A Joint Project to Study History Education in the United States: A Report
Sarah Drake, May 2003
Editor's Note: The following article, a version of which appeared in the April 2003 issue of the OAH Magazine of History, is printed here to provide readers a brief report on the important project launched in 2002 to gather information on history education in the 50 states and the District of Columbia.
The upcoming Innovations in Collaboration Conference sponsored by the American Historical Association (AHA), the Organization of American Historians (OAH), and the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) aims to provide a forum for history teachers (in secondary schools, colleges, and universities) to share effective strategies of collaboration and to work collegially to improve history education nationwide.
The necessity for such collaboration was underlined by Louis Harlan in his presidential address delivered at the 1990 annual meeting of the Organization of American Historians. Discussing the relationship between historians and reform in the social studies, Harlan highlighted the nationwide educational reform effort that had been undertaken by President George H. W. Bush, and emphasized the role that historians and history teachers could play in that reform. Drawing upon the scholarship of historians of education Diane Ravitch and Hazel Whitman Hertzberg, Harlan provided an overview of history education since the late 19th century, and also documented contemporary developments. Harlan concluded his remarks with several recommendations, one of which was that members of history departments in colleges and universities should make a concerted effort to develop a closer relationship with K–12 teachers in their discipline.1
However, for productive conversations of this type to take place, it is imperative that all parties are aware of the current state of history education in their localities and across the country. As historian of education Frederick Rudolph reminds us, the school curriculum "has been one of the places where we have told ourselves who we are."2 Who are we today as history educators? Who are we expecting our new teachers and students to be? And what knowledge, skills, and dispositions do we expect them to possess? What does the content of our standards and assessments—and the very fact that we have standards and assessments—reveal about our culture?
To answer some of these questions and others, the AHA, the OAH, and the NCSS launched a joint project in the spring of 2002 to study the state of history education in each of the 50 states and in the District of Columbia. The study, which John J. Patrick (professor of education and director of the ERIC Clearinghouse and the Social Studies Development Center at Indiana University) and I conducted for the three organizations, sought to determine, among other things, certification requirements for teachers of history at the elementary, middle, and secondary levels; state standards in history for teachers; state standards in history for students; high school graduation requirements in history; state assessments in history; and resources and organizations at teachers' disposal in each of the states and Washington, D.C. The survey is intended to provide a comprehensive overview of precollegiate history education as it currently exists nationwide. The goals for this project also include the creation and maintenance of a web site that houses (and provides links to) information on history education in the 50 states and Washington, D.C., dissemination of the study's results through the ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social Science Education at Indiana University, and the mobilization of historians to engage actively in improving precollegiate history education.
The research process for this study included several steps. First, Patrick and I prepared reports addressing the aforementioned areas during the summer and fall of 2002 for each of the states and the District of Columbia. We obtained the information in these reports from web sites created and maintained by each state's department of education. Second, we made introductory presentations at the NCSS conference in Phoenix, Arizona, in November 2002, and at the AHA's annual meeting in Chicago in January 2003. We next offered examples of our findings about the state of history education and some preliminary conclusions at the annual meeting of the OAH in Memphis, Tennessee, in April 2003. At each of these presentations, the audience provided comments and suggestions. Third, we sent draft copies of the reports to such appropriate representatives as state social studies directors and consultants, state affiliates of the National Council for History Education, executive directors of State Councils for the Social Studies, certification offices in each state, and members of the Council of State Social Studies Specialists. These representatives responded (and some are still in the process of responding) to the draft reports, providing details about history education in their state. We will present our final, comprehensive report at the Innovations in Collaboration Conference this coming June .
The fundamental question Patrick and I addressed focused on certification. Other questions that we also attempted to answer—and which grew out of or were related to the basic question—included, for example, the following: To what extent must teachers of history have knowledge in the discipline? Specifically, how many credit hours in history must a teacher have, or what performance tasks must they complete to demonstrate historical knowledge and understanding before becoming certified? Are students' standards anchored in the discipline of history or do they reflect the "expanding horizons" model or a social studies topics approach? What supporting materials (such as performance descriptors) exist beyond the standards for teachers of history? What do states imply when they label standards as "world studies" as opposed to world history? We tabulated our findings, which were based on information obtained in response to such questions. The tables contain information pertaining to high school graduation requirements in history (including both world and U.S. history) and exit exam requirements; student content standards in history (the extent to which standards are grounded in history, as well as the specificity and magnitude of the content); assessments in history; certification requirements for teachers of history (the minimum number of history courses teachers of history must take or demonstrate proficiency in); and content standards for history teachers. In addition, we have compiled lists of organizations for teacher membership and resources for teachers in each of the 50 states and Washington, D.C.
The final report will include commentary on the information gathered in this study. While it is not the purpose of this survey to "grade" states in regard to their policies, it is appropriate to recognize states that are strong in their preparation of history teachers and to acknowledge states that provide standards, assessments, and graduation requirements emphasizing the importance of historical content knowledge and historical thinking. Likewise, the report will identify states that are weak in these areas. It will also be important to note states in which there might be anomalies—for example, discipline-based, content-rich standards for students but low certification requirements for history teachers.
The three organizations sponsoring this survey believe that the study of history plays a necessary and important role in education for citizenship in a democracy. To fully and properly understand the rights and responsibilities that are central to civic life in a democracy, students must acquire historical knowledge. They must also be able to analyze historical issues and make informed, deliberative decisions while using historians' habits of mind. In other words, they must learn to think historically. That is, they must understand the importance of chronology for comprehending the past, they must be able to analyze and interpret history in its context, and they must learn to engage in historical research. History teachers must provide students with various opportunities to investigate new historical experiences, to discern historical meaning in past events, and to adopt informed positions in context.
The information gathered in this survey is intended to promote deliberative discussions about the state of precollegiate history education and to encourage all history teachers to work in collaboration to improve the teaching and learning of history nationwide. It is our hope that the forthcoming report and the other continuing aspects of the project will further that goal.
—Sarah Drake is a doctoral candidate in curriculum studies at Indiana University and is also a research associate at the Social Studies Development Center at the university. She worked (along with John J. Patrick, professor of education at the university, who is also the director of the ERIC Clearinghouse and the Social Studies Development Center) on the joint project sponsored by the AHA, the OAH, and the NCSS.
1. Louis R. Harlan, "Social Studies Reform and the Historian," Journal of American History 77 (December 1990), 801–811.
2. Barry Franklin, Building the American Community: The School Curriculum and the Search for Social Control (London: The Falmer Press, 1986), 11.