Working Together to Strengthen History Teaching in Secondary Schools
Kathleen Anderson Steeves is associate professor of history education at the Graduate School of Education and Human Development, George Washington University.
Defining the Issue
Teaching Issues within the Historical Profession
Issues within Secondary Schools
Schools of Education and History Education
Learning Theory and Teaching History
Tying It All Together: Successful Collaborations
Barriers to Change
Conclusion: Moving Forward
One of the most fundamental collaborations among historians is also the least examined. It is the shared effort of teaching historians in K-12 schools, community colleges, and four-year colleges and universities to develop in students historical understanding and habits of thinking historically. Traditionally, each segment of the historians' community pursues its own work within its own institutional setting, with little recognition of how students' experiences bridge these gaps. The following essay assesses current issues in colleges and universities as well as in K-12 schooling, with a focus on the preparation of secondary school teachers. It also identifies new trends in the changing nature of research and practice as they affect the history profession in the classroom. There are many issues that secondary school history teachers and college-university history faculty actually share. History educators can and must do better in engaging students in the pursuit of knowledge. History provides valuable information and perspectives embedded within a powerful analytical model, which can be especially useful in an inconsistent and rapidly changing world.
Let us assume that every undergraduate who enrolls in and attends your history classes will at some point in his or her life teach the content presented in those classes. Graduates could become involved in government, using their historical knowledge to write legislation or present arguments for change; in business, training workers or collaborating with colleagues to write documents; in a service capacity, instructing learners overseas or locally in new technologies or about their own neighborhood structure and history; in the media, producing or distributing information for a mass audience; in education, teaching young people who will carry the story on to future generations; or as parents, encouraging children to explore and learn.
Of those who take history courses during their K-12 or K-16 educational experience, a very small number will eventually major in history. Yet, the "habits of mind" (the perspectives and modes of thoughtful judgment) that historians believe are especially important to the understanding of history are needed by all students, no matter what their level of educational attainment is. To that much broader audience--the students in the 15,000 school systems across the United States--college and university historians must also address their teaching. A number of those we teach in college will eventually go into classrooms to teach others. In turn, some of those students will become the students who will move on to sit before us as the next generation's undergraduates. Consequently, how we as university historians share the content we have read and researched, as well as our excitement and interest in our subject, potentially reaches and influences many. As historians, we can build greater interest and a stronger commitment to the study and teaching of history in secondary schools by sharing with students in our university classes, not just the end result, but the very process of historical discovery--the real data of the past, not just the conclusions of study.
There are numerous issues and concerns that all teaching historians share.
1. Students in both secondary schools and colleges are often unaware of the breadth of the field of history and its presentation forms.
They lack an understanding of the field's complexity, often believing that all the answers have been determined. Since the 1960s, when the subjects of historical study broadened to include the new "social history," the amount of material and areas of study made available for researchers and teachers of history has increased considerably. Data about minorities, women, workers, and children are now more often presented in historical scholarship as a central part of the story. Such new materials as probate and census records, account books, corporate memos, and worker records--often analyzed by computer statistical programs--present challenges of choice initially to the researcher and ultimately to the teacher. New forms of historical study also sometimes suggest collaborations between academic disciplines. For example, emphasizing the interrelationships of economics and social class might link economists and historians; the study of workers and managers could join history and business departments; and research on women and social policy often puts women's studies and policy research on the same team.1
Another vital shift in content and conceptualization involves the increasing movement to teaching world history in the schools. In this instance current college curriculums may have less to offer future K-12 teachers than is true with social history. To be sure, colleges that train future teachers are increasingly likely to have an introductory world history course that at least models issues that must be faced in dealing with world history in the schools. But conceptualizing world history remains a challenge, all the more so in colleges that offer no world history course at all; and the lack of a follow-up courses, which can go beyond introductory presentation, is an even more common deficiency where teacher preparation is concerned.
2. In required history survey courses, there is a difficult balance between the need for content and the need for the development of critical thinking, writing, and historical research skills.
The questions raised by these issues are often a focal point for discussions among those who teach survey courses, no matter at what level. Some suggested solutions have encouraged different thinking about teaching and learning, resulting in an examination of an integrated curriculum model. In his book on this subject, Meaning over Memory: Recasting the Teaching of Culture and History, Peter Stearns suggests taking a new look at the content of history, asking students to assess it for its ability to promote understanding in lieu of the traditional emphasis placed on "data points" and coverage.2 Other paths under consideration to highlight skills in historical analysis include the use of literature to illustrate the context of a historical event or time period or the examination of a local topic in a global perspective. History departments that are training teachers need to emphasize transferable habits of mind, from document assessment to evaluation of change and causation, and to provide appropriate basic content. Most of the history-social studies teaching standards now being developed in many states include a growing emphasis on discipline-specific analytical skills. This opportunity may motivate some rethinking of curricular emphases and reading assignments in the history major, so that future teachers gain repeated experience in developing historical habits of mind (that is, developing perspectives and making reasoned historical judgments) and can identify them in their own subsequent teaching efforts.
College history courses also model for future teachers methods of assessing history learning. When rote memorization is heavily tested in college survey courses, it may reappear in the next generation of secondary school teaching. Education courses will contribute to a grasp of generic exercises and testing methods, but history courses provide direct experience in the discipline. Unquestionably, authentic assessment will become an increasingly important component of testing history in schools, and an imaginative and varied array of exercises in college history classrooms can contribute directly to future applications.
3. When undergraduates and high school students enter a history class, they often have little background in history and no background in its methodology.
It is in the survey course that students often begin to develop or solidify their ideas about a college major, and also in the survey course where history departments seek talented students to select the history major. Creating interesting programs that students find challenging and rewarding is one way to bring in these students. To do so, some departments and faculty are making more use of primary sources, technology in presentations and research, textual analysis, and interdisciplinary courses that link English and history or anthropology and sociology.3 These solutions, which are being tried at the college and university level to address the issue of changing content, parallel the discussions and practice in secondary history education, which will be outlined in the following sections.
