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From The Coalition Column of the April 2012 issue of Perspectives on History

News Briefs, April 2012

Lee White, April 2012

House Panel Passes Two K–12 Education Reform Bill

On February 28, 2012, the House Committee on Education and the Workforce approved two pieces of legislation to rewrite the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA). The "Student Success Act" (H.R. 3989) and the "Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act" (H.R. 3990) were both approved by a party-line vote of 23 Republicans to 16 Democrats.

The "Encouraging Innovation and Effective Teachers Act" includes earlier legislation (H.R. 1891) that sought to eliminate more than 70 Department of Education programs, including Teaching American History grants.

H.R. 3990 would consolidate a host of existing K–12 education programs into new "Local Academic Flexible Grants." This program would provide block grants to state educational agencies and subgrants to local educational agencies to fund programs to improve student performance, improve teacher effectiveness, and provide for professional development. State and local education agencies would have greater flexibility in determining how and where the funds are spent than under existing law.

By the same 16-23 party-line vote, the committee defeated a substitute amendment to H.R. 3990, offered by Ranking Minority Member George Miller (D-Calif.).

Miller's amendment included a new "Well-Rounded Education" fund that would have been authorized at a level of $500 million in fiscal 2013. The amendment would have provided funding for state and local educational agencies, or educational service agencies in partnership with institutes of higher education, nonprofit organizations, libraries, or museums to compete for grants in a variety of subject matter areas. Forty-five percent of the funds, or $225 million, would have been reserved for American history programs, civic education programs, and geography programs. Grant funds could be used for professional development, curriculum, assessments, and other academic improvement programs.

Given the lack of bipartisan support for the two bills, they may pass the House but would be dead on arrival in the Senate. The ESEA reform bill introduced by Senator Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), the chair of the Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee, was approved by the committee last fall. However Harkin has not taken his bill to the Senate floor and has indicated he will wait for the House to act first. It is likely that lawmakers will remain stalemated on ESEA reform for the remainder of this Congress, especially given the fact that it is a presidential election year. Therefore, it is likely ESEA reform will be left for a new Congress.

Report Calls for Greater Emphasis on Civic Learning in Higher Education

A report from the National Task Force on Civic Learning and Democratic Engagement, published under the title A Crucible Moment: College Learning and Democracy's Future, urges educators and public leaders to advance a 21st-century vision of college learning for all students—a vision with civic learning and democratic engagement an expected part of every student's college education.

The report documents the nation's anemic civic health and includes recommendations for action that address campus culture, general education, and civic inquiry as part of major and career fields as well as hands-on civic problem solving across differences.

A Crucible Moment was prepared at the invitation of the U.S. Department of Education under the leadership of the Global Perspective Institute, Inc., and the Association of American Colleges and Universities. The publication was developed with input from a series of national roundtables involving leaders from all parts of the higher education and civic renewal communities.

This entire report is available as a PDF document and highlights from the report can be accessed online at aacu.org/civic_learning/crucible/documents/highlights.pdf.

The centerpiece of A Crucible Moment is a National Call to Action to be undertaken by a broad coalition of constituents. The National Task Force urges Americans to:

1. Reclaim and reinvest in the fundamental civic and democratic mission of schools and of all sectors within higher education;

2. Enlarge the current national narrative that erases civic aims and civic literacy as educational priorities contributing to social, intellectual, and economic capital;

3. Advance a contemporary, comprehensive framework for civic learning—embracing US and global interdependence—that includes historic and modern understandings of democratic values, capacities to engage diverse perspectives and people, and commitment to collective civic problem solving;

4. Capitalize upon the interdependent responsibilities of K-12 and higher education to foster progressively higher levels of civic knowledge, skills, examined values, and action as expectations for every student;

5. Expand the number of robust, generative civic partnerships and alliances locally, nationally, and globally to address common problems, empower people to act, strengthen communities and nations, and generate new frontiers of knowledge.

Teachinghistory.org Releases Updated Report on State of History Education

Teachinghistory.org recently announced that an addendum to the 2010 Report on the State of History Education is now available. This supplement tracks policy changes regarding the teaching of U.S. history between August 2008 and September 2010 in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

The new addendum offers additional data about state policies governing the teaching of world history, and history and social studies end-of-course tests. These additions help create a more complete picture of the current state of history education in the United States.

