An inquirED Blog

Making the Case For Elementary Social Studies: District Leaders

Updated: Sep 27, 2021

Graphic for one of inquirED's webinars: elementary social studies curriculum adoption

Scroll to the bottom of this blog post for a link to this webinar recording about elementary social studies curriculum adoption. This blog post and the associated webinar are part of a series sponsored by the inquirED and the National Council for the Social Studies.


Elementary Social Studies Matters

It's been a lonely fight for elementary social studies advocates since No Child Left Behind. After NCLB, schools focused their efforts on reading and math instruction to improve their standardized test scores. As a result, instructional time for social studies dramatically decreased - and in some cases - disappeared altogether.

Today, however, there is a movement growing around the country — in classrooms and district offices, in legislatures and living rooms — to bring elementary social studies curriculum back to our schools. This movement is being driven by a number of factors. In earlier blog posts, we examined how social studies instruction improves reading comprehension outcomes and how it builds background knowledge essential for future success. Those are important reasons to bring back social studies.

Perhaps more important, though, are the changes that are happening in the world outside the classroom, which can be understood through the type of learning that only social studies can provide.

According to our webinar guest Ellen Gilchrist, Executive Director of the Office of Social Studies in Detroit Public Schools, the twin crises of COVID and systemic racism were a wake-up call for social studies instruction. "If we don't teach social studies now," Gilchrist said during the webinar, "when are we going to do it? If we don't teach it now, we are failing our students."

Nearly 800 miles away from Detroit, in Olathe Public Schools, a large suburban district outside of Kansas City, Kansas, one of our other webinar guests, Dr. Tina Ellsworth, feels that same urgency.

As K-12 Social Studies Coordinator at Olathe, she sees the ongoing demographic shift happening across the US as a compelling reason to bring back elementary social studies. She reflected: "By 2040 it's predicted there will be no single racial group that will make up the majority of our country...we need to be intentional about knowing each other's histories and honoring them."

Our final webinar guest, Heather Van Benthuysen, Director of Social Science and Civic Engagement at Chicago Public Schools, connected the renewed call for social studies to the fact that it centers the teaching of powerful practices. "Social science is critical for preparing young people to be powerful and engaged civic actors" she stated, "...the foundational knowledge for that happens in social science."