4. Secondary school history teachers have many students for whom high school courses will be their last formal exposure to history.
These students, as well as college-bound students, have important reasons to gain historical knowledge and to be able to effectively use its methods of analysis. Research shows that the method and materials of college history classes are translated daily into the K-12 classrooms as the way history should be conveyed. If lecture is the primary method of delivering the ideas, theories, and data of historical inquiry, this, then, becomes the method that college students perceive to be the appropriate one if they themselves begin to teach. Research also indicates that lecture is not the most effective daily method for the diverse learners in today's schools. At the very least, the lecture method must be combined with active discussion and with exercises that involve the use of historical materials and historical analysis.
5. The content of history has increasingly taken on a public face.
The content of history has increasingly taken on a public face, as the national debate over standards has moved the content of K-12 and college history curriculums onto the public agenda. Such basic questions as what information is important and how it is presented to provide effective learning are concerns of history faculty at all levels. New questions continue to be raised about who is schooled in the United States and what is required in that schooling. The focus on what students know about history reinforces the need for more (or certainly not less) history in K-12 classrooms.4 If one implements the recommendations of the Bradley Commission, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Report Card, or National Standards documents, the need for increased history learning becomes paramount.
Often history is perceived to be a story of who we are. Many individuals and groups not directly involved in history research or teaching have taken an interest in what the "story" of America and the world conveys about and to Americans. Following the release of the 1994 National History Standards document, articles in such newspapers as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Washington Post expanded the discussion beyond the exclusive realm of historians to a much more public and political forum.5 As conversations on campuses in recent years have often centered on the "canon" of history, those who know about history from research, teaching, and writing are now more often, and appropriately so, pulled into the public debate. Books that focus on this debate about what students should know and what they do not know in history have been on bestseller lists.6 This public evaluation of what history courses should teach should attract the attention of all historians, not just the secondary school teachers who must respond to state standards, textbook selection committees, and their students' parents. How effectively we as historians articulate the method and material of history can have repercussions on history's perceived value to an increasingly vocal, aware, and interested public.
In conclusion, college, university, and secondary school history faculties have similar objectives, but they offer varying depth and breadth of knowledge, use multiple techniques, and teach disparate student populations. Because one took a college course in history does not make one a historian; because one attended high school does not make one an effective teacher. In fact, university historians and secondary school history teachers have the potential to create a forceful and productive symbiotic relationship that would benefit all instructors as well as the students they teach. Yet as Seymour B. Sarason and coauthors commented in their 1986 book, The Preparation of Teachers, "You have to know and experience in the most intimate and tangible ways the situations which your actions purport to affect."7
Often direct experience is not possible. Secondary school teachers have little time to pursue academic research, and university historians have no time to sit in secondary classrooms. Even without direct experience, however, it is possible to increase awareness by understanding and recognizing the issues important to the work of the other.
We need to establish connections between historians at secondary and college levels that have lasting value. More information for university historians about secondary school teaching and an increasing recognition by both groups of their similarities could raise the number and, more important for students, the effectiveness of secondary school-university partnerships.
Demographics Affect History in the Schools
The demographic makeup of the nation and its school population has changed. Significantly increasing numbers of minority students and students for whom English is not their first language have changed the look of classrooms in many areas across the United States. Because of economic reasons, major population shifts have occurred within the United States, whether from urban to suburban or from the northeast to the south, southwest, or west. School funding formulas that rely heavily on local property taxes have created unequal school environments that may vary dramatically from one part of a state to another or one part of a county or city to another.8
For secondary school history teachers, this demographic change has influenced not only the student composition of their classrooms but also the materials, curriculum, and personnel available to them. General recognition of the student population's diversity--whether by gender, language, ethnicity, or class--and its varying impact on student achievement have stimulated the search for inclusive scholarship in history. The increased volume of new materials available from a variety of published sources, as well as through the electronic media, raises the same problem for secondary school teachers as that identified by faculty in university survey courses: How does one decide what content is essential for effective student learning in history? In secondary schools, however--unlike in university courses, where students purchase their own books--even when decisions are made about content, many schools lack the budget to buy new materials. Equally important, in some cases teachers lack the knowledge to create or implement a new curriculum. Thus, even an awareness of the value to a diverse student body of expanded historical knowledge does not always result in its use.
State and Local Curriculum Goals
Schools have been directed, often by local or state-mandated curriculums, to "take on" many of the problems faced by the society at large. School curriculum specialists have often included such social issues as race relations, teenage violence, patriotism, civil rights, and the family in history or civics classes. The classes thus become "social problems" courses, leaving serious historical study behind to focus on current events and contemporary issues taken from the evening news or weekly news magazines. Even then, background information that might have included historical knowledge on any of these topics is woefully lacking.
The History Standards Movement
Following the release of the 1983 report A Nation at Risk, the general public began to become more concerned about what was being learned in schools. Nationwide tests in the late 1980s suggested that U.S. students were far behind their counterparts in almost every other industrialized country in the world.9 The resulting political movement led to the Educate America Act in 1994, which set national goals for student learning. One goal--which addressed the need for students to "leave grades 4, 8, [and] 12 having demonstrated competency over challenging subjects including English, mathematics, science, foreign languages, civics and government, economics, arts, history, and geography..."--had a very real impact on K-12 history curriculum and on the teachers who taught it.10
As the process of developing history standards has been unfolding, many of the issues that have emerged within the history profession over the past several decades have resurfaced. The "new" social history applied well to the changing needs of schools and students, but it also brought to the forefront the debate over what "truth" is and what our young people should know to meet the standards of the National Goals. Multiculturalism raised a debate between particularists and pluralists,11 and between "traditional" and "new" historians.12 To some, including the new research and writing in history texts meant that other important material had been left out. This debate has been heard across many states as curriculum teams, often using funds from the Educate America Act, have begun to develop state history standards.
