The Standards Question
Timothy D. Hall, April 2000
To the Editor:
Charles B. Myers's impassioned defense of the new NCSS/NCATE National Standards for Social Studies Teachers ("New Standards for the Preparation of History Teachers: A Response to Reactions," Perspectives, December 1999) will persuade few historians who have actually participated in teacher preparation standards-setting at the state level. The problem lies in the fact that in nearly every state, a teacher can be licensed to teach history in two ways: by completing a teacher preparation program in the single discipline of history or by completing a more general teacher preparation program in social studies. Thus, by the terms of the NCSS/NCATE standards themselves, preparation in the "broader, deeper combination of content from all 10 themes" of the NCSS standards will qualify a preservice teacher for a multidisciplinary license that includes history.
In other words, contrary to Professor Myers's assertion, the NCSS/NCATE standards lack the teeth needed to ensure that history teachers will receive adequate preparation in the discipline. This is so because NCATE's general social studies standards permit preservice teachers to stop far short of the rigorous preparation in history that the NCSS/NCATE single-discipline standards require, yet still allows them to qualify for a license to teach the history of every part of the world from ancient Sumeria to the present. The breadth permitted in NCATE's standards for the 10 NCSS themes discourages the kind of in-depth preparation necessary to master any of the disciplines represented in those themes, history least of all. There is simply not enough time in a four-year undergraduate program to provide that kind of deep preparation in five or six different disciplines.
If NCATE would refuse to approve programs that licensed multidisciplinary social studies majors and minors (!) to teach history, all would be well, for the single-discipline standards in history are indeed laudably rigorous. If NCATE did so, it would be bucking a very powerful trend in many states like Michigan to discourage single-discipline preparation in favor of multidisciplinary licensing, a practice which by its very nature places teachers in the field who do not know history as well and are thus less prepared to teach the discipline well. Short of this, the new NCATE/NCSS standards will do little to improve the preparation of new history teachers in the field. Indeed, when coupled with state trends toward multidisciplinary licensing, the new NCATE/NCSS standards are more likely to weaken teacher preparation in history.
—Timothy D. Hall
Central Michigan University