The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Review of the Draft Revised Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework

Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
Jeff Wulfson, Acting Commissioner
January 12, 2018

This memorandum provides an overview of the proposed revisions to the 2003 Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework in preparation for additional discussion of this topic at the meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education (Board) on January 23, 2018. At the Board meeting of November 28, 2017, the Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (Department) introduced an abbreviated draft of the framework. At the January 23 meeting, the Department will provide an overview of the full draft of the revised framework and I will recommend that the Board vote to send it out for public comment.

The framework includes learning standards that outline the expectations for what students should know and be able to do, as well as other material such as the vision and guiding principles designed to support effective instruction. The current timeline calls for the Board to discuss and vote on adoption of the final revised standards contained in the framework at the June 26, 2018 meeting.

Enclosed with this memo is the proposed Public Comment Draft of the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework as well as a summary of the main changes and the scope and sequence in the revised framework.

Framework Review Process and Priorities

The Department launched the review in July 2016 with the goal of completing the process in June 2018, following which the Department would disseminate the updated framework to schools, support its implementation, and develop a statewide assessment of the learning standards contained in the framework. The review is now in Phase 3 of the six-phase process, as outlined in an attachment to this memo.

The Department solicited public input on the 2003 framework through an online survey, inviting respondents to comment on issues including the usefulness of the framework in supporting curriculum and instruction, appropriateness of the number and level of detail of the standards, and the rigor of the standards.

The Department also convened the History and Social Science Curriculum Framework Review Panel consisting of K-12 teachers, department heads and curriculum coordinators, K-12 administrators, and higher education faculty to make recommendations for the revision of the framework. The members provided content knowledge and expertise in teaching various ages and populations of students, including those with disabilities and English learners. They also represented the regions of the Commonwealth, types of districts (e.g. urban, suburban, rural), types of schools (including charter and vocational-technical schools), and professional organizations. The panel met six times from January to November 2017. The introduction to the Public Comment Draft of the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework includes a list of all panel members.

In recent months, Department has engaged a group of higher education faculty and others with content expertise in order to review the accuracy of the content in the revised framework and ensure that it reflects the latest scholarship. The current draft of the framework reflects comments from many of them, but the review by this Content Advisors group is ongoing.

Based on input from the History and Social Science Curriculum Framework Review Panel and findings from the public survey and other sources, the priorities for the revision of the 2003 framework are to:

The intent is to address these priorities while minimizing disruption to existing curricula and improving the rigor, clarity and coherence of the framework.

Focus on Civics Education

In response to concerns among educators, the Board, the Legislature and others, the Public Comment Draft of the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework includes the following changes to address civics education:

  1. A new full year course at Grade 8 provides a thorough study of civics.
    The course includes the philosophical roots of democratic and republican forms of government, the founding principles and institutions of U.S. democracy, how and why it has developed over time, the role of individuals in maintaining a healthy democracy, and the structure and functions of state and local government in Massachusetts.

  2. The Introduction and Appendices emphasize civics content.

    • Introduction - The introduction to the framework includes a Vision Statement, an essay excerpted from the 2003 Framework, and a new section, "A Renewed Mission: Education for Civic Life in a Democracy" to highlight the focus on civics.
    • Guiding Principles - New Guiding Principles explicitly address civic knowledge and skills such as the legacy of democratic government, civic and historical perspectives, study of current events, data analysis, and media literacy.
    • Standards for History and Social Science Practice, Pre-K-12 - These standards serve the same function as the practice standards included in the 2017 Massachusetts Mathematics Curriculum Framework and the 2016 Massachusetts Science, Technology/Engineering Curriculum Framework. In this case, they emphasize aspects of civic learning and describe the research process in history, geography, civics, and economics.
    • Appendices - New appendices offer a chronology of Massachusetts policy initiatives to bring greater focus on civic education as well as provide primary sources and other resources related to civics and government.
  3. The standards at each grade level or high school course integrate civics content.
    New Standards for History and Social Science Practice, Pre-K-12, address civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions. Grade-level Content Standards that address civics include:

