By ADAM DeLAY
Capital News Service
Oct. 2, 2009
LANSING – As Michigan continues to struggle with a poor economy, some teachers say students need to be able to better understand the world around them.
“This is a perfect time to stress such things as economics, which is something that social studies does,” said Tom Webb of St. Johns, president of the Michigan Council of the Social Studies.
“It creates an informed citizenry. I think to be informed in economics, geography, and government is essential to our future.”
But a proposed change to the Michigan Educational Assessment Program (MEAP) has left some experts fearing a loss of focus on social studies.
Sen. Michael Switalski, D-Roseville, has introduced two bills that would remove the social studies sections of the sixth and ninth grade tests.
MEAP tests, which all public school students in grades three through nine take, currently cover math, science, reading, writing, English and language arts and social studies.
Switalski said he wants to remove the social studies section to save the state money.
“Unfortunately, we are very short of money,” he said. “Each social studies test costs about $1 million to administer, and so by removing it for sixth and ninth grades we could save around $2 million.”
Switalski said he’s proposing to remove social studies because other subjects can’t be taken off the test.
“The social studies test is the only one not required by the federal government, so that’s the only one we can remove,” he said.
Webb, who is a part-time professor at Walden University Online and a former social studies teacher at Fulton Middle School in Middleton, says the proposed removal of social studies is unfair.
“We’re definitely opposed to it,” he said. “I don’t understand why it’s being cut as opposed to other core subjects.”
Webb said elimination of social studies may lead to a lack of focus on the subject among teachers.
“I’m afraid that it may become devalued,” he said. “When it’s not tested, the emphasis on social studies is decreased.”
Other education experts, however, say they’re not worried.
For example, Gary Wegenke, dean of the College of Education and Human Development at Western Michigan University, said he’s skeptical that the proposed removal would hurt social studies.
“I don’t think we’ll see a loss of social studies in schools,” he said. “There are other courses being taught that are not tested and they’re still being taught,” Wegenke said.
Iris Salters, president of the Michigan Education Association, noted that some school subjects are disappearing from the classroom because of schools’ focus on the MEAP.
MEA is the state’s largest union of teachers and other public school staff.
“What we have seen in this state is that we have a core content geared around the MEAP. We have seen an elimination of non-core content such as fine arts and physical education,” Salters said.
“There are those that feel that this will lead to a loss of social studies as core content,” she said.
Switalski said that as a required subject, social studies won’t disappear from the classroom.
“We added it as a curriculum requirement, which means every student has to take it, and I would say that shows a pretty significant dedication to it,” he said.
And Wegenke said that although some subjects are vulnerable because they fall outside the core curriculum, social studies should be safe.
“I think folks at the public schools level understand the importance of the subject,” he said.
The bills are pending in the Senate Education Committee.
© 2009, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism. Not to be reproduced without permission.