Teacher Involvement in Standards
In many cases secondary school teachers could not be real players in the debate because they did not have the knowledge base from which to make decisions about what to teach. A 1990 survey of 257 history teachers found that 13 percent had never taken a college history course, and only 40 percent had a B.A. or M.A. in history.13 Without the information or training base with which to decide about what to teach, reliance on the text remains the primary source for course development and delivery, leaving decisions about broader issues of standards to others. In addition, with fewer teachers now available to fill classrooms in urban and rural schools, teachers are more often teaching "out of content." In social studies departments, which often carry the many varied courses required by the shifting needs of schools, teachers may be as far from their field of training as to be teaching peer counseling rather than world history. This is further reinforced by several studies. One study found that "nearly one-fourth (23 percent) of all secondary teachers do not have even a college minor in their main teaching field." A second study indicated that 60 percent of U.S. history teachers are teaching outside their major.14 These statistics, however, also point to the increasing need for university historians to collaborate with the more than 40 percent of history school teachers who are strong in their content and eager to strengthen history education in secondary schools; to assist them not only by contributing to standards but also by encouraging them as mentors of others who lack current history knowledge.
The Middle School Model Changes Teaching Strategies
In some cases, to accommodate the changing requirements placed on schools by a society that wants schools to address many of the social problems of violent youth, drop outs, or illiterate graduates, an increasing number of schools have moved to change the basic way they deliver schooling. Following the lead of such educators as Theodore Sizer, Robert Slavin, D. W. Johnson, and Roger T. Johnson, and Edyth Johnson Holubec, schools are restructuring in organization and curriculum.15 Middle schools have been the focus of much of this change, because they provide the transition between the more flexible world of elementary schools and the very structured, subject-centered world of high schools. In the middle school model a group of 80-120 students, grades 6-8 generally, are placed with a team of teachers who are responsible for all of their academic subjects. In this model history teachers may work with English or science teachers to create themes around which several subjects may be taught. Themes might be selected based on the content standards in history or geography.
This team of teachers is encouraged to think interdisciplinarily, as classes may be combined into nontraditional 90- or 100-minute time blocks. In the best cases, this scheduling format has encouraged history teachers to engage in cooperative planning and to use cooperative learning for students. The model also may facilitate placing history in a context, logically integrated with other academic subjects.
Also at the middle school level many experiments have been conducted on authentic learning and assessment. Teaching methods such as inquiry (long a staple of science labs) and concept formation and concept attainment (which focus on hands-on learning strategies) are more readily tried. These methods have also been encouraged by some of the national standards documents, notably in mathematics and science.16
Because in creating middle schools, the whole school has been restructured (a grade 7-9 "junior high" has become a grade 6-8 school), it has been easier to plan workshops or seminars that address new learning theories in general. But where this structure has fallen short is in the examination of specific content. Because teachers work in teams, each teacher is expected to be responsible for the content of his or her own teaching fields. The professional training they receive has typically focused on how students learn, what keeps students in school, or how students can better work together, not on what students are learning. Rather, this occurs at the high school level, where the emphasis has been most focused on academic content.
High School History Teaching
Although some high schools incorporate some of the new structure and methods of the middle school model (Sizer's "essential schools" are an example),17 most have found the ideas of cooperative learning and alternative assessments to be too difficult to implement in a system that has as its measure of success high scores on the SATs and college admissions. Many university faculty have been linked with high school teachers in the development of advanced-placement courses and preparation for gifted and talented programs, where it is recognized that the teacher's content knowledge is essential. But in fact, content knowledge is essential for all teachers.
Willingness to think in different ways, to provide students with the newest research in content as well as in methodology, requires additional information for teachers who have been teaching for many years or who have been required by the nature of their assignments to teach out of their field of study. Many school systems, some state education departments, and the Department of Education at the federal level recognize the need for in-service training for teachers.18 The National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) for many years has supported summer institutes for teachers in content specialties. These efforts, where they have been funded, have provided a valuable service to teachers and students. Additional education for teachers in secondary schools remains a significant concern, however.
While the reduction of NEH funding may limit some classic in-service opportunities, a number of organizations, including the American Historical Association (AHA), are eager to sponsor new collaboratives, grouping history teachers at various levels to discuss issues in survey-course teaching, use of electronic media, the implications of new research on history learning, and other areas. A number of effective collaboratives continue to flourish, providing regular opportunities to discuss relevant trends in historical scholarship, jointly shared teaching challenges such as the world history course, and other issues. Several collaboratives flourish in California, including the new "seamless learning" project in Long Beach and the focused South Bay World History project based at Stanford University.19 An active collaborative also joins four- and two-year college teachers and high school teachers in Wisconsin. The opportunity to coordinate history training across levels, particularly where clear feeder patterns exist, and to encourage a mutual updating of knowledge and teaching and assessment techniques should spark additional efforts.
Frequently, it is a systemwide decision or a state mandate that governs staff development content for teachers. Even in a system in which the decisions about what is presented in the classroom are made at the school (usually department) level, suggestions or guidelines are provided from school systems or state organizations. More teacher input into the subject and direction of their own pre-service training would logically lead to more teacher commitment to new knowledge.
Within schools of education the discussions about the direction of teacher preparation are ongoing. The decisions are often about how to balance methodology with content or about how to provide pre-service teachers with current and relevant knowledge, understanding that the students, schools, and content are in a mode of constant and rapid change. To respond to the concern that content has been sacrificed for method, many education programs are adding a fifth year to the bachelor's degree for those interested in teacher certification. This change has been influenced in some regions by state decisions not to license any candidate for secondary teaching who does not have an undergraduate academic major (that is, not a major in education). In other areas universities are considering dramatically downsizing education schools into departments or programs or moving to graduate degrees only (which include licensure requirements).20
Schools of education are also linked to academic departments through the requirements of their certifying bodies, namely the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE), to which schools of education may choose to belong, and the National Association of State Directors of Teacher Education and Certification (NASDTEC), which governs requirements for teacher licensure within each state and the District of Columbia. When each body evaluates teacher preparation programs, it considers a set of guidelines that an education school must meet. In the case of NCATE, it works with the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) to evaluate programs for the strength of their content base in history. Schools must demonstrate that their graduates who desire licensure have a background in both U.S. and world history. Other courses are included because of the broad definition of social studies, but history forms the core. NASDTEC also has rigorous standards for measuring the level at which students meet the academic requirements.
