization
both centrally and in our schools, as do the community partnerships in these areas that our
students enjoy. History and Social Studies teachers will continue to provide a core element
of instruction for students in History and Social Studies courses. It is not being folded into
ELA. ELA is a different department.

We all share the same mission: to eliminate achievement gaps. Only by ensuring every
student clearly understands our past and the present can he or she truly help build a great
future. This means all students must have access to geography, economics, government,
history, civics and much more. All students must develop an understanding of civic
engagement, cultural awareness and have the tools to think critically about our community.
We value all of these things and – especially based on some of the online feedback we
have seen — we know you do, too.

History and Social Studies instruction is not going anywhere in BPS. The History and
Social Studies Department is not being eliminated or folded into English Language Arts. I
am sorry that so much misinformation has circulated so quickly online. I hope this helps us
correct the record so we can move forward.

John McDonough
Interim Superintendent

When I first learned of this rumor weeks ago, I was alarmed and very disappointed… especially when the NCSS Annual Conference was coming to Boston for the first time in 35+ years this November! But once I learned this was not the case, I was relieved.

However, there are school districts in Massachusetts that are seriously considering to place social studies within the purview of the ELA department and call it Humanities, or have already taken such matters. That practice will only continue unless social studies is given the level of importance and respect equal to ELA, math and science. So, while somewhat relieved, I remained very concerned on the continued direction of the state of history and social studies in this state and the nation.

Like many of you, I am still not convinced that by simply incorporating history and social studies in the ELA Common Core standards gives any prominence to social studies, even though it is better than having no presence at all. Our children are still not learning history and social studies as it ought to be studied and learned. The PARCC assessments do not measure students deep understanding of history and social studies, for that is not the main intent of the assessments.

I recently had a conversation with an elementary teacher who expressed that it was not necessary to teach history in the elementary grades because children, she felt, should really learn how to read and write first before learning any kind of content.  I countered that learning history content enhances children’s abilities to read, listen, speak and write (communicate) and that a significant exposure of history content, concepts and themes allow children to better comprehend and understand what they are reading as well as providing them content knowledge to communicate (in writing and speaking); in other words, what to write about. The teacher advocated for literacy skills, while I argued that children are better served when they can acquire both content knowledge and literacy skills at the same time. We limit our children when we only teach them how to read and write, but we also want them to think critically and creatively as well, which is what history and social studies can offer more easily than in other academic core subjects.

Each and every one of us should consider inviting superintendents and principals (especially elementary principals), members of school committees, and our national, state, and local representatives to NCSS and future conferences so they can witness and learn what history and social studies can do to enhance critical thinking, literacy skills, intellectual knowledge, and civic mindedness and responsibility.

Gorman Lee, Ed.D.

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