Publication Date

May 1, 1999

Two recently developed sets of new standards—the NCSS National Standards for Social Studies Teachers and the NCSS/NCATE Program Standards for the Initial Preparation of Teachers of Social Studies—for the preparation of history and social studies teachers for secondary, middle, and elementary schools are expected to raise the level of history content knowledge and understanding of beginning teachers in the years ahead.1 The standards were developed in 1997 by the National Council for the Social Studies (NCSS) and the National Council for Accreditation of Teacher Education (NCATE). Both sets of standards are being used, effective March 1999, by NCATE to assess teacher education programs at NCATE-accredited colleges and universities and by most states as they revise and upgrade their state-level standards for the licensing of new teachers and for the approval of college programs that prepare them.

Both documents are available from either the NCSS or NCATE or their World Wide Web sites— or

This report describes the standards, their development, intended purpose, and underlying rationale; sketches the contexts in which they have evolved and are expected to be used; and suggests how teacher preparation program faculty, especially history faculty, might respond to them.

At the outset, however, I should note three contextual factors that might help the understanding of the report. Although this report is written with historians and history teachers in mind, the standards that are described also apply to the preparation of new teachers of comprehensive social studies, geography, civics and government, economics, and psychology. Standards parallel to these are also being evolved for mathematics, science, English, and other subject areas. Although these standards focus most directly on the education of secondary and middle school teachers, they also impinge upon the preparation of elementary teachers.

Purpose of the New Standards

Both sets of standards are substantially different from those that they have replaced and both are more demanding of college teacher preparation programs. They were developed by NCSS and NCATE for the express purpose of ensuring that future beginning teachers of history, comprehensive social studies, geography, civics and government, economics, and psychology understand their subject matter, are able to teach it well, and have positive dispositions toward doing so. Both organizations recognize that their previous standards did not emphasize content knowledge enough and these new standards are intended to address those weaknesses. The two sets of standards are virtual mirror images of each other and tie directly into the following: the NCATE teacher education accreditation process, state standards for licensing (certifying) new teachers, nationally administered tests for prospective teachers, and parallel standards-setting efforts of the Interstate New Teacher Assessment and Support Consortium (INTASC) of the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards (NBPTS).

The New Standards

The NCSSNational Standards for Social Studies Teachers lists 20 standards. Fifteen of these specify areas of content that NCSS believes individuals recommended by colleges and universities for state licenses to teach should know and be able to teach. The last five standards, labeled “programmatic standards,” itemize institutional conditions and resources that NCSS believes institutions should provide in their teacher preparation programs.

The 15 standards that specify areas of content that prospective teachers should know and be able to teach are not as prescriptive as either previous NCSS subject matter standards or current parallel standards in other subject matter areas—such as English, for example. They do not prescribe specific courses or require a minimum of courses, credits, or hours of practice teaching. Instead, they expect an institution to define and describe each of its programs that leads to a teaching license and to be able to demonstrate to the satisfaction of external reviewers that their approach and requirements fulfill NCSS and NCATE expectations.

The standards recognize that different institutions prepare prospective teachers for different licenses to teach—for individual disciplines, comprehensive social studies, or a combination of both—and, therefore, institutions are expected to address the 20 standards somewhat differentially across their various programs depending on the teaching license for which each program is intended. The first 10 standards, called "thematic standards" and the 5 "programmatic standards" apply to all programs that lead to licenses to teach history, comprehensive social studies, geography, civics and government, economics, and psychology (see below). Each of the five discipline standards—history, geography, civics and government, economics, and psychology—applies only to programs that lead to licenses in its specific area of content. So, programs that lead to licenses in history must meet the ten thematic standards, the history standard, and the five programmatic standards; while programs that lead to licenses in comprehensive social studies without an emphasis in a specific discipline are not required to meet a discipline standard—they must meet only the ten thematic and five programmatic standards. The same principle that applies for history licenses also applies for the other single disciplines.

