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Research Questions

  1. Where are public-school social studies teachers getting most of their instructional materials?
  2. How much time do social studies teachers report that they spend searching for or developing their own materials to teach civics?
  3. What are teachers' perceptions of their social studies materials?

Public schools that serve kindergarteners through 12th graders can play a key role in combating Truth Decay by supporting students' civic development and engagement. Teachers' instructional materials provide one window into civic education in schools. Research in mathematics and English language arts (ELA) for students in kindergarten through 12th grade suggests that teachers use and modify instructional materials in diverse ways and they often create their own materials. Researchers have also documented how teachers' use of instructional materials in mathematics and ELA is connected to the instructional practices in which teachers report engaging their students, and multiple studies have connected the use of particular math and ELA curricula with increases in student achievement. However, little is known about the use of educational content for such subjects as social studies—particularly regarding the content that teachers rely on to provide instruction in civics-related topics, which has implications for students' civic development. As part of RAND's Truth Decay initiative, this Data Note unpacks ways in which social studies teachers across the United States reported using instructional materials in their classrooms to teach civics. These data are intended to inform policymakers, researchers, and educators on potential ways to support civics teaching and learning.

Key Findings

  • Higher percentages of teachers reported using instructional materials that they have found themselves (rather than using materials provided by their district or school).
  • Majorities of secondary social studies teachers (for grades 6–12) reported spending three or more hours per week searching for or developing their own materials to teach civics.
  • Although most teachers had positive perceptions of the social studies and civics materials provided by their school or district, 27 percent to 40 percent of teachers did not perceive these items to be engaging or effectively promoting students' civic development.

Recommendations

  • State or school system leaders might examine what materials they have required or recommended that teachers use to teach civics—and social studies more broadly—and investigate the extent to which teachers are using those items versus creating or finding their own.
  • Researchers could consider digging deeper into how teachers are using materials and how those behaviors might be related to more-robust student learning.
  • Providers of instructional materials might consider ways to provide better and more-engaging social studies tools and resources to support teachers' instruction.

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