Findings include the following:

  • The educational policy landscape has changed since the last report. Common Core State Standards; President Obama's Race to the Top initiative; state finances; the creation of the Social Studies Assessment, Curriculum and Instruction program; and the Consortium for a Well-Rounded Education had an impact on state standards and policy.

  • Between September 2008 and August 2010, 12 states and the District of Columbia revised their history/social studies state standards. Iowa remains the only state without any history/social studies standards, preferring local control of the curriculum.

  • World history trails U.S. history in state requirements: 39 states and the District of Columbia require a course in U.S. history for graduation, while only 22 states and the District of Columbia require a course in world history. Out of 26 states that require history testing, 24 include American history content, while only 15 require world history assessment.

  • Social studies/history testing included more constructed responses such as essays or short answers in 2010 than in past years. Of the 26 states that required history/ social studies testing in 2010, half required some kind of constructed response as opposed to 42 percent (11 out of 25) in 2008.

To complement the report addendum, Teachinghistory.org has also updated its database of state standards to reflect changes since 2008. This is the only comprehensive compilation of state standards available online. It is fully searchable by state and grade.

Teachinghistory.org, a project of the Roy Rosenzweig Center for History and New Media at George Mason University, is a leader in helping K–12 history teachers access resources and materials to improve U.S. history education in the classroom. Funded through the U.S. Department of Education Office of Innovation and Improvement's Teaching American History (TAH) program, Teachinghistory.org builds on and disseminates the valuable lessons learned by more than 1,000 TAH projects designed to raise student achievement by improving teachers' knowledge and understanding of U.S. history.

NHPRC Announces $2.5 Million in Grant Awards

Archivist of the United States David S. Ferriero recently awarded 40 grants totaling $2.5 million for historical records projects in 27 states and the District of Columbia. The National Archives grants program is carried out through the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC).

Nearly $700,000 in funding went for State and National Archives Partnership (SNAP) grants to enable 23 state historical records advisory boards to carry out their mission to support archival education and strengthen the nation's archival network. One of the most important parts of the SNAP program is to enable states to "regrant" funds, providing opportunities for small historical records repositories to carry out local projects. In addition, the Oregon State Archives received an electronic records grant to support a two-year project to manage and preserve the records of the governor's office and to work with the Washington State Digital Archives to create a regional system of managing state government electronic records from creation to final disposition.

Publishing grants totaling $1.27 million were recommended for 10 publishing projects from the U.S. colonial and early national period, including the papers of Benjamin Franklin, George Washington, John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Jay. Two projects that exist solely as digital editions—The Dolley Madison Digital Edition and the Papers of the War Department—also received support, and the commission endorsed the Jonathan Edwards Collaborative Online Publication Project as a way of encouraging private sector support for its efforts.

Digitizing Historical Records grants, totaling $400,000, went to six projects, including a partnership between the Atlanta Historical Society, the Digital Library of Georgia, the Hargrett Rare Book & Manuscript Library at the University of Georgia, and the Georgia Historical Society to digitize 81,319 documents pertaining to the American Civil War. The University of Washington will digitize its J. Willis Sayre Photograph Collection, documenting American vaudeville, theater, and other performing arts; the Minnesota Historical Society will digitize 32,000 pages of annotated speeches and 200 audio recordings by U.S. Senator and Vice President Hubert H. Humphrey (1911–1978); and Texas Tech University will digitize approximately 250,000 pages of Orderly Departure Program Application Files of the Families of Vietnamese Political Prisoners Association Collection.

Kathleen Williams, executive director of the NHPRC, presented the grant applications and policy issues to the full commission at its most recent meeting, and provided an update on the cooperative agreement with the University of Virginia Press to create a new web site featuring the papers of the Founders of the United States of America. The commission also welcomed its newest member, Judge Jeremy D. Fogel, appointed by the chief justice of the Supreme Court, to represent the federal judiciary.

The archivist of the United States is the chair of the 15-member commission, which includes representatives from all three branches of the federal government as well as the leading archival and historical professional associations. Established in 1934 with the National Archives, it awards grants for preserving, publishing, and providing access to the nation's historical documents.

Lee White is the executive director of the National Coalition for History. He can be reached at lwhite@historycoalition.org.