The Ten Thematic Standards of the NCSS Document

Social Studies teachers should possess the knowledge, capabilities, and dispositions to organize and provide instruction at the appropriate school level for the study of

  1. Culture and Cultural Diversity
  2. Time, Continuity, and Change
  3. People, Places, and Environment
  4. Individual Development and Identity
  5. Individuals, Groups, and Institutions
  6. Power, Authority, and Governance
  7. Production, Distribution, and Consumption
  8. Science, Technology, and Society
  9. Global Connections
  10. Civic Ideals and Practices

The Five NCSS Programmatic Standards

  1. Course or Courses on Teaching Social Studies: Institutions preparing social studies teachers should provide and require prospective social studies teachers to complete a course or courses dealing specifically with the nature of the social studies and with ideas, strategies, and techniques for teaching social studies at the appropriate licensure level.
  2. Clinical School Experiences in Social Studies Settings: Institutions preparing social studies teachers should provide and expect prospective social studies teachers to complete multiple clinical experiences [including observations and practice in schools and student teaching] that begin early in a student’s professional program and culminate in an integrative capstone of a substantial amount of time and that are closely supervised by qualified professionals.
  3. Qualified Faculty: Institutions preparing social studies teachers should provide faculty in all components of the program who are recognized as exemplary teachers and as scholars in their fields of specialization.
  4. Substantial Instruction in Academic Areas within the Social Studies Field: Institutions preparing social studies teachers should provide and expect prospective social studies teachers to complete subject matter content courses (history/social science) that include U.S. history, world history (including both Western and non-Western civilizations), political science (including U.S. Government), economics, geography, and behavioral sciences.
  5. General Studies: Institutions preparing social studies teachers should provide and expect prospective social studies teachers to complete, in addition to professional and major courses, general arts and science courses that reach across several areas of study, including language arts, humanities, languages, mathematics, physical sciences, and technology.

The 10 thematic standards include some that focus on discipline-oriented clusters of concepts as well as several others that cut across disciplines. The second thematic standard, Time, Continuity, and Change, for example, is based in history.

The History Standard

The first discipline standard is the one for history. It is given below in its complete form.2

  1. HISTORY: Teachers who are licensed to teach history at all school levels should possess the knowledge, capabilities, and dispositions to organize and provide instruction at the appropriate school level for the study of history.

Learner Expectations

The study of history allows learners to understand their place in time and location. The knowledge base of historical content drawn from U.S. and world history provides the basis from which learners develop historical understanding and competence in ways of historical thinking. Historical thinking skills enable learners to evaluate evidence, develop comparative and causal analyses, interpret the historical record, and construct sound historical arguments and perspectives on which informed decisions in contemporary life can be based. Historical understandings define what learners should know about the history of their nation and of the world. These understandings are drawn from the record of human aspirations, strivings, accomplishments, and failures in at least five spheres of human activity: the social, political, scientific/technological, economic, and cultural (philosophical/religious/aesthetic). They also provide learners the historical perspectives necessary to analyze contemporary issues and problems confronting citizens today.

Teacher Expectations

Teachers of history at all school levels should provide developmentally appropriate experiences as they guide learners in their study. They should:

  1. assist learners in utilizing chronological thinking so that they can distinguish between past, present, and future time; can place historical narratives in the proper chronological framework; can interpret data presented in time lines; and can compare alternative models for periodization;
  2. enable learners to develop historical comprehension in order that they might reconstruct the literal meaning of a historical passage; identify the central question(s) addressed in historical narrative; draw upon data in historical maps, charts, and other graphic organizers; and draw upon visual, literary, or musical sources;
  3. guide learners in practicing skills of historical analysis and interpretation, such as compare and contrast, differentiate between historical facts and interpretations, consider multiple perspectives, analyze cause and effect relationships, compare competing historical narratives, recognize the tentative nature of historical interpretations, and hypothesize the influence of the past;
  4. assist learners in developing historical research capabilities that enable them to formulate historical questions, obtain historical data, question historical data, identify the gaps in available records, place records in context, and construct sound historical interpretations;
  5. help learners to identify issues and problems in the past, recognize factors contributing to such problems, identify and analyze alternative courses of action, formulate a position or course of action, and evaluate the implementation of that decision;
  6. assist learners in acquiring knowledge of historical content in U.S. history in order to ask large and searching questions that compare patterns of continuity and change in the history and values of the many peoples who have contributed to the development of the continent of North America;
  7. guide learners in acquiring knowledge of the history and values of diverse civilizations throughout the world, including those of the West, and in comparing patterns of continuity and change in different parts of the world;
  8. enable learners to develop historical understanding through the avenues of social, political, economic, and cultural history and the history of science and technology

School Applications

In focusing on the discipline of history, teachers at various school levels should build upon learners' knowledge, experience, and developmental capabilities.

