Publication Date

September 1, 1997

Contributing Editor's note: Historians are working more closely with colleagues across institutional boundaries in recognition of the fact that students develop their historical understanding over time in a series of separate institutions. This month’s column underscores the rewards of collaborative work and the need to make collaboration a continuing activity rather than a one-shot effort, a “quick fix,” to address a particular problem.

In February 1996, historians in Long Beach, California, helped inaugurate "Seamless Education," a program of extensive collaboration involving the Long Beach Unified School District USD), Long Beach City College, and California State University at Long Beach (CSULB). The project seeks to bind together—to make seamless—the educational programs of students as they move from elementary school to high school and to college. This program involves faculty from all areas of education generally. More than 450 teachers were present at the original meeting. But for historians it was simply the latest step in almost 30 years of collaboration founded on the conviction that teaching on all levels should challenge students intellectually.

The Seamless Education Project

Seamless Education has emerged as the focal point of the CSULB partnership with precollegiate schools. It is an effort to remove obstacles that students often face when they progress from one level of their education to another. The three institutions involved are not just trying to remove bureaucratic barriers but also to develop (to the extent possible) a common set of educational goals. At the project's introductory meeting, for example, groups of 10 participants attempted to map out the kinds of skills we might try to work on in common. Then, at monthly follow-up meetings that rotate among participating institutions, an individual or a team has discussed such topics as teaching history standards through primary sources, the problem of building geography into history curriculums, and the relative merits of presentation versus simulation in secondary-school teaching. At another meeting, teachers visiting from Bosnia discussed how recent events have affected their classrooms. Members of the partnership face the not inconsiderable challenge to keep the program going in the long run, to make sure that it is not dominated by the university, and to reach beyond the dedicated core of active teachers who initiated the project.

The Institutional Backdrop to Seamless Education

Collaboration such as this does not simply grow out of good will. People in different areas of education usually know so little about what goes on within the other sectors that genuine collaboration develops only when they work together on substantive issues and thereby come to respect what one another does. The strength of the Long Beach partnership has come chiefly from the involvement of faculty in academic fields in the preparation of teachers over the last 30 years. Professors have gone out to the schools to supervise student teachers; teachers have come to the university to prepare the students for the classroom. The result has been unusually close relations among us all.

The Long Beach partnership—like the city's nationally famous decision to require that school children wear uniforms—rose out of a social and educational crisis. During the last 15 years, Long Beach, a city of 440,000, has experienced changes in population and gang violence as extensive as any urban center of its kind in the United States. What had been a retirement community for Middle Western families has become a rich variety of ethnic groups, from Chiapans to Cambodians to Filipinos. The school district's requirement of uniforms at all elementary schools and middle schools, to which President Clinton gave strong national attention, emerged as one way of dealing with the crisis. Local schools themselves initiated the policy, for teachers and PTA leaders found that uniforms give a school an identity and help cut down strife in the classroom or on the playground. Teachers, school administrators, and university faculty likewise came to the conclusion that many traditional teaching methods just won't work in the present social context, and in trying to find new ways they have collaborated with one another much more than before.

Long Beach City College has contributed to the partnership its central role in the city's life since its founding in 1927. A large proportion of local high school students have by tradition gone on to "City," as it is called, and the college has fostered close ties with the schools by holding classes in schools that give credit toward the Associate in Arts degree. California State University at Long Beach, or "State," has never had as strong a local identity as the community college. But members of the academic departments, history most of all, began developing special relationships with a variety of school districts when in 1965 an ambitious group of young faculty from a variety of disciplines shifted responsibility for supervising student teachers from the school of education to the academic departments. Since then, cadres of university faculty have gone out to the schools regularly. What has emerged is a variety of informal partnerships with districts that welcome our student teachers, and, indeed, Seamless Education and other projects.

Most states require that the university sponsoring a student teacher at a school send out a supervisor to watch over the fragile experience by which a person begins to teach. It usually involves biweekly visits and evaluations of the student teacher, independent of the "master" or "cooperating" teacher. The supervisor needs to make sure that the student teacher takes charge of the class successfully and that the two parties meet on a regular basis—which often does not happen without some coaxing. Sending out a faculty member from the academic discipline involved was designed to strengthen the intellectual orientation of student teachers. This was part of California's pioneering policy to require that teachers major in an academic field; this decision prompted CSULB's long-term commitment to collaboration.