Since 1989 another standards body has been in place. The National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS) has begun to offer board certification for teachers, using a model similar to that of the medical profession. (It differs from the licensure required of teachers by each state.) The NBPTS has developed high and rigorous standards that reflect exceptional teaching. This voluntary process is growing in support among the states, some of which offer increased salary and recertification points to teachers for successful completion of the National Board process. The NBPTS's five core principles have also been adapted by NCATE for inclusion in its evaluation of teacher preparation programs. These five principles are as follows:
- Teachers are committed to students and their learning.
- Teachers know the subjects they teach and how to teach the subject to students.
- Teachers are responsible for managing and monitoring student learning.
- Teachers think systematically about their practice and learn from experience.
- Teachers are members of learning communities.
History departments might usefully take into account these guideline statements in considering the relevance of their curriculums for teacher training. Right now, with some important exceptions, the task of specifically evaluating teacher preparation is left to other units. Yet schools of education can only do so much without the collaboration of university history departments and school history-social studies departments. It appears that different constituencies hold pieces of the whole picture. A 1995 study by John W. Larner of Indiana University of Pennsylvania of 400 history departments found that in most higher education institutions, the work of training history teachers is done outside history departments. The greatest amount of collaboration (35 percent) occurs in advising education students, while as few as 8 percent shared responsibility for teaching the history-social studies methods course.24 Stronger collaboration in just this one area could create a stronger teacher, a better prepared student, more effective research, and a stronger place in the future for history in academic institutions.
Just as the demographics of the student population in our schools and the range of historical research have changed, so too should our notions about effective learning of content. There are innovative programs and individuals at the secondary and university levels that are endeavoring to integrate the new history with the latest learning theories. From learning theorists such as John Dewey and Jean Piaget to historians such as James Banks and Geneva Gay, who write about history teachers in the secondary schools, the idea of involving learners in the process (of "doing history") has been a constant message. The ideas of inquiry learning advocated by Edwin Fenton in the late 1960s and early 1970s have been reinforced by Banks and others in the 1990s.25 The writers of the National History Standards have a separate, although integrated, section to explain and justify the idea of thinking historically. An entire issue of Perspectives's Teaching Innovations forum was devoted to thinking historically in the classroom.26 Among the articles were theoretical comments about the value of involving students in their own learning and examples of methods tried with high school, community college, and university students. In 1994 the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), in its report after the assessment of students in grades 4-12 in historical knowledge, proposed an approach to history teaching using sets of questions based on themes.27
Some programs are under way that illustrate this trend. Research in the area of second language learning and learners suggests a method that combines skills in reading, writing, and analysis with content to accomplish the "outcome goals" (what students know and what they are able to do) of the new standards that are being developed in many states. The large numbers of immigrant children entering our schools in recent decades have called attention to questions about learning that had traditionally been addressed differently with English-speaking students. Because school personnel today generally place newly admitted students in classes based on age rather than English ability, limited English-proficient (LEP) students are often placed in secondary school classes, where they must acquire language ability and content knowledge in order to pass proficiency tests in history or government. Teaching LEP students to succeed at these involves the use of more hands-on presentation, group learning, and alternative assessment.28 The vocabulary and concepts so important to second language learners are equally crucial to all history learners; the methods effective with LEP students are also found to work for all history learners.29
In another area, increasing computer use in secondary schools for research and presentation, once exclusively the purview of advanced placement and gifted and talented classes, has been routinely discovered to intrigue "regular" and special-needs students as well. Again, involving students in their own learning enhances the learning for almost all students. In this area as well, teachers often need training along with the students to become more comfortable with the possibilities for classroom use.
Recent research on history learning also generates opportunity for mutual discussion and experimentation by history teachers at both school and college levels. The research is not yet well-connected to actual teaching practice, but the potential is significant. Researchers have examined, for example, ways in which students handle source materials, with implications for generating more rapid acquisition of relevant analytical skills. Examples in Europe of more active pedagogical contact between historical researchers and history teachers may become more widely known in the United States.30
As a final example, all of the researchers who examine history learning and suggest ways for students to achieve broader and deeper knowledge have similar approaches: in one way or another, involve the students. It is the "how" of this approach that often stops secondary school and college and university faculty from proceeding to make the changes they, too, believe benefit their students. Active learning is the key, but this does not have to mean that one should never lecture, never tell students about the knowledge one has gained as a historian. Rather, it means pulling the students into that process so that they learn from and with the teacher. The reviving interest among history teachers in using documents to supplement textbooks is one important response to this challenge, although the practice remains limited. A related technique that has been effective is to provide students with small parts of the story on which they can "put their own stamp." Using artifacts from an era under study has been particularly successful. Students at all levels can answer questions about "real" pieces of history--a document in its author's original hand (available from the National Archives, local historical museums, and so on), or an object such as an early coffee grinder, a mass-produced skillet, or a piece of art from Central Africa. The object introduces the time period or the theme. Students answer questions about the object's use, its maker, or the object itself. Their answers give the teacher useful information about the students' knowledge of the topic and provide direction for the instruction that follows. By first asking students to hypothesize about the subject they are exploring, the instructor involves them in the process of thinking historically.
Teaching in this way involves some practice on the instructor's part as well as access to teaching artifacts. This is one point at which professional development days in public schools, courses at schools of education, and collaboration with college and university history departments become important. Through these avenues colleges, universities, and secondary schools can collaborate effectively.
So, where do we go from here? The complexity of the problem is very real, but the players who have the solutions are also in place. It is a matter of informing those who have the solutions and providing the format for these diverse groups with strong common links to work together, to strengthen the place of history in the schools and in the minds of all graduates. Several examples follow.