Teachers of the early grades can provide learners with experiences that give them a sense of their own roots and of their connections with others and with the past. Learners can have the opportunity to begin to develop the skills of historical thinking that will enable them to differentiate past, present, and future time; to raise questions and to seek answers from historical stories and records from the past. Their historical understandings can draw from at least five spheres of human activity: social, political, scientific/technological, economic, and cultural as they study the history of their families, communities, states, region, nation, and of other nations or topics with worldwide implications.

Teachers of the middle grades can provide learners with a more formal study of history. Learners can have the opportunity to construct timelines; to group events by broadly defined eras; to study and interpret historical documents, taking into account the context of the historical period from which the document is drawn; to formulate historical questions; and to identify the values and moral convictions of individuals who hold differing views in a dispute.

High school teachers can engage learners in a sophisticated analysis and reconstruction of the past. Learners can be encouraged to draw upon various forms of data in order to elaborate upon information provided by historical narratives; to distinguish between accepted historical facts and interpretations; to consider multiple perspectives in interpreting the past; to make choices regarding historical sources, drawing from bibliographical studies; and to utilize historical methodologies in analyzing and defending historical arguments.

The history standard does not prescribe specific content to be covered in detail because the task force believed that many combinations of history content could be appropriate for teachers and it wanted to leave the decisions about content coverage and emphasis to the history faculty of each institution. It assumed, however, that the faculty would include (1) an adequate amount of history for both depth and breadth; (2) U.S. and world history, including both Western and non-Western civilizations; and (3) a rationale for whatever dimensions of content and emphasis it chooses. The general guiding principle for the faculty in selecting the history content should be the standard itself—the content that the faculty believes its prospective teachers should know and be able to teach.

All of the 15 content standards—thematic and discipline—are based on standards for K–12 student learning that were developed during the 1990s by national groups of scholars and academic experts in each of six respective fields.3

The NCSS task force that developed the National Standards for Social Studies Teachers accepted the work of the academic experts as valid identifications of what a school student should know and be able to do. Then, it asked and answered the following question: If this is what school students should know and be able to do, what should their teachers know and be able to teach, and what dispositions should they possess toward that teaching?

In answering that question, the task force decided that all programs, including those that apply to licenses in single disciplines, should address all 10 thematic standards because, for example, teachers of history also need to know, at least to some extent, major concepts in all 10 theme areas. The task force did not assume, however, that a prospective teacher of history would develop in-depth knowledge in all 10 theme areas and it did not expect that his or her study of history would be reduced to provide academic space for the broader study. It expected, and the NCSS as an organization expects, both depth and breadth of content knowledge, and it thought that college programs leading to a license in a single discipline would likely require at least an undergraduate major in that discipline.

In essence, the NCSS national standardsfor social studies teachers do the following: (1) identify the thematic and discipline content that NCSS believes all prospective social studies teachers—comprehensive social studies, history, geography, civics and government, economics, and psychology—should study, know, and be able to teach; and (2) require the faculty of teacher preparation programs to demonstrate that they know with assurance that the prospective teachers whom they recommend for licenses possess the knowledge, competence, and dispositions that make them worthy of both the recommendation and the license. The standards hold teacher preparation faculty, programs, and institutions accountable for the subject matter knowledge and competence of the prospective teachers they say are ready to teach K–12 students. If, for example, a faculty says a prospective teacher is knowledgeable and competent enough to teach history, the standards require that faculty to pledge that the prospective teacher does in fact have both a thorough knowledge of history and the ability to teach it well.

The NCSS/NCATE Program Standards Document

Every year college and university faculty recommend their students for licenses to teach certain subjects, including history. When the faculty makes these recommendations, state licensing officers and employers of the teachers take their recommendations as valid evidence that the recommendees have the knowledge, competence, and dispositions to teach the subjects for which they are being recommended. The NCSS and NCATE program approval processes simply ask the recommending faculties (1) to be sure that their recommendations are valid and (2) to show the profession at large how they know this to be the case. It is for this reason that the program standards were developed.

The NCSS/NCATE Program Standards for the Initial Preparation of Teachers of Social Studies is substantively the same as the NCSS National Standards document, although it contains 19 standards instead of 20. (The 20th standard of the NCSSdocument is incorporated in another section of the general NCATE standards for accreditation.) The Program Standards document simply fits the NCSS standards into the NCATE accreditation process for program review, and formats the standards in a way that makes them easier to respond to as part of that NCATE accreditation and parallel state-level program approval processes.