    • Pre-K-2: citizenship in the classroom, school, and community
    • Grades 3-5: the development of Massachusetts government, the geography of the United States and the history of the admission of states into the nation, principles of U.S. government, civil rights
    • Grades 6-8: the development of codes of religious and civil law in ancient civilizations; historical roots of democracy in classical Greece and Rome; civics in the United States, Massachusetts, and local government
    • U. S. History I and II: the evolution of the Constitution and citizen participation in government
    • World History I and II: the growth of the nation state, the impact of social and intellectual movements on civic life
    • United States Government and Politics: case studies of issues related to the balance of individual rights vs. the common good, the role of political parties, interest groups, and media
    • Economics: the role of government and citizens in a market economy, economic decision-making, and regulation

Challenge Students to Deepen their Understanding of the Content

History and social science disciplines provide many opportunities for students to be analytical thinkers who discover the relevance of ideas, events, and people from the past to their own lives while gaining new understanding of what factors over time have shaped the contemporary world. As the introduction to the 2003 framework noted, teaching history and civics as "just another…parade of facts" diminishes its larger significance. In response to comments from the public survey, the revised framework helps students to see the relevance of history and social science and strengthen their conceptual understanding. It supports greater rigor, clarity, and coherence, as follows:

  1. Revised standards improve rigor, clarity, and coherence across the grades.

    • Edited Content Standards reflect current scholarship, require greater depth of analysis and evaluation of concepts, and provide additional context for clarity.
    • Standards for History/Social Science Practice, Pre-K-12 encompass the elements of the research process, and encourage analysis, comparison, and evaluation of sources.
    • Sample questions at each grade support conceptual learning and inquiry.
    • Instructional examples and references to primary sources at each grade set clear and challenging expectations for teaching and learning.
    • Standards for Literacy in History and Social Science, by grade band, Pre-K-K, 1-2, 3-5, 6-8, 9-10, 11-12, make explicit connections to expectations for reading, writing, speaking, and listening in history and social science.
    • Introductory pages within the Standards provide increased coherence. New sections at the beginning of the elementary, middle, and high school grades provide an overview for teachers of those grades and suggestions for implementing the standards flexibly. At each grade level, a new "Looking Back/Looking Ahead" feature on the grade introductory page provides connections to content studied in previous grades and content to come in later grades.
  2. The new Guiding Principles emphasize rigor, clarity, and coherence.

    • Guiding Principles address the development of the ability to reason well, the importance of historical thinking, the role of history and social science in improving reading comprehension, the use of data analysis in history/social science research, and the connections to social and emotional learning in the history and social science curriculum.
  3. The Appendices support high expectations that all students will explore history and social science in depth. The appendices:

    • address the applicability of the standards for English Learners and Students with Disabilities (Appendix A);
    • provide a research-based explanation of the importance of inquiry for student growth in learning (Appendix B);
    • present updated and annotated primary sources aligned to the standards for United States and World History, setting the expectation that students will read and view challenging materials and encounter divergent perspectives on historical events (Appendices D through F);
    • provide an annotated list of digital resources, greatly expanded from the list in the 2003 framework and reflecting the richness of open-source digital curriculum materials and primary sources for the humanities that have become available since 2003 (Appendix G);
    • provide an updated annotated list of Massachusetts and New England museums, historical societies, and archives to encourage students' and teachers' exploration of local cultural resources in person and online (Appendix H).

Anticipated Next Steps

At the Board meeting on January 23, 2018, Senior Associate Commissioner Heather Peske and other members of the staff will present an overview of the revised framework and respond to your questions. I recommend that the Board vote this month to invite public comment on the draft revised framework. The Department will conduct the comment period via a public survey while also gaining input through video conferences, in-person presentations, and discussions with stakeholders that will take place on a regional basis, in coordination with the Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies. Information regarding the revision of the framework, including access to the public survey and information on outreach events.

Over the next few months, the Department will review comments received during the public comment period, revise the draft framework as needed, and then present the final version to the Board for further discussion and a vote on whether to adopt it, in June 2018.

The Department looks forward to gaining additional input to ensure that the revised Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework supports effective teaching and learning and provides effective preparation for civic life for all students in the Commonwealth.


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Powerpoint Draft Revised History & Social Science Curriculum Framework
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Plan and Timeline for Review of 2003 MA History and Social Science Curriculum Framework
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Highlights of the Public Comment Draft of the MA History and Social Science Curriculum Framework
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Public Comment Draft of the Massachusetts History and Social Science Curriculum Framework
Motion to invite public comment