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Vantage Point: From the Executive Officer
Sally T. Hillsman,
Council Approves Disciplinary Standards for High School Sociology
It has been a long, sometimes difficult road for sociology that began over 100 years ago when sociology was first taught in high schools. But at its August 26, 2015, meeting in Chicago, Council unanimously approved National Standards for High School Sociology.
The ASA standards represent the culmination of decades of work by sociologists and high school teachers collaborating to advance sociology at the secondary level. Intensive work over the past 18 months by members of the ASA High School Planning Program team and Advisory Board during more than 40 meetings produced the final sections and topical areas of the high school standards document approved by Council. The goal was to develop standards that would appropriately convey the essential aspects of the discipline at the secondary level, be widely acceptable, and be fundamentally useful to high school teachers. Council’s vote to adopt these standards and have them promulgated by ASA is of central importance to our discipline for many reasons, but there are three that make this action by ASA of vital importance today.
First, standards-based education has become the accepted best-practice in secondary education in the United States. “If sociologists want educators to take their high school presence seriously, we must work within the existing structure and consider current educational reform movements—namely, standards-based education” (Andriot 2007). Standards are specific shared learning goals; they are not a specific curriculum. Identifying shared learning goals for a discipline at the secondary level is essential to developing effective and meaningful assessment of student learning outcomes across a variety of approaches to curriculum and course development by individual teachers and departments. This process can lead to improvements in educational practices to increase learning. For this reason, standards-based education is also referred to as evidence-based education by the National Science Foundation. In approving the ASA National Standards for High School Sociology, Council communicated its support of high-quality, evidence-based sociology education at the secondary level.
High school teachers of sociology have expressed an urgent need for discipline-specific standards that have been developed by disciplinary experts. The teachers who have been calling ASA regularly for a number of years asking where they can find the high school sociology standards on our website have been dismayed to learn that there were no standards—until now.
Second, high school teachers of sociology have expressed an urgent need for discipline-specific standards that have been developed by disciplinary experts. The teachers who have been calling ASA regularly for a number of years asking where they can find the high school sociology standards for sociology on our website have been dismayed to learn that there were no standards—until now. Most high school teachers today are expected to be able to demonstrate to administrators how their courses satisfy the national standards established for their discipline. Many disciplinary organizations have already developed and published standards, including (but not limited to) psychology, geography, civics, economics, and history. In the absence of standards for high school sociology, states have been doing so in our place, typically without disciplinary experts. Eleven states already include standards for sociology within their social studies standards (Andriot 2007), and a 12th state, Illinois, is currently engaged in a process to do so. Indiana, which has had sociology standards for some time, is currently attempting to revise them. In approving the ASA National Standards for High School Sociology, Council responded directly to the expressed needs of high school teachers in our discipline while also providing crucial guidance for state departments of education.
Third, our ongoing efforts to advance sociology at the post-secondary level will be greatly aided by a stronger presence for sociology at the high school level. Although sociology was first taught at the high school level more than 100 years ago (Decesare 2005), early sociologists tended to be more interested in studying schools as social institutions than engaging in efforts to develop secondary-level curricula or content. As a result, sociology was excluded from the definition of social studies at the K-12 level even though there was always a close relationship between sociology and the topics typically examined in social studies classes (Hertzberg 1981).
Most students do not even see the word “sociology” during their education until they arrive in college. That sociology is not a “destination major” has negative implications for the number of college sociology majors. The severely limited evidence of well established “regular” sociology classes in high schools has stymied the discipline’s efforts to get the College Board to establish an Advance Placement (AP) Sociology course. The ASA High School Planning Team and its Advisory Board were pleased to read in ASA President-Elect Lamont’s candidate statement that she intended to “reinitiate efforts to create high school Advanced Placement sociology courses and support ASA staff in developing K-12 sociology programs.” In approving the ASA National Standards for High School Sociology, Council laid the groundwork for long sought advances for our discipline, including a potential AP course.
Hayley Lotspeich, ASA High School Planning Team Director, and Chris Salituro, Assistant Director, both high school sociology teachers, came to the Hilton Chicago to personally present the proposed standards to ASA Council. After their presentation and some additional Q&A, Council voted unanimously to pass the ASA National Standards for High School Sociology. When the votes were in, Kathleen Gerson, ASA Vice-President Elect, commented, “This may have been the most important thing we do here today.” I couldn’t agree more.
- Andriot, Angie L. 2007. “A Comparative Analysis of Existing Standards for High School Sociology Curricula.” Teaching Sociology 35(1):17-30.
- DeCesare, Michael. 2005. “The High School Sociology Teacher.” Teaching Sociology 33(x):345-354.
- Hertzberg, Hazel Whitman. 1981. Social Studies Reform 1880-1980. A Project SPAN Report. Boulder, CO: Social Science Education Consortium, Inc.
Sally T. Hillsman is the Executive Officer of ASA. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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