News

How Qualified Are High School History Teachers? A Statistical Impression

Robert B. Townsend, October 2008

A new report from the U.S. Department of Education offers a few clues about how many history teachers there are and their qualifications for the classroom.

Based on an extensive Department of Education survey in the 2003–04 school year, the authors of the report estimate that 57,200 teachers had history as their main subject assignment. The number of history teachers fell well behind the number of teachers in English (134,900) and mathematics (128,500), but well above 13 other subjects in the report (Education and Certification Qualifications of Departmentalized Public High-School Level Teachers of Core Subjects: Evidence from the 2003–04 Schools and Staffing Survey, written for the National Center for Education Statistics at the Institute of Education Sciences of the U.S. Department of Education by Beth A. Morton, Pia Peltola, Michael Hurwitz, Greg F. Orlofsky, and Gregory A. Strizek, and available online only at http://nces.ed.gov/pubs2008/2008338.pdf).

High School Teachers with Major

The principal purpose of the report is to assess the qualifications these teachers bring into the classroom, looking particularly at whether they majored in the subject and whether they have certifications to teach in the field. The authors of the study report that two-thirds of high school history teachers (67.4 percent) majored in the subject in college, but only a third (36.7 percent) were certified to teach in the field. Just 30 percent of history teachers had both majored in the field and were certified to teach it.

In comparison, among teachers with a main assignment in English, 71.1 percent had both a major and certification in their subject, while in mathematics, 64.5 percent held both qualifications. Among the other social studies, however, the teachers were much less likely to hold one or both qualifications. Just 21.8 percent of economics teachers had majored in their subject, while 17.4 percent held some certification. Among teachers in the field of government/civics, only 9.7 percent had majored in the subject, while 20.3 percent held certification.

The proportion of teachers with certifications in the social studies disciplines is probably deceptively low, however, because a number of states only provide certification at the more general level of social studies teaching. Among all teachers in “social science” (which includes history) 81.8 percent had the necessary certification.

The relationship between history and the other social studies in the work assignments of history teachers is a bit hard to discern from the report, but the auhtors do find that barely half (52 percent) of the history teachers teach all of their classes in the subject. The data indicates that most of the other coursework of the teachers was in the larger field of social science, as 82.2 percent of teachers in the broader field of social science taught all their courses in the field.

—Robert Townsend is AHA’s assistant director for research and publications. This news report is based on a post that was first published on the AHA’s blog, AHA Today, on September 17, 2008.