National Council for the Social Studies
Program, Organizational Structure, Membership, History
The National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) is a private, nonprofit organization that, in the words of its mission statement, aims to "provide leadership, service, and support for social studies educators." It is inspired by the belief that all citizens in a participatory democracy must develop the content knowledge, intellectual skills, and civic values that a solid education in the social studies can impart.
The central mission of the NCSS is to improve the integrated teaching of the social studies at all levels of education, from elementary school to college and graduate school. To further this end it produced its core publication, a study entitled Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, first published in 1994. In this report, the NCSS lays out a ten-theme, integrated approach to the teaching of history, geography, economics, political science, sociology, psychology, anthropology, and law-related subjects. However, the NCSS is also active in supporting research, encouraging experimentation, fostering dialog among educators and between educators and policymakers, and making available research data that may assist in all these endeavors.
Chief among the NCSS's services is the dissemination of information, which will help educators to improve their ability to communicate with their students. The NCSS flagship publication Social Education seeks to do this by publishing articles on curriculum development, teaching methods, the use of audio and visual aids, classroom projects, and relevant research results. The journal is published monthly throughout the academic year. The NCSS also publishes Social Studies and the Young Learner, a journal devoted to exploring the special educational needs of elementary school students, and The Social Studies Professional, the council's newsletter. Both of these are published bimonthly during the academic year.
In addition, the NCSS issues a number of bulletins on specific topics or specific subfields within the larger discipline of social studies. Bulletins appear twice each year in book form. Tightly defined "how to" tips and techniques are featured in a series of six-to eight-page leaflets. At irregular intervals the NCSS also publishes books and monographs on topics of interest to its membership.
As the NCSS has long dedicated its energies toward developing standards in the teaching of social studies, it would seem that the trend favoring "standards-based education" would be highly compatible with NCSS philosophy. However, the organization has always taken a holistic approach, which brings together the various disciplines found in the social sciences, behavioral sciences, and humanities. This approach does not always fit comfortably within a curriculum that is strongly driven by objective testing. Thus publications in the early twenty-first century and other NCSS initiatives have begun to explore ways in which educators can remain faithful to NCSS standards while still helping their students pass the externally imposed regimen of objective testing found in many school districts across the nation.
The officers and board of directors are elected to office through the votes of the general membership. The board of directors is responsible for setting council policy, approving projects, and other such high-level decision-making. The board is assisted in its duties by the advice of delegates representing local, regional, and state councils. The board meets officially twice each year; when decisions must be made during the interim between board meetings, an executive council consisting of the president, vice president, president-elect, and two board-appointed members will convene to address the issues. The day-to-day affairs of the council are handled by an executive secretary who is assisted by a professional staff.
The NCSS has more than 20,000 members drawn from all fifty states and the District of Columbia, as well as affiliates in sixty-nine countries around the world. Its members include teachers at all educational levels, from first grade to graduate school, as well as nonteaching professionals, such as principals, curriculum designers, and educational specialists in local, state, and national governments. In addition, students who are completing a course of study geared to a career in education are eligible to join.
Direct membership is not the only way to become involved in the NCSS. The council has long been an active promoter of independent councils and offers such groups the opportunity to become affiliates if they share the general aims and philosophy of the national council.
The NCSS was founded in 1921, shortly after the close of World War I. This was a time when the public school system was undergoing rapid expansion and access to college was being extended well beyond the traditional elite few. Educators in all disciplines were finding that received standards and philosophies of teaching were inadequate to cope with a burgeoning student body, which represented a widely divergent set of skills and prior training.
In response to these pressures, colleges and public school districts across the country were all attempting to come up with workable solutions. Given the extremely independent nature of the public school organization, which was always locally controlled, the result of these efforts was an uncoordinated patchwork of programs, plans, and approaches, and the education received by students could vary wildly in quality and in content. To address this problem, a group of college professors and public school professionals met in Atlantic City, New Jersey. When this group drew up a constitution, elected officers, and agreed to continue to meet, the NCSS was born.
The NCSS set itself the task of finding a way to coordinate the efforts of educators and educational professionals across the country. It soon found some degree of success simply by making all the various groups aware of what their colleagues were doing elsewhere in the country. Thus, even at the outset, communication through publications was recognized to be a highly effective strategy for the NCSS in achieving its goals. Its journal, then titled The Historical Outlook, became influential throughout the national educational system. It was renamed Social Education in 1937, two years after the NCSS held its first annual conference independent of the National Education Association, on which it was initially dependent.
Over the years the NCSS has grown dramatically in size and influence, not just within the educational community but also with local, state, and federal policymakers. For all its growth and influence, however, it remains committed to the goals that inspired its founding: to serve and support the nation's teachers of the social studies, in the interest of educating new generations of informed, responsible citizens.
See also: SOCIAL STUDIES EDUCATION.
NATIONAL COUNCIL FOR THE SOCIAL STUDIES. 2002. <www.ncss.org>.
MERRILL F. HARTSHORN
NANCY E. GRATTON
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