Collaboration among Historians

An early product of that requirement was the History Education Project (HEP) that our colleague Eugene L. Asher directed between 1969 and 1974. A leader among the faculty who took control of teacher preparation, Asher convinced the Council of the American Historical Association to support a program to develop partnerships between universities and school districts by which teachers would deepen their historical training and professors would learn how to serve teaching in the schools. Collaboration between history faculty in the universities and the schools, which is growing in many parts of the United States, originated in this project, whose sites remained strong after the funding ended. A number of historians close to Asher and the HEP—Howard Mehlinger, Clair Keller, and Matthew Downey, for example—ended up shifting their careers into history education.1 Asher brought The History Teacher, the quarterly journal, to CSULB and kept pressing the AHA to involve itself in teaching as well as research. The Association’s first prize for teaching was accordingly named in his honor, following his death in 1988.

If university faculty visit schools to help student teachers, it follows that accomplished teachers should collaborate in such programs at the university. In the late 1970s we at CSULB began inviting school faculty to teach two classes required prior to student teaching: the Preliminary Field Experience course (an orientation to teaching, largely in schools) and the methods course in history/social sciences. The secondary- school teachers have provided practical instruction in planning lessons and classroom management that is often lacking in overly theoretical education classes. They have introduced our students to methods and curriculums that are designed to teach history by discussion and analysis rather than simply by rote.

The teachers hold impressive professional credentials. Barry O'Donnell, from the quite multicultural Wilson High School in Long Beach, has written parts of new textbooks and given papers at meetings of the National Council for the Social Studies. Jim Cross, from the high-achieving Los Alamitos High School, has won Teacher of the Year awards all the way from his own school to a state program. And Scott Miller, a young middle-school teacher, has led curriculum programs at his school with funds from both the state and the Carnegie Foundation.

Teachers and professors can easily come into conflict over the relative importance of content and method—what you teach versus how you teach it. But regular contact between department faculty and teachers involved in such a program can lessen such disagreement considerably. The specialized structure of the California Framework for History/Social Sciences has helped in this regard, since it divides both world and U.S. history into three time periods taught in separate grades. Because these subjects are taught in unusual detail, teachers are increasingly turning to universities and in-service training programs to deepen their knowledge.

For example, CSULB and LBUSD have collaborated in a course for sixth- and seventh-grade teachers on the non-European aspects of ancient and early-modern world history. Sponsored by the School of Education, it is team-taught by Tim Keirn from the History Department and Wendy Hayes from Hughes Middle School. They work with the teachers both on content and instructional strategies.

Academic departments at CSULB have the luxury of controlling who is admitted to student teaching, and, indeed, to the ranks of history teachers. It is our responsibility to assess the subject matter competency of all credential candidates. Consequently, prior to student teaching, candidates take a "capstone" course in which they review major aspects of U.S. and world history, as well as some geography, government, and economics, and are assessed as to their knowledge of basics in these areas. Students who prove seriously deficient have the opportunity to take an oral exam. Through this rigorous process the least capable students are prevented from entering the classroom.

Also, as is increasingly common across the country, we chose a former teacher to direct our teacher preparation program. Don Schwartz had earned a Ph.D. in history at New York University while tea in the New York City schools; here at CSULB he gives courses in European history besides taking leadership in the larger university program of teacher training. Presently he is on leave to a program funded by the Weingart and Annenberg Foundations to rethink teacher training on a broad plane.

Closer relations with teachers in the field have benefited relations with our School of Education. We find a lot in common with a new breed of education professors who are closely involved with the schools and have high goals for the intellectual product of teaching. This comes in part from the social crisis in southern California, which is shaking academics out of old ways and forcing us to work together. Teaching students with limited English proficiency and from low income families demands that we do something other than lecture; we have to train our student teachers how to engage and interact with their pupils.

