As the new school year unfolds, teachers throughout Los Angeles and around the country are getting to know their students and thinking deeply about how they can help them excel and achieve. While student achievement is measured in various ways—standardized tests, SAT scores, graduation rates—what ultimately matters most is students’ postsecondary success in college, career, and citizenship. From the state house to your house, all kinds of stakeholders are increasingly recognizing that preparing students for 21st century demands and opportunities means supporting them in different ways and towards different outcomes. Many school districts are developing indicators of college and career readiness, defining qualities and skills students need to master in order to enroll, persist, and graduate from college and get good jobs. Where does Facing History curriculum fit within all of this?
Too many students are not being equipped with the skills and dispositions they need for success in college, work, and the world:
• A recent report by ACT found that last year only 22% of U.S. high school students met "college ready" standards in all of their core subjects, with significantly lower rates for African-American and Hispanic students.
• The College Board reported that even among college-bound seniors in the Class of 2012, only 43% met college-ready standards.
These sobering statistics are intimately intertwined with the degree to which kids are “opting out” of middle and high school, often because they lack the skills secondary school teachers expect them to have, leading to a downhill spiral of disengagement and dropping out:
• Only 45% of students whose 3rd grade reading scores were below grade level subsequently graduate from high school
• In high-poverty schools, if a 6th grade child attends less than 80% of the time, receives an unsatisfactory behavior grade in a core course, or fails math or English, there is a 75% chance he or she will later drop out of high school, absent effective intervention.
• In the US, one student drops out every 12 seconds. More than 25% of students fail to graduate from high school in four years; for African-American and Hispanic students, this number is approaching 40%.
Engaging students and helping them develop the desire to learn and the capacity to reflect is crucial to helping them develop what the psychologist Angela Duckworth refers to as “grit,” which she defines as “perseverance for a passion.” These attributes help students develop the inner drive and sustained commitment to pursue their goals through the inevitable challenges of learning and life.
This is where Facing History comes in. Through Facing History’s literacy-based approach, students are constantly engaged and challenged to read, interpret, reconcile, and apply lessons learned from many types of texts. In the classroom, students debate one another about the merits of historical arguments and apply their critical reasoning skills to connect historical events with the choices and challenges they face on a daily basis. For students in urban settings too often plagued by violence and other forms of disruption, these choices include whether to go to school or drop out, whether to engage in violence or speak out against it, and dozens of other daily negotiations. Rigorous engagement and practice in critical reading develops students’ higher-order thinking skills in preparation for applying them in a college setting--and beyond. Facing History is proven to increase student academic and intellectual engagement, which increases the likelihood of high school graduation and subsequent college entry.
In a Facing History classroom, students:
• Engage in in-depth exploration of historic events and implications for the world today
• Look at history through a more global, human lens and see themselves in it
• Become invested in and impassioned about their learning
• Rise to higher levels of rigor than they previously thought possible
• Commit to creating a future that is different than the past
Through exploring identity and the impact of stereotyping and labeling, and studying history in a way that not only gives context to injustices but also looks at models of change and resilience, Facing History fosters students’ agency, fortifies their sense of self, instills resilience, and empowers them as learners. Facing History materials and methodology can break the cycle that perpetuates achievement gaps, helping create new cultural norms and equipping students with the disposition and skills to create new realities.
Facing History promotes both academic skills and socio-emotional strengths, which we know reinforce one another in the “real world” we need to equip students for. Our curricula and pedagogy help students be conscious and conscientious, and to take action in accordance with what will serve themselves and society most effectively. Facing History’s emphases align with what top experts endorse: ensuring that adults take students seriously, believe in their ability, and challenge them to improve themselves; address and fortify core aspects of students’ abilities; and cultivate a school-wide culture in which respect for these values is reified and reinforced.
Over 100 evaluation studies have been conducted showing that Facing History yields statistically significant impact on student academic, socio-emotional, and civic learning. Read more about the evaluations on Facing History. Importantly, we know that Facing History also has a lasting impact on student learning. A recently-completed higher education alumni study (September 2012) focused on the long term impact (1-25 years) of Facing History on undergraduate college students using a comparison group. The study concluded that Facing History course was more likely to influence students’ personal decisions during their lives post-college and had a greater impact on students’ ethical reflection, awareness of the suffering of others, and civic awareness.
Such findings offer a ray of sunlight in a too-often bleak landscape. With rising rates of poverty, an increased “opportunity gap,” and an unacceptable achievement gap, students today need teachers who can engage them and help them overcome impediments to learning in order to achieve at high levels. Students need to be equipped with both academic skills and character strengths to rise to meet new levels of rigor and to navigate the demands of school and life. Facing History feels incredibly blessed to work with flocks of educators who support students in doing just this, and we look forward to supporting your efforts throughout the coming year.
How do YOU work to support academic and character growth within your classroom? How do you know your teaching is having a “lasting impact”? We’d love to hear your stories!