Although many believe that partnerships between university and secondary school faculty would improve history teaching and learning, there is often uncertainty about how to implement effective change. Part of this process of change involves an awareness of what is being tried and how well various efforts are working to enhance history's role in the classrooms of our secondary schools, colleges, and universities.
In 1995 the American Council of Learned Societies (ACLS) created the Teaching the Humanities: The Journal of the ACLS Elementary and Secondary Schools Teacher Curriculum Development Project, which noted that under these conditions of rapidly changing knowledge, "the teacher must have a connection with the sources of the production of new knowledge and interpretation...most often they are conveniently gathered in colleges and universities."31 This project supports humanities teaching in public schools through a network of school district-university collaboratives. In addition, the ACLS has offered fellowships to sponsor individual sabbaticals for teachers who wish to update their content knowledge in the humanities.
In another effort,the Ohio Academy created a model for collaboration between secondary school history teachers and university history faculty. The purpose of the academy was to link school teachers with faculty who could be resources in areas of course development by providing knowledge in various history fields. Commitments to their own institutions made frequent contacts difficult, but both parties appreciated the opportunities. In this case the focus was on the teacher's individual needs, not necessarily directed at the larger issues of curriculum or student learning.32
The Philadelphia High School-College Collaborative joined twenty high school teachers and twenty college faculty to explore better ways to teach world history and to prepare new teachers. This NEH-funded collaboration that began in 1993 has designed bimonthly meetings to focus on topics of interest to all partners, from updating content knowledge to textbook analysis to the development of curriculum for Philadelphia schools.33
State History Standards Collaborations
After the 1989 conference of state governors, the 1994 passage of the Goals 2000: Educate America Act, and the identification of core content areas in which students should meet standards, various states became involved in projects to develop strong history standards for public school students.
Among the first and the most highly visible projects in the past decade has been the California History/Social Science Project. Funded in part by NEH and by the state of California, the project has not only published a curriculum framework (The California History-Social Science Framework, 1987), which was adopted by the State of California Board of Education.34 It also has an extensive program of teacher training, which (until funding was curtailed) was mandated to provide training in the content and use of the framework for all social studies teachers in California. The task force that designed the framework included university and school faculties, who worked over a period of time to build the resources to implement the curriculum. Some of these task force members later became active in the development of the National History Standards.
In other states in the last five to seven years funding has been provided by state governments and the U.S. Department of Education to build history-social studies curriculums to strengthen the place of history in the schools. Efforts in such states as Connecticut, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Missouri, and Wisconsin are in various stages of development, partially supported by funds from the 1994 Educate America Act.35 In Washington, D.C., funding provided by this act financed a core group of K-12 teachers in the summer of 1995 to begin the process of developing their history and English-language arts standards. The group included university faculty as resources, developed questionnaires, and interviewed community members, school personnel and students before they began their development work. In the fall of 1995 they disseminated a draft of eight standards that they believe reflect what students should know and be able to do to be competent in history. Theirs is an ongoing process, with the next step being to create the curriculum, develop materials, and field-test them. They have used resources such as the Colorado Model Content Standards, the California Framework, and the NAEP Framework. The group found it important to include as many of the community "stakeholders" as possible in the process.36 The Washington, D.C., pattern is particularly important because its involvement of college and school history teachers contrasts with the more top-down standards-setting frameworks recently used in some states, with predictably disappointing results.
The National History Day organization provides a platform for historians and teachers to interact with public school students about history. The process of creating a project for the annual National History Day provides an opportunity for students to do the historical inquiry that historians value and wish to instill in students. At all levels (local, state, and national) historians can be involved with schools and students, grades 6-12 (as resources, judges, or supporters) through the National History Day summer institutes for teachers or at the national competition, held annually in June at the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland.
Outside of standards and curriculum development, there are other efforts under way that involve historians and secondary school teachers in collaborative work to improve learning. The History Teaching Alliance (HTA, now a part of the National History Education Network (NHEN), has created a platform for those involved in collaboration to meet, share ideas, and expand their own options for new programs. NHEN is jointly sponsored by the AHA, NCSS, and OAH, demonstrating by its structure the collaborative efforts it encourages. NHEN can use the examples of its network and others it has supported to begin to construct the argument for change through collaboration. The support structure is in place to build change, but it needs more participants. University faculty are involved along with high school history teachers in the development of questions for the advanced placement exams. Both secondary school teachers and university faculty also participate in the development of the assessment rubric for the exam and are hired as assessors by the Educational Testing Service.
Collaboration across all levels of history teaching offers a number of targets of mutual interest:
- Increased emphasis on history in schools
- Dissemination of new history knowledge
- Students well trained in history in high school and college.
For the most part, college and university history departments have not paid much attention to the training of history teachers in recent decades. It is often assumed that this responsibility lies with schools of education, or that accrediting standards preclude opportunity for input from undergraduate history programs.
Many programs demonstrate the effectiveness of collaboration between secondary school and university historians. Research studies suggest methods that enhance history learning for all students. Yet although accepting these as valuable, even essential, for increasing the effectiveness of history teaching, there are a number of specific barriers to explicit consideration of ongoing contact with secondary schools. It is important to recognize these points as well.37
University Reward System
A major barrier to university history faculty involvement in secondary schools can be the university reward system, which does not always recognize community work, curriculum development, or collaborative teaching with secondary school teachers unless funded by a grant or resulting in an article. In Scholarship Reconsidered: Priorities of the Professoriate, Ernest Boyer provided valuable suggestions for ways to define "scholarship" that include much of what university faculty do, "to recognize the full range of faculty talent and the great diversity of functions higher education must perform."38 Boyer's notion of "scholarship of application" validates the type of collaboration university historians might seek with secondary schools. "New intellectual understandings can arise out of the very act of application--whether in medical diagnosis...shaping public policy...or working with the public schools. In activities such as these, theory and practice vitally interact, and one renews the other."39 To change the assessment system at universities is as large a task as the struggle currently under way to change student assessment on advanced placement, SAT, and other exams, but there is an increasing move toward that change. Schools of business, international relations, and education are beginning; others may follow.