The Program Standards document outlines the type of evidence teacher preparation program faculty are expected to provide in order for their program(s) to be designated as “nationally approved” and for them to be of the quality that would support a positive NCATE accreditation decision. It explains what institutions that seek NCATE initial accreditation or continuing accreditation over the next five years need to do in order for their social studies program(s), including history, to be approved.

The Program Standards ask faculty to provide three types of evidence of program quality for each of the 19 standards: programmatic, testing, and performance evidence. Each type of evidence can be illustrated by two companion questions that faculty would ask of themselves as they analyze and improve their program(s) and for which they would provide responses. The questions for their program for history teachers would be as follows:

  1. For programmatic evidence: What course work and other required learning experiences do our history education students participate in in order for us to recommend them for a license to teach history? How do we know that their participation in these courses/experiences makes our recommendation valid?
  2. For testing evidence: What tests do our history education students take and what minimum scores do we require of them in order for us to recommend them for a license to teach history? How do we know that these tests and scores make our recommendation valid?
  3. For performance evidence: What demonstrations of satisfactory performance as history teachers do our students show to us in order for us to recommend them for a license to teach history? How do we know that their performances of this type and of this quality make our recommendation valid?

Contexts Affecting the Standards and Their Use

The rising expectations and increased demands for accountability that face schools, teachers, and teacher educators have emphasized the importance of new subject matter standards for teachers much more so than has been the case in the past. Nearly everyone wants more knowledgeable teachers and these desires have driven the development and fueled the force of both of the sets of new standards that are described here. Therefore, both sets of standards are more specific about the content new social studies teachers (including history teachers) should know, and the content that is specified requires both depth and breadth.

  1. The standards require testing and performance evidence in addition to programmatic evidence. A listing of courses that prospective teachers take is no longer sufficient.
  2. The burden of showing how well each teacher education program meets each standard rests with the program faculty.
  3. Meeting subject matter content standards is emphasized more centrally and more forcefully in NCATE unit accreditation decisions.
  4. The standards are drawn directly from K–12 student learning standards, which are, themselves, reactions to demands for greater school accountability.
  5. The standards are consistent with those of INTASC and NBPTS.

Even more important than what the standards stipulate and how they have been developed, however, is the thrust behind how they are being put into use. In short, the new standards have clout, and not meeting them will have serious consequences for both prospective teachers and the teacher education programs that prepare them. For example, every teacher education unit that seeks initial or continuing NCATE accreditation over the next five years will be required to address these subject matter standards, and each program of an NCATE accredited institution will be designated as "nationally approved" or "not nationally approved."

As of this writing, 16 states are requiring that teacher preparation programs at colleges and universities in their state meet national content standards in order to have the state approval of their programs continued.

An additional 26 states have agreed as a part of their Partnership Agreements with NCATE to make their state content standards consistent with the national standards.

A constantly increasing number of states are requiring national accreditation of the teacher preparation units in their state.

More than 40 states now require prospective teachers to pass tests of subject matter knowledge to receive a state license to teach and many of these states threaten the preparation programs whose students do not do well.

NCSS and NCATE have joined with Educational Testing Service (the contracting organization for teacher testing in most states) to help develop future tests for prospective social studies teachers that are consistent with the NCSS/NCATE standards.

National higher education legislation passed by Congress in October 1998 requires under the penalty of a loss of funding that colleges and universities that prepare teachers require, as of spring 2000, the testing of their teacher education students, including testing of subject matter knowledge, and the public release of the composite test scores.

All this means that faculties who prepare new teachers of history and of the other content areas within social studies are expected to be more accountable for the people they recommend for state teaching licenses. They will need to know, and show that they know, that the people they recommend as teachers have the subject matter knowledge, ability to teach that subject matter content, and the appropriate dispositions toward teaching that their recommendation implies. On the surface, these expectations of teacher preparation faculty are not entirely new, but the seriousness with which they are being applied has new weight.

Suggestions for Faculty Action

As these standards are put into place in NCATE and state-level accountability efforts, I suggest that college and university history faculty who help prepare history and social studies teachers use them to make sure that the content components of their program(s) are strong and, if they are not, to strengthen them. The standards and the NCSS/NCATE processes in which they are being applied provide both the criteria and means to do this, and to do so with great force. They require strong history preparation and knowledge for all new history and comprehensive social studies teachers and, because of Thematic Standard Two: Time, Continuity, and Change, they require at least some history knowledge for teachers of all social studies disciplines.

