California is using the C3 Social Studies Framework

On Friday, California Governor Jerry Brown signed SB 897 into law.  The bill requires the Instructional Quality Commission (IQC), “upon the next revision of the history-social science framework and the state content standards, to consider whether and how to incorporate the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards.” California’s legislation follows similar recent developments in Illinois and other states.

As one author of the “C3,” I am biased in its favor. I believe that its relatively short and broad framework is an antidote to the miscellaneous and incoherent standards documents that most states have created. Social studies standards tend to accumulate, because state departments of education and legislatures have incentives to add any topic that someone considers important. If, for example, they fail to list 9/11 in their standards, they can be accused of not caring about 9/11. As a result, standards become unrealistically long and miscellaneous. There are bills currently pending in California to require the study of Hinduism and the importance of Barack Obama’s 2008 election. I have no particular objection to either topic but do object to this method of writing standards, one additional legal mandate at a time. Using the “C3” would permit a reset.

More important to me, personally, is the fourth (of four) “dimensions” in the C3 framework: “Communicating Conclusions and Taking Informed Action.” The ideal is for students to learn to be good citizens by actually working as citizens, even if that is only within their classrooms or online rather than in their communities. If communication and action become pillars of social studies education in major states, we may see significant changes in how students spend school time, what they learn, how they are assessed, how future teachers are prepared, and what materials and tools (such as software) are developed for the social studies market.