Knowledge about Public Schools
University historians need to work in schools, not just on committees developing advanced placement exams, or with the National History Day organization, but with students who may not be college bound. Historians need to be aware of the secondary school curriculum in their region or city. The material that the university historian emphasizes may be completely foreign to the teacher in the neighboring high school, which causes two results:
- Students entering the university from that high school will have no background from which to understand the college class, and
- History graduates entering that school as teachers will have a limited background to teach in that high school.
In most states licensing standards for teachers are governed by NASDTEC. Knowledge of state criteria for history teachers, as well as those of the AHA and NCSS, also enhances a historian's opportunity to guide those who leave his or her classes and enter the secondary schools as teachers. In addition, being aware of the state's role in developing history requirements for high school graduation places college and university historians in a position to respond to any changes that weaken the role of history in the schools. By virtue of their academic status, collaborations between historians and the schools or state departments of education also strengthen any response or policy position. A number of organizations, such as the Council for Basic Education, the Council of Chief State School Officers, the Council of the Great City Schools, or the U.S. Department of Education, have information on standards often gained from consultation with or conference presentations by historians.
Perceptions about Student Knowledge
Another barrier to changing nontraditional methods is the notion that all students may not be able to think historically; that telling is better for beginning students than doing. Although the recent, and not so recent, scholarship on learning emphasizes the value of involving the learner, there is much in the tradition of university teaching that supports the lecture format. To demonstrate the value of diverse learning formats, it could be very advantageous to develop partnerships between history faculty at the secondary and college levels or collaborations between historians and history educators at the same university. Developing courses in history that enhance the learning of those in education and vice versa increases the value to both. The AHA publication Liberal Learning and the History Major suggests that historians "attempt to ensure that prospective teachers major in history rather than education."40 Although more and more states are insisting on an academic major that is not education for secondary certification, the university could model that approach by pairing students in upper-level history content courses with those students who are applying their history knowledge in secondary history methods courses. This has happened on a small scale with the Department of Teacher Preparation and the Geography and American Studies departments at George Washington University. This approach increases the content knowledge of college students who are planning to teach and at the same time increases the involvement of all history majors and faculty in varied teaching methods.
The barriers to more systematic efforts in teacher training and collaboration in history, undergirded by commitments to separate routines, merit reexamination. Public interest in history is running high, but history teaching at various levels faces some common challenges. Pressure to assess the results of teaching grows at several levels. A tendency to identify educational value with highly practical, possibly computer-based training challenges historians in college and secondary schools alike. There are also new opportunities as the result of changing student interests and the dynamic research findings the discipline has generated.
Technology and History Learning
Technology is affecting the historian's way of doing business, and it is an integral part of the discussion on learning. As mentioned earlier in this essay, in the discussion of the new social history, the increased use of the computer to collect and evaluate data has done much to change the direction and subjects of historical study. By the same token, the computer has added a dimension to history teaching as well. More and more is available in the education market in the way of electronic media for teacher and student use. Some of these provide access to vast databases; some use data to create programs for student use. These programs sometimes advertise their value by emphasizing how they involve students in history. However, they often provide nothing more than a pre-set list of choices that move students through a prescribed cause-effect process to arrive at a previously decided end point. Some material allows for real student input in classrooms, but much is based on individual responses and one student per computer. Again, evaluation of effective materials could be an area of collaboration. There are a number of very significant issues involved in the use of technology, especially computers, in K-Grad classrooms that involve decisions about validity of approach and value of content.
With the technology comes a significant cost in equipment and training. This barrier further separates resource-rich and resource-poor schools. On all measures, schools in poorer districts are further disadvantaged by the inability to make use of the new technology. In some schools the issue is one of training; in others it is also the issue of access. Again, solutions may lie in partnerships with organizations, both in other schools and outside school walls.
At times, college, university, and secondary school faculties find themselves lagging behind their students in familiarity with the computer technology. Joint seminars or learning opportunities that expand computer knowledge and perhaps at the same time develop teaching ideas for students could be another base for significant school-university collaboration.
Although computer access may provide an easier research tool because one can give students the data to examine without leaving the building, it is also possible to create the questions and provide broader data in other ways. Resources outside the classroom are underused at all levels of teaching history. Bringing artifacts into the classroom is one way to encourage inquiry and involvement, but seeing locations of historical import is certainly another way. Every community has something within its boundaries that reflects a time in our past and in many cases communities support local museums or historical societies. Sites can be visited, speakers can visit the schools, data can be brought in or discovered on class or individual journeys of exploration. From first settlements to the labor movement, women's roles to political protests, each community has something to contribute to the story. Students can discover those pieces by physically going to the places and by building the story themselves. If there is a partnership with a local college or university, historians and their students can work with secondary students to research, analyze, and write from documentary, photographic, or oral sources. In so doing, students can build a relationship with their own community and its people in ways a text, a lecture, or a computer can not provide.
The diversity in America's classrooms is increasing rapidly, as is the historical information available to teachers. There is currently a deficit in the crucial connection between research historians and their work reaching the classroom and those who primarily teach history. It has not proved easy to translate major new historical findings or reinterpretations into classroom curriculums, and even textbooks. At the same time, the growing diversity of learners is not just found in the secondary schools. This diversity is also mirrored in the university student population. In liberal arts institutions, where all entering students take courses in the social sciences--often in history--it is an ideal opportunity to combine new historical knowledge with new research about learning.41 By exposure to diverse methods at the university level, students in history classes will be learning via a method that those who choose to teach may eventually carry into their own classes.
The methods that were developed for advanced placement students should also be examined for their relevance to all learners. Too often, school-university collaborative projects include those faculty already involved with secondary schools through advanced placement classes.42 If hands-on history is effective in involving college-bound and college students, why would it not engage others? If advanced placement students only remember lectured information until the test, the same is most likely true for other students as well. We know from research that students are multidimensional learners.43 Our increasing awareness of varying learning styles in our widely diverse student population (and the successes of students in classes that use varied methods) would seem to dictate the wisdom of expanding these methods to all students.