I recommend the following steps:

  1. Use the two sets of standards as criteria for an honest self-study of your program for history teachers as well as all of your subject matter programs that fit under the social studies umbrella. Make sure the knowledge of history and the ability to teach it is appropriately strong for every prospective social studies teacher your institution educates.
  2. Use the three-part evidence matrix of the Program Standards—programmatic evidence, testing evidence, and performance evidence—to identify strengths and weaknesses; and, if yours is an NCATE institution, record the data for use in your NCATE accreditation evaluation. The Program Standards document explains how to do this and NCATE conducts several national workshops each year for institutions preparing for NCATE accreditation reviews.
  3. If your institution and state do not require subject matter tests of your prospective teachers, start requiring them. (The federal government expects this by 2000 anyway.) Then, use the testing data to improve your program and to advertise its strength.
  4. If your institution is not already using substantial performance assessments of your prospective teachers, start doing so. A good place to begin is to look at the Assessment Criteria Project section of the NCSS and NCATE web sites referred to at the start of this report. That section describes in detail a number of good assessment tasks that social studies teacher educators are now using and more examples are being added regularly. You are welcome to use them as you wish and you are invited to submit your own assessment tasks to the collection. (Directions on how to participate are included on the web page.)
  5. If state regulations and guidelines negatively affect the history content component of your program, such as by preventing you from requiring a history major for a history license, use the national standards as bases to force change.
  6. If your institution is not an NCATE accredited institution, push so it becomes one. You will want to use the new NCATE emphasis on content knowledge to convince those who are reluctant to agree with such an expectation.
  7. Become personally active in the NCSS and NCATE standards writing and standards raising efforts—nearly all of us who are now active in this area are either college faculty or classroom teachers of history, comprehensive social studies, or one of the other social studies disciplines. We wrote the standards and are guiding their implementation. We would like to increase our numbers.

As I have already suggested, NCSS and NCATE both provide assistance to colleges and universities seeking to analyze their program(s) and to improve them through the use of the new standards. You can learn about that assistance by contacting me or either of the two other people listed below.

, Department of Teaching and Learning, Box 330, Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, TN 37203. (615) 322-8100. Fax (615) 322-8999. E-mail: Tim Daly, Executive Assistant, NCSS, 3501 Newark St., NW, Washington, DC 20016. (800) 296-7840. (202) 966-7840. Fax (202) 966-2061. E-mail: Boyce Williams, Vice President, Institutional Relations, NCATE, 2010 Massachusetts Ave., NW, Washington, DC 20036. (202) 466-7496. Fax (202) 296-6620. E-mail:

As you reflect on all that I have described and suggested in this report, please remember these three major points.

  1. Both the National Standards for Social Studies Teachers and the Program Standards for the Initial Preparation of Teachers of Social Studies are intended to accomplish one main goal—to improve prospective teachers’ subject matter knowledge, their ability to teach that subject matter, and their dispositions to teach it well.
  2. Both sets of standards ask only one very legitimate thing of college and university faculty who prepare teachers—be sure the individuals you prepare to teach history, comprehensive social studies, geography, civics and government, economics, and psychology are capable of doing that—teaching well—before you recommend them for a state license.
  3. Assistance in meeting these new standards is readily available to colleges and universities from both NCSS and NCATE.


1.The NCSS document was adopted by the council’s board of directors in April 1997. The NCSS/NCATE document was submitted by NCSS to NCATE in August 1997 and adopted by NCATE in October 1997.

2. For further information, see the following parallel documents that were consulted as this standard was developed: the NCSS theme, "Time, Continuity, and Change" in Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies, (Washington, D.C.: NCSS, 1994) and the National Standards for History: Basic Edition, (National Center for History in the Schools, UCLA, 1994).

3. National Center for History in the Schools, UCLA, National Standards for History, (Los Angeles: National Center for History in the Schools, 1994); National Council for the Social Studies, Expectations of Excellence: Curriculum Standards for Social Studies (Washington, D.C.: NCSS, 1994); The National Geographic Association, National Geography Handbook: Geography for Life, (Washington, D.C.: National Geographic Research and Exploration, 1994); Center for Civic Education, National Standards for Civics and Government, (Calabasas, CA: Center for Civic Education, 1994); Economics America, National Council on Economic Education, Voluntary National Content Standards in Economics (New York: National Council on Economic Education, 1997); American Psychology Association, Internal draft reports on standards, (Washington, DC: American Psychology Association, 1996 and 1997).

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