Publication Date

March 1, 2008

Findings from research on the undergraduate training of K–12 teachers

Perspectives has been bringing us lively and provocative discussions about teacher education, the importance of history in K–12 curricula, and the internationalization of history—topics that have been atop my own research agenda for several years. Internationalization of history is, in particular, increasingly becoming a significant component in discussions about history curriculums at all levels. It has not only been the theme for several summer workshops and seminars organized by the AHA and other organizations, but is also the theme, albeit in a slightly different sense, for the AHA's 2009 annual meeting. For the K–12 level, "internationalization of history" essentially means addition of comparative elements in American history and much more attention to the histories of the rest of the world. Historians have a crucial role to play in shaping such changes as the process develops.

In this essay I report briefly on my findings from a research project (supported by the U.S. Department of Education) about the problems and prospects for internationalizing the undergraduate training of K–12 teachers, and offer some recommendations and raise some questions that may help historians who are involved in training future K–12 teachers.
My interest in the topic began when I was a Department of Education program officer working with Title VI international studies programs that were expected to form effective linkages with teacher training programs. The interest deepened when a subsequent project that sought to evaluate the effectiveness of one of those programs indicated a number of ambiguities in respondents’ understanding of questions about “teacher education.”1 These findings, coupled with increasing media attention to teacher quality issues, impelled me to seek grants to study the obstacles and prospects for getting international content into the undergraduate training of K–12 teachers. The first grant focused on the preparation of secondary school teachers and the more recent phase had an elementary school focus.

Why my special interest in fellow historians? As readers of many discussions in Perspectives have been reminded, undergraduates in elementary or secondary teacher certification or licensure programs must take the majority of their courses in arts and sciences fields, some to meet general education requirements and some to meet the highly prescribed "content" requirements. At the very least, history faculty are likely to have prospective teachers in introductory-level classes, and might also be involved with related curriculum discussions as well as advising.

The research project touched on several aspects of the student experience—advising, curriculum and faculty development, foreign language instruction, overseas experience, and governance. The findings and recommendations are derived from data collected in nearly 400 structured but open-ended interviews with deans, faculty, and advisers in both arts and sciences and education, with senior administrators, with education students, and 119 teachers. The university interviews were conducted nationwide on 41 campuses at both research (20) and comprehensive (17) universities and at liberal arts colleges (4). A good number of the arts and sciences interviewees were historians. Although the amount of the resulting data is daunting and the study results are still exploratory, tentative recommendations for both modest instructional changes and additional research do emerge.

Studies in the 1970s and 1980s indicated that internationalization efforts in teacher training programs concentrated on only two types of activity: sending a few students abroad for a semester or so, and sending faculty abroad, although with no special assignment or mandate.2 In contrast, because so few teacher trainees can study abroad, for this project the definition of internationalization includes a wide range of on-campus activities (curricular and cocurricular) as well as various opportunities abroad.


Although more than 25 current "internationalizing" activities were discussed, only one interviewee of the nearly 400 mentioned the advising process. Yet when we talked about feasible strategies for "internationalizing," nearly all of the university respondents and the current teachers wanted strengthening of academic and career advising systems. Internationally aware advising, even before matriculation, could make a difference in course selection, in study abroad participation, and in foreign language study for prospective teachers. Who does undergraduate academic advising? Even for pre-service teachers the advising for "content" is most often done in arts and sciences—and often by faculty in history departments. My interviewees were clear that, among other approaches, training sessions for advisers—not only faculty and professional advising staff, but also admissions officers—about the benefits, possibilities, and realities of international exposure for students could certainly help the internationalization process.

Arts and sciences interviewees were also asked questions on career advising. How do arts and sciences majors learn about teaching careers? Most respondents said frankly that they are not prepared to help their students discover a vocation for teaching and a few faculty members told me explicitly that they did not encourage teaching. Is this an issue that history faculty/advisers might usefully revisit?


Questions about the curriculum revealed that while teachers-in-training are often required to take one or more "world" courses, many of the teachers and most of the university interviewees felt that more could and should be done. Virtually all of the current teachers felt that one or more undergraduate general education non-U.S. courses should be required. Rather than adding courses (as suggested by current teachers), an approach generally acceptable to university respondents would be the addition of international or comparative components to existing courses in both arts and sciences and education—mirroring recommendations of the recent AHA report which focuses on ways to improve international perspectives in general education courses in not only American history but also world history and Western civilization.3

Help for Faculty

Most university respondents favored help for faculty to work abroad on course development, noting that returning faculty are very likely to inject international content into their courses and will probably encourage students to have overseas experience too. A surprising 75 percent of all the university interviewees (including more than 95 percent of the recent education respondents who were asked this question) liked the concept of joint arts and sciences and education faculty workshops to solve specific curriculum issues related to internationalization—an exercise that a history faculty member could find helpful, with education methodology experts, for example, advising about the content and presentation that could be most useful to the prospective secondary or elementary school teacher who must study and eventually teach history.4 The former president of Teachers College, Columbia University, has observed that “Teacher education faculty members themselves are generally disconnected … from the higher education disciplines that define content mastery.”5Historians could well play a major role in forging, or repairing, the connections.