More of those college-bound students are choosing teaching as their careers.44 Therefore, they need the strong content base that historians can provide, and they need to integrate that knowledge with the pedagogy to convey the excitement and value of history to all of their students.
Strengthening the Content Core
Once solidified, standards may provide a focus for this task. Standards have illustrated, perhaps sometimes too contentiously, the debates within the history profession. The good news is that they may also illustrate the general public's concern about history. The efforts on the part of many states to develop their own history standards indicate that they value the knowledge and ways of thinking about and analyzing material that students gain by studying history. The basis exists for a strong push for a significant role for history again in the curriculums of public secondary schools. Secondary school teachers need the support of university historians to understand the debates, to update their own learning, and to gain confidence in the message they bring to their students. At the same time, if the circle is to be completely effective, university history teachers need to address the learning issues of their students; to add the new knowledge gained by learning theorists, museum educators, and other applied historians that expands the reach of their teaching.
Evaluating the Relationship between History Curriculums and Teacher Training
Many colleges train future history teachers, either in small numbers or in considerable batches. Commitment to a strong history major, and possibly a related minor, constitutes the most important basic contribution to this training. At the same time, some programs might profitably reevaluate elements of their offerings in light of the teacher training role, to make sure that appropriate range, exposure to analytical skills, guidance in coordinated interdisciplinary work, and imaginative assessment mechanisms are available--along with consideration of relevant opportunities to interact with existing history teachers. Such a reevaluation should be perfectly compatible with the other purposes of a history curriculum.
Some history programs have designed special features related to history training. In 1995 Long Beach State University, for example, took over responsibility from the school of education for supervising student teachers in history and several other disciplines. This move has triggered careful assessment of teacher training components within the history major, as well as ongoing contact with established high school programs in the area. One result is a "capstone" course for all candidates, prior to student teaching, in which major aspects of both U.S. and world history are reviewed, along with some geography, economics, and government; the candidates are assessed on their knowledge of basics in these areas, and passage of an examination is required before entering the classroom.
Common purposes--the shared goal of improving student learning in history in secondary schools and higher education--dictate logical areas for collaboration.
Historians should have the opportunity to observe multidimensional teaching in public schools. It is a special thrill to observe the ways in which good teachers involve all students in history. To see the excitement and energy of middle school students working on the construction of a medieval society or developing a colonial-era village could convince university historians of students' ability to think historically.
We need to overcome the notion that college and university historians have nothing to learn from secondary school teachers. The conversation needs to run both ways, however. Strong secondary school history teachers work with students who will never attend college, but those students still need to have a solid understanding of history. Although it is true that university historians have a deeper content knowledge than most teachers in secondary schools, they may not have the experiences with the variety of methods used by the secondary teacher. Both parties have valuable knowledge to share. Collaborations on curriculum are valuable. Seminars on content, new technologies, and new historical research are indeed valuable, but so too is an appreciation by university historians of the setting in which secondary school teachers function. Talking to, listening to, and brainstorming with teachers about the best resources or the best approach to a particular topic, presenting information, or working with students on projects are all of particular importance to secondary school teachers and students and ultimately to history professors. These connections may be most easily made through university education schools, who already have contacts with secondary schools. Public schools welcome partners who want to be a part of the solution, to work with young people, and to care that these students learn.
There are so many ways to become involved: to strengthen history in our schools by working with secondary teachers and students, by challenging universities to commit to rewarding creative teaching as scholarship, by funding collaborative research to develop new history materials and methods. Schools and students need assistance from those who have the content knowledge to build stronger courses; universities need the collaboration of excellent teachers to engage those college-bound students in the mysteries and delights of learning history.
Each group (the two- and four-year college and the secondary school) has its own unique issues to resolve independently, but in these areas of common concern--increasing the value and role of history in the classroom--we can build a much more solid base by working together. Those who write from both camps encourage the relationship; it is up to the two groups to carry it out. The reward will be better-educated students who have an excitement about learning history and a knowledge base to think constructively about themselves and their place in the world. If they choose to do so, they will also have the tools, not just from classes in pedagogy but from their own learning process, to pass it on to others as teachers.
1. The new research that challenges the canon of the traditional story, which has been told without significant change in U.S. history textbooks since the late nineteenth century, has not been added easily. Two analyses of textbooks are particularly important: Francis Fitzgerald, America Revised: History Schoolbooks in the Twentieth Century (Boston: Little, Brown, 1979); and James Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me (New York: The New Press, 1995).
3. The 1991 American Historical Association Task Force on Liberal Learning and the History Major reinforced the integrative approach as an essential part of the undergraduate curriculum.
4. Both the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) and the Bradley Commission on History in Schools advocate increasing the amount of history taught in secondary schools. Review of tabulations of NAEP's 1987 survey can be found in Diane Ravitch and Chester E. Finn Jr., What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know? (New York: Harper & Row, 1987); Bradley Commission on History in Schools, Building a History Curriculum: Guidelines for Teaching History in Schools (Washington, D.C.: Educational Excellence Network, 1988).
5. The National History Standards were revised in 1996 and can be ordered from the National Center for History in the Schools, University of California at Los Angeles, 1100 Glendon Ave., Ste. 927, Box 951588, Los Angeles, CA 90095. Fax 310-794-6740.
6. Two examples are E. D. Hirsch Jr., Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1987); or Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1987).
9. National Commission on Excellence in Education, A Nation at Risk: The Imperative for Educational Reform (Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, 1983). The full text is available at http://www.ed.gov/pubs/NatAtRisk/title.html. Paul Williams and others, NAEP 1994 U.S. History: First Look (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Education Research and Improvement, 1995); and Alexandra S. Beatty and others, NAEP 1994 U.S. History Report Card: Findings from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, Office of Education Research and Improvement, 1996).
