From the AHA Activities column of the March 2007 Perspectives

American Historical Association Supports Adding History to No Child Left Behind Act

AHA Council, March 2007

At its meeting on January 4, 2007, the Council of the American Historical Association approved the following statement, prepared by the Teaching Division.

Resolved that the American Historical Association supports the addition of history (both U.S. and world history) to the areas of assessment and accountability under the No Child Left Behind Act and calls for systematic efforts, including professional development of in-service teachers, to improve the quality of history teaching at elementary and secondary levels. To bring about these changes, the AHA seeks to work in cooperation with the National Council for History Education, the National Council for Social Studies, and other groups of educators.

Background

This assessment of the thinking behind the resolution was prepared by Patrick Manning (University of Pittsburgh), former AHA vice president for teaching.

The No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB—a revision of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act proposed by the Bush administration, approved by Congress, and signed in 2001—includes provisions in five main areas. It requires that schools make adequate yearly progress (AYP); that teachers in all subjects become "highly qualified"; that student progress be measured by assessing reading, math, and eventually science; that parents be involved in schools; that "scientifically-based research" be the basis of classroom strategies; and expansion of parental choice in schools that students attend. Funding, however, is basically left to the states.

The field of history has generally been left out of NCLB. The Teaching American History program, which has been in effect concurrently with NCLB, has supported professional development for teachers of U.S. history, but has no ties to NCLB’s assessment and accountability program. The AHA did not take a position on the 2001 bill, and has yet to take a position on whether, since the legislation has been implemented, it favors the addition of history to the subjects to be assessed.

The Teaching Division has discussed this issue at both of its 2006 meetings. In its fall 2006 meeting, though there was division and opposition to assessment, the division developed a clear position: the AHA should support the assessment of history within NCLB, and the assessment should include both United States and world history.

The division takes this position without any enthusiasm for high-stakes testing in general or any conviction that adequate assessment instruments exist. Our main point is that if history is to be a high-priority subject in the public-school curriculum, then it must be assessed and evaluated. Evidence convinces us that (1) keeping history on the list of subjects to be tested has increased attention to the subject and has improved teaching in it; (2) removing history from the list of subjects to be assessed brings diminution in class hours spent on teaching history, along with lowered and irregular standards and expectations.

We readily agree that the initial history assessments that would be given under NCLB will probably be written by underqualified staff, we believe that subsequent debate of the test will improve its quality. We think that the experience of tests in the College Board’s AP courses, in various state history exams, and in the experience of professional development in Teaching American History program suggests that professional historians will be able to achieve steady improvement in the exams. In addition, it should be noted that the TD is drafting a document proposing an AHA statement on minimum standards for the preparation and professional development of history teachers.

The National Council for History Education adopted in November a position similar to that proposed in the draft resolution above. The National Council for Social Studies is advancing a more general call for incorporation into NCLB of four social-science disciplines: history, civics, geography, and economics. The position proposed for the AHA is distinctive from these in emphasizing that assessment should account for the wide scope of the field of history (U.S. and world history, elementary and secondary levels), and in emphasizing the need for improvement in the quality of history teaching.