Team teaching was also considered favorably by a substantial majority of respondents, including deans and senior administrators. Might internationally oriented history faculty, for example, consider a team-teaching assignment with experts in the social studies methods courses that are required in most elementary and secondary school teacher training programs?

Minors, Foreign Languages, and Study Abroad

Other curriculum questions were related to the existence and feasibility of minors. Education interviewees would like to have their students able to take minors that involve non-U.S. subject matter, although few teachers-in-training seem to be doing so, and more than 75 percent of the current teachers thought such a minor should even be required. Yet, few education courses are open to non-education students, and/or education classes are too full to include non-education students. Might an education minor, or at least some open-enrollment courses, introduce the history, area studies, or foreign language major to the teaching profession, and ultimately shorten a post-baccalaureate certification program for the student who eventually decides on a teaching career? Could history faculty work with education colleagues to open more courses to non-education students, and even develop an education minor for history majors?

Another curriculum-related topic is foreign language instruction. It is required of very few prospective teachers, but some 90 percent of the current teachers feel that it should be, as did an overall 90 percent of the university respondents. The obstacles—mostly time and space in the education curriculum—are serious, but again careful early advising could permit it to happen. (Other issues related to foreign language requirements and instruction were discussed at a conference on language teaching in 2005.6) For historians, a foreign language development that may be of interest is “Languages-across-the-Curriculum,” which could give faculty an opportunity to teach and/or use readings in foreign languages. It may be unrealistic to include such courses in the teacher education curriculum, but perhaps the existence of such options, and faculty capabilities, would foster widened perspectives in courses taken by students in professional training programs like teacher education.

Study abroad has long been the most recognized internationalization strategy, but very few education students participate, often because it is not on the radar screen of first-year advisers for teachers-in-training. However, a number of interviewees, and current teachers, felt that follow-up courses or seminars, and encouragement of student presentations and papers drawing on their overseas experience, could serve to amplify the impact of the students' overseas experiences.7 Here too is a realm in which historians’ practices, facilitating the sharing of relevant student experience, could make a difference for all students.


The interviews also covered governance issues relevant to historians. Who has played the most important role in initiating campus internationalization efforts? Even senior administrators put faculty at the head of the list—and I would venture that as often as not the initiator has been a history faculty member. Other players cited are senior administrators, college administrators, usually an office of international programs, sometimes foreign visitors, and very occasionally a state education authority. These are all sources of support that history faculty should strive to keep "in the loop" if and when they initiate international program development.

Does the historian still need to be persuaded to take an active role in internationalizing the undergraduate training of teachers? The current teachers' responses offer many reasons. Overwhelmingly, they wish they had had better advice about the full range of international options, more non-U.S. courses, more foreign language training, and more study and internships abroad.8 In addition, only about half of the participating teachers felt that they had had enough pre-service training in the subjects they are now teaching. Two-thirds of the responding teachers reported that the recently modified standards that they are required to meet do not reflect increasing globalization, indicating another K–12 policy realm important for historians, as discussed in several Perspectives articles.9 Many of the education deans, faculty, and advisors participating in this project recognize the basic need for their institutions to do more to develop a globally competent workforce, and are searching for ways to increase their students’ international (and “multicultural”) exposure, but they feel seriously constrained by the many curricular requirements for their students and the implications of the No Child Left Behind Act, combined with state-level demands for reductions in time-to-degree to alleviate teacher shortages. Surely they would appreciate having allies in history departments.

My research has yielded recommendations for state and local governments, accrediting agencies, professional associations, outside funders, schools, colleges, and departments of education, and institutions of higher education generally. Some have been suggested in the foregoing and all are included in the final report, which is posted at

— is an independent international education consultant in Washington, D.C. She conducts research—and provides advice—on internationalizing content in the U.S. undergraduate curriculum, focusing in particular on teacher education.


1. and Barbara B. Burn,Federal Funding for International Studies: Does it Help? Does it Matter? Long-Term Impacts of Federal Funding on International Studies and Foreign Language Programs: A Research Report, (Amherst: University of Massachusetts, 1999).

2. Frank Klassen and others, The International Dimension of American Teacher Education: A Survey of International Education Programs of American Colleges and Universities (Washington, D.C.: American Association of Colleges for Teacher Education, 1972); and Sarah M. Pickert, “Changing Views about International Education in American Teacher Education Programs” (Washington, D.C.: ERIC Document No. ED460092, 2001).

3. Noralee Frankel, et al., Internationalizing Student Learning Outcomes in History: A Report to the American Council on Education, December 2006, at

4. This is consistent with approaches also urged by Laura M. Westhoff in “The Historian's Role in Teacher Education,” Perspectives, 44:9 (September 2006), 35 and Fritz Fischer in “Preparation of Future History Teachers: The History Department's Role,” Perspectives 44:12 (December 2006), 19.

5. Arthur E. Levine, “The School-College Divide and Teacher Preparation,” Education Week 26:17 (January 4, 2007), 46.

6. , “Language Instruction and Prospective Teachers: Preliminary Findings and Recommendations,” presented at the Interagency Language Roundtable Showcase, July 29, 2005 and available at

7. Study abroad for teachers-in-training is discussed in a paper presented at NAFSA in May 2006 and available at

8. These were discussed in more detail in a presentation prepared for the Wisconsin Outreach Conference in April 2006, also available at www.

9. For example, in May and September 2006.

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