January 2012 Issue • Volume 40 • Issue 1

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Starting a Discussion with
200+ High School Teachers of Sociology


Margaret Weigers Vitullo, ASA Academic and Professional Affairs Program, and Jean H. Shin, ASA Minority Affairs Program

At a recent presentation on teaching sociology in high schools at the 2011 National Council of Social Studies annual conference in Washington, DC, Hayley Lotspeich, the ASA High School Program Planning Director, and her co-presenter Chris Salituro asked the audience how many of them were the only person teaching sociology at their high school. The overwhelming majority of hands went up. High school teachers of sociology often lack colleagues with whom to share ideas, ask questions, or otherwise collaborate.

One of the over arching goals of the new ASA High School initiative is to build a grassroots network of high school sociology teachers. This new initiative offers benefits directly to individual high school teachers—who are able to join the ASA for $60 through a special promotional discount. This represents a change from the past High School Affiliates Program, which viewed the school as the recipient of benefits. Current benefits include: a free subscription to TRAILS, a subscription to Contexts, and discounts on publications in the Teaching Resources Center, a quarterly newsletter (edited by the planning program director), and access to a one-day High School Teachers of Sociology Conference held during the ASA Annual Meeting.

If we are successful in building a network of high school teachers of sociology, it could become a source of professional support and collegiality for teachers who might otherwise be isolated. It might even become a vehicle that high school teachers of sociology can use to mobilize in their own collective interests on projects like advocating with the College Board to establish an AP course and test in sociology. 

Toward this end, a discussion listserv has been established that anyone with interest in high school sociology can join. An invitation to join the listserv, with instructions on how to do so, is posted on the ASA website on the page devoted to high school sociology (www.asanet.org/teaching/HighSchool.cfm). The list currently has 235 subscribers, including high school teachers and faculty in post-secondary institutions who are interested in supporting high school sociology. Recent posts have included links to useful resources such as Sociological Images (thesocietypages.org/socimages/) and the Implicit Association Test for racial preferences (implicit.harvard.edu/implicit/). High School teachers have also used the list to express their sense of isolation. One teacher posted, “Sociology is offered at my school because I initiated it four years ago, and like many other teachers on the listserv, I know no one else in this area who teaches sociology.”  Posts have also expressed pride in students’ accomplishments: “Here is one story told to me by a student who came back to visit during her first college winter break: ‘I’ve been tutoring my whole [dorm] floor in sociology. I’m not actually taking it… but I already know everything from your class...’  [W]e in the sociology ‘diaspora’ are sending students to colleges with the necessary skills to tackle social and behavioral science courses.”  And another post suggests that efforts to bridge high school and post-secondary sociology are being felt. “I have watched the sociology community begin to embrace the high school level and it has been exciting and rewarding to have so much support and effort enabling teachers to get materials that were never available before.”

A network of high school teachers
could become a source of professional
support and collegiality for teachers
who might otherwise be isolated.

College Credit for High School Sociology: CLEP

High school sociology teachers also have been frustrated by the lack of an AP exam in sociology. In spite of the concerted effort by an ASA task force, established in 2001, the College Board has refused to create an advanced placement course for the discipline. But it turns out there is an alternative pathway for high school students to receive college credit for their studies in sociology.

CLEP is a credit-by-examination program offered by the College Board. The CLEP Exam program began in 1967 and the Introductory Sociology exam was introduced no later than 1984. Since it was first offered, 62,596 Introductory Sociology CLEP exams have been taken. In 2009 the test was taken 9,179 times, and in 2010 it was taken 8,329 times. CLEP currently has two forms of their exams—a computer-based exam and a paper and pencil exam—however, CLEP is beginning to phase-out the paper and pencil format.

Colleges and universities set their own policies regarding recognition of CLEP. They also determine minimum acceptable scores for granting college credit; a score of 50 is a common cut-off point. CLEP exams are graded on a 20-80 point scale. There are currently 1,358 post-secondary institutions that accept the computer-based exam. The CLEP website offers a search function to determine if a particular college or university accepts the exam for credit, and to see that institution’s required minimal score.

High School Teachers of Sociology Conference at the 2012 Annual Meeting

Another opportunity for high school teachers and their allies to meet and share ideas will occur during the half-day High School Teachers of Sociology Conference, held during the 2012 ASA Annual Meeting. Denver will be the site for the second of what we hope will become an annual event. In Las Vegas this past August, approximately 30 high school teachers, school district administrators, and other interested sociologists came together for the first of these events. Barbara Petzen, Middle East Policy Council, was the keynote speaker for the event and gave an engaging multi-media presentation on “The Realities and Stereotypes of Teaching Minority Cultures”. In addition, a panel presentation featuring David Levinson, Norwalk Community College, Debra H. Swanson, Hope College, and Brian Traxler, St. Agnes School (MN), was given on “Preparing Students for the Successful Transition into College Sociology Courses.” The conference concluded with a presentation by Lotspeich and Salituro on “Resources and Simulations for Teaching Sociology.” The attendees then were invited to attend all regular ASA sessions, workshops, and events. Participant evaluations were very positive and provided feedback for future events.

For more information on the ASA High School Sociology Program and the 2012 High School Teachers of Sociology Conference in Denver, see www.asanet.org/highschool.

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