10. Goals 2000: Educate America Act, 1994 (administered through the U.S. Department of Education). The full text of the act is available at http://www.ed.gov/legislation/GOALS2000/TheAct.
12. Eric Foner, ed., The New American History, revised and expanded edition (Philadelphia: Temple University Press, 1997). These essays are also available in individual pamphlet form ($3 for members, $5 for nonmembers) from the American Historical Association.
13. Charlotte Crabtree and David O'Shea, "Teachers' Academic Preparation in History," National Center for History in the Schools Newsletter 1, no. 3 (November 1991): 4, 10. Cited in Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me, 280.
14. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me, 282-83. Crabtree and O'Shea noted that some of those surveyed did have majors in the social sciences. One in twelve history teachers had a B.A. in physical education.
15. Theodore Sizer, Horace's School: Redesigning the American High School (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992); and Robert Slavin, "Cooperative Learning and Student Achievement," Educational Leadership 46, no. 2 (October 1988): 31-33, present models and research to support the use of cooperative learning, as do Roger T. Johnson, D. W. Johnson, and Edythe Johnson Holubec in The New Circles of Learning: Cooperation in the Classroom and School (Alexandria, Va.: American Society for Curriculum Development, 1994).
16. National Research Council, National Science Education Standards (Washington, D.C.: National Academy Press, 1995); and National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, Curriculum and Evaluation Standards for School Mathematics (Reston, Va.: National Council of Teachers of Mathematics, 1989).
18. A goal added to the National Goals in the Educate America Act addresses teacher training, as does the 1996 report of the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, What Matters Most: Teaching for America's Future (New York: National Commission on Teaching and America's Future). Copies are available from the National Commission on Teaching and America's Future, P.O. Box 5239, Woodbridge, VA 22194-5239. Both place emphasis on the need to address teacher training, both pre- and in-service, to improve schools in all academic areas.
19. For more on the "seamless education" project, see Bill Weber and others, "Seamless Education in Long Beach: University/College/School Collaboration," Perspectives 35, no. 6 (September 1997): 21.
20. The National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE) has statistics on downsizing in education departments and the shift from undergraduate teacher preparation to graduate schools of education. The National Commission on Teaching also recommends the fifth-year structure for teacher preparation.
22. Information on the history-social science certification is available from the NBPTS at 1-800-22-TEACH.
23. American Historical Association (AHA), Guidelines for the Preparation of Teachers of History (Washington, D.C.: AHA, 1993); AHA Task Force on Liberal Learning and the History Major, Liberal Learning and the History Major (Washington, D.C.: AHA, 1991).
24. John W. Larner, "Departments of History and Secondary Teacher Education," Perspectives 34, no. 4 (April 1996): 38.
25. Examples are provided in Edwin Fenton, Teaching the New Social Studies in Secondary Schools: An Inductive Approach (New York: Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1966); James Banks, Teaching Strategies for the Social Studies: Inquiry, Valuing, and Decision-Making (New York: Longman, 1990); and Geneva Gay, "Culturally Diverse Students and the Social Studies," in James P. Shaver, ed., Handbook of Research on Social Studies, Teaching, and Learning (New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1991), 144-56.
26. Robert Blackey, Allison Blakely, Peter Frederick, Robert Gutierrez, Don and Nadine Hata, Linda Kaufman, Gordon Mork, Carol Pixton, Eric Rothschild, Peter Stearns, and David Trask, Thinking Historically in the Classroom, "Teaching Innovations Forum," Perspectives 33, no. 7 (October 1995): 1, 4, 23-25, 37.
27. National Assessment Governing Board, U.S. History Framework for the 1994 National Assessment of Educational Progress: NAEP U.S. History Consensus Project (Washington, D.C.: U.S. Department of Education, 1994). For further information, contact the National Assessment Governing Board at 800 North Capitol St., NW, Ste. 825, Washington, DC 20002. Tel. 202-357-6938.
29. A. U. Chamot and J. M. O'Malley, The CALLA Handbook: How to Implement the Cognitive Academic Language Learning Approach (Reading, Mass.: Addison Wesley, 1994). See also Peter H. Martorella, "Knowledge and Concept Development in Social Studies," in Shaver, ed., Handbook of Research on Social Studies; and Matthew T. Downey and Linda S. Levstik, "Teaching and Learning History" in Shaver, ed., Handbook of Research on Social Studies.
31. American Council of Learned Societies, Teaching the Humanities: The Journal of the ACLS Elementary and Secondary Schools Teacher Curriculum Development Project 1, no. 1 (summer 1995): iv.
32. Information on the Ohio Academy can be found in the National History Education Network's Membership Directory and Resource Guide. Loretta Sullivan Lobes is executive director. NHEN is currently located at Carnegie Mellon University, Dept. of History, Baker Hall 240, Pittsburgh, PA 15213.
33. Howard Spodek, "World History: A Report on the Philadelphia High School-College Collaborative," Perspectives (April 1995): 16-17.
34. Copies of the History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools are available for $6 each, plus sales tax, for California residents from the Bureau of Publications Sales, California State Department of Education, P.O. Box 271, Sacramento, CA 95802-0271. Tel. 916-445-1260.
35. An American Federation of Teachers (AFT) study has measured the progress of each state in the development of common core curriculum in core academic subjects. As of the date of their report, the AFT judged that only 13 states "have standards that are strong enough to carry the weight of the reforms being built upon them. See AFT, Making Standards Matter (Washington, D.C.: AFT, 1997).
37. John W. Larner found "no clear patterns of history department involvement in teacher education." See Larner, "Departments of History and Secondary Teacher Education," Perspectives 34, no. 4 (April 1996): 38.
40. AHA, Liberal Learning, 26.
41. Mary Crystal Cage discusses a program in which students majoring in the liberal arts may also learn about teaching. This model recognizes the special skills required for effective teaching. See Cage, "Learning to Teach," Chronicle of Higher Education (Feb. 9, 1996): 19-20.
44. The Chronicle of Higher Education tracks information on content majors in colleges and universities.
Last Updated: April 26, 2007