Teaching History In Public Schools

Author(s): Robert Holland, David Inman, Kristen Nye Larson and Don Soifer
Posted in: Education, Studies

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An Analysis of State Requirements

Executive Summary

American students continue to demonstrate a pattern of alarmingly poor knowledge of their nation’s history. Whether measured by the U.S. Department of Education or by private organizations, the results vary little and show no improvement over time.

While this disturbing trend is indicative of a wide range of factors, it certainly calls into question the extent to which those who teach history are prepared for the task by developing adequate knowledge in the subject themselves. This report examines the requirements across all 50 states for teaching high school at the secondary level. It includes a detailed appendix with descriptions of each state’s requirements.

Among its findings:

  • Rhode Island and Texas stand as examples of states where gaining specific content knowledge of history comprises a major part of requirements for certification to teach history.
  • Currently, 14 states require candidates to pass state proficiency tests. Half of states require candidates to pass versions of the Praxis II tests developed by the Educational Testing Service. Many states, including Virginia, require teachers to pass the Praxis II in social studies content, of which only 15 to 20 percent is dedicated to knowledge of U.S. history, rather than the Praxis II that focuses entirely on U.S. and world history knowledge.
  • Additionally, there are several states that set a low bar, including South Dakota, Tennessee, West Virginia, Mississippi and Colorado, which allow the lowest passing scores on Praxis II tests.

Another key problem is more than half of states do not clearly define the academics required to become a certified U.S. history teacher. Illinois represents a state with this problem. Without defined recommendations on the state level, universities have the autonomy to allow history certification to be an often all-encompassing social studies umbrella of expertise.

Click here to download the full report as PDF.