The result is the arrival of intellectually challenging curricula within inner-city schools. There, as well as in the suburbs, teachers increasingly use primary sources, visual documents, and the simulation of historical contexts as ways by which to get their students thinking. In these schools, many of the most successful teachers have their students learn in groups, teaching one another critical thinking skills through what is usually called "collaborative learning." Some teachers complain that it limits what the students learn; others argue that it enhances both intellectual and social skills.

The five university supervisors in history/social sciences have come to work together as a team, keeping each another posted about our student teachers at monthly lunches and hallway chats. We are at quite different stages in our careers; while Irv Ahlquist, Don's predecessor as Coordinator, was the first historian hired when CSULB opened in 1949, Tim Keirn recently came here from UCLA and the London School of Economics. Each of us works in a particular geographic region of the school system so that we can develop ongoing relationships with teachers and administrators—mini-collaborations, in effect. At most schools we are able to request that teachers we particularly respect be given our student teachers. Arlene Lazarowitz, who coordinates the program presently, works closely with the schools in the process of selecting cooperating teachers. That she knows well both the schools and the prospective student teachers is vital to making the program work. She also directs a monthly seminar among the student teachers and supervisors, at which a teacher talks about an aspect of curriculum or teaching method.

The close collaboration between university supervisors and the schools has enabled us to develop useful contacts through which we can help our students find teaching positions. Job openings in schools are plentiful right now, due to growing population, many retirements, and a high drop-out rate among young teachers. Department chairs in the schools are concerned to find candidates who will teach with vitality and rapport; since they know us so well they often call to find promising prospects. Presently 80 percent of our student teachers are landing full-time jobs.

The state of California itself has helped advance history teaching greatly. The curricula that were written for each major field grew out of close collaboration between the universities and the schools: the History/Social Science Framework was led by Gary Nash of UCLA and a host of teachers who, like him, wanted to give a deeper intellectual content to history courses. Each major discipline sponsors a Subject Area Project that offers teachers monthly sessions on both content and methods, and a summer institute of two or three weeks. Teachers and enlightened former administrators tend to run these programs with the aid of university faculty in the discipline.

Our department participates in one of these programs, the California International Studies Project based at Stanford University. The local site, called the South Bay World History Project, serves teachers of world history in middle school and high school; its faculty come from both CSULB and Long Beach City College, alternating activities at the two campuses. Tracey Cincore, a middle-school teacher from Compton, Calif., is employed by the site to coordinate programs for different kinds of teachers, chiefly reading groups led by faculty members that discuss primary sources and their application to teaching. The faculty are chosen for balance in their fields: the Latin Americanist Craig Hendricks from LBCC, and the Africanist Ken Curtis and the geographer Jean Wheeler from CSULB. Craig and his LBCC colleague Steve Wallech teach courses at CSULB as adjunct faculty; Steve formerly was a Site Director of the world history project.

The issues of The History Teacher have taken this collaboration onto a national level. A major goal of the journal, presently under the editorship of Bill Weber, is to publish commentary by teachers about their work. In 1995 and 1997, special issues on the National History Standards presented articles by teachers from many parts of the country. A special issue is under way on advanced placement.

Work with teachers on their curriculum interacts in interesting ways with one's university teaching. Tim Keirn has been central to a new program at CSULB called the Learning Alliance that is designed to increase the retention rate among first-year students through a common curriculum. He has designed a course linking early American history with English composition upon the model of "core" programs linking history and literature in which his student teachers are involved. Arlene Lazarowitz points out, too, that her observation of student teachers has made her more able to explain material and build "closure" effectively into her classes.

Our department's programs with the schools bring an attractive unity to our work in different contexts. Since a majority of our history majors are at least thinking of teaching in the schools, we try to talk about that in our classes, and we then often work with our graduates once they are placed in the schools. A project for the future is to design history classes specifically for students who plan to teach, as is already being done at San Diego State University. But most important of all, it has been extremely stimulating to see how our shared efforts across institutional boundaries can create a seamless response to the events and struggles in fast-changing southern California.


1. See Glenn Linden, “The History Profession in Transition: Its Response to the Challenges of the 1960s and 1970s,” The History Teacher 23 (May 1990), 293-303.

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