This report addresses several basic questions on the status of history in the nation’s schools: How widely are courses in United States history, world history, and Western Civilization being offered to students in grades 7-8, and grades 9-12? How well prepared in history are the teachers who offer these courses? . . .
The data presented below were obtained from the National Survey of History in the Schools conducted in 1989-1990 by the National Center for History in the Schools. Our national public school sample was randomly drawn to include every 30th public school enrolling grades 9through 12 and every 34th public school enrolling grades 7 and 8, for a total of 518 and 561 schools, respectively. Of the high school sample, 389 schools or 75.10 percent provided data. Of the sample of schools enrolling grades 7 and 8, 374 schools or 66.67 percent provided data. These returns were judged sufficiently high to permit generalizing from the sample to the state of history in the nation’s schools.
HOW WIDELY ARE COURSES IN HISTORY OFFERED IN GRADES 7 THROUGH 12?
Table 1 presents the distribution of United States history courses, offered in schools classified by grade level, community type and socio-economic status of the student body.
Courses in United States history were offered in 89.8 percent of the schools enrolling grades 9 through 12. Fully 10 percent of high schools reported offering no survey course in United States history. This is an interesting find when coupled with the 1989 assessment data of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, which found only 89 percent of high school students to have achieved "a grasp of beginning historical information," and far fewer students to have achieved any higher levels of historical understanding.
Rural schools in our survey were found to offer more United States history courses than urban schools, with 98 percent of low-SES rural high schools and 90.8 percent of middle-to-high-SES rural high schools offering such courses, compared with 85.7 percent of middle-to-high-SES rural high schools. Students receiving the least opportunity to study United States history included low SES students enrolled in the nation’s urban high schools---an important fact to consider when interpreting national assessment data which demonstrate this group to score significantly below urban advantaged and rural student populations on tests of history.
When consideration is given to other United States history courses offered in these schools---typically courses devoted to a particular era or topic in United States history---the percentage of schools offering one or more courses in United States history increases to 93 percent of middle-to-high-SES rural high schools offering such courses. Among urban high schools, 8.6 percent of low-SES schools and 10 percent of middle-to-high-SES schools report offering no United States history courses, either general survey courses or courses devoted to specialized eras or topics.
A bleaker picture overall emerges with the data coming in from schools enrolling grades 7 and 8. Of these schools, close to 40 percent report offering no courses in United States history. Distribution of course offering is relatively stable across all school types: rural and urban, low and middle-to-high in the social economic status of their student bodies. Only in rural schools do the percentages offering courses in United States history rise above 60 percent (63.4 percent of low-SES rural schools and 62 percent of middle-to-high-SES rural high schools). When one combines these findings with the fact that only about 72 percent of these schools require a course in United States history and when high school teachers comment, as they often do, that students entering their history courses remember little if anything of United States history from earlier course work, the problem may lie not with the forgetting which has occurred, but with a lack of prior study of United States history---something high school teachers may be incorrectly taking for granted.
Table 2 presents the distribution of high schools offering courses in world history and in Western Civilization, categorized by numbers of courses offered and by community type and social-economic status of the student body of the school.
World history courses were reported to be offered in 70 percent of public high schools, with the highest proportion of these courses reported by middle-to-high-SES rural high schools (78 percent). These figures seem to indicate an important increase in recent years of world history offerings. Middle-to-high-SES rural high schools reported the lowest percentage of world history courses (62.5 percent) but were also the schools that reported three times the Western Civilization courses offered by middle-to-high-SES rural high schools. These Western Civilization courses (reported by 5.9 percent of urban middle-to-high-SES schools) were largely accounted for by the Advanced Placement European history courses. With this one exception, Western Civilization courses would seem to have been virtually abandoned by the schools.
HOW WELL-PREPARED IN HISTORY ARE TEACHERS OFFERING THESE COURSES IN UNITED STATES HISTORY AND WORLD HISTORY?
Tables 3 and 4 present high school United States and world history teachers’ academic preparation, categorized by the types of course they teach (i.e., General Enrollment, Advanced Placement, and Remedial).
With the exception of Advanced Placement teachers, high school United States history teachers appear to be somewhat better educated in social science than in history. Among history teachers of General Enrollment classes, 38 percent earned their B.A. in a social science field while 22 percent did so in history. Combining teachers holding a B.A. in history with those whose B.A. program included history in some combination of studies—a combined field major---raises to 36 percent the number of teachers prepared with some version of a history major in collage, a total which approaches but does not exceed the 38 percent majority in social science.
In the case of world history high school teachers a similar preparatory pattern holds. Thirty percent of those teaching General Enrollment course hold a B.A. in social science compared with the 25 percent holding a B.A. in history. Combining these teachers holding a B.A. history major with those holding a B.A. with some version of a combined major including history accounts for close to 40 percent of all General Enrollment world history teachers in our national sample.
Among United States and world history teachers of Advanced Placement classes, the level of history preparation is somewhat stronger. Thirty-six percent of United States history Advanced Placement teachers and close to 45 percent of world history Advanced Placement teachers hold their B.A. in history, with an additional 23 percent of United States history teachers and 16 percent of world history teachers holding a B.A. in an interdisciplinary or combined major incorporating history. In none of these groups, however, have more than 60 percent of teachers completed some version of a B.A. program in history, and among General Enrollment teachers, by far the largest group of the teachers in our national sample, less than 40 percent had completed such majors.
Of the teachers who did not major in history in their undergraduate programs, significant numbers did report taking one or more history courses. Of our total sample, 39 percent of the United States history teachers and 42 percent of the world history teachers reported completing 5 or more college level courses as electives toward the B.A. degree. Given the large number of teachers whose academic preparation for history teaching rests upon these college electives, it would be important to examine the content of these programs further. For teachers facing the demanding nature of high school history teaching, however, anything less than a major in one’s teaching field would seem to be inadequate scholarly preparation and is judged as such by every major group seeking improvement in history education today. . .
Distribution of Schools Offering a Survey Course in United States History by School Level, Community Type and Social Economic Status of the Student Body
|Schools Enrolling Grades 9-12|
|1 or more classes||343||89.79||58||98.31||138||90.79||30||85.71||117||86.03|
|Schools Enrolling Grades 7-8|
|1 or more classes||216||61.19||45||63.38||65||61.90||27||60.00||79||59.85|
Distribution of Schools Offering Courses in World History
and Western Civilization
by School Level, Community type and Socio Economic Status of the Student Body
|1 or more
|1 or more
College History Preparation of High School Teachers of United
Classified by Courses Taught
(Data in Percentages)
Types of Courses Taught
|Teacher's Preparation||General Enrollment
|Ph.D with History major||1.1||2.0|
|M.A. with History major||8.8||34.4||12.2|
|B.A. with History major||22.2||36.6||20.4|
|B.A. with a combined major including History||11.1||17.2||8.2|
|B.A. with Social Science Major||37.9||26.9||26.5|
|B.A. with Physical Education Major||8.5||1.1||8.2|
|College History courses
(for those who were not history majors)
College History Preparation of High School Teachers of World
Classified by Course Taught
(Data in Percentages)
Types of Courses Taught
|Teacher's Preparation||General Enrollment
|Ph.D with History major||0.0||0.0|
|M.A. with History major||6.0||19.6|
|B.A. with History major||24.9||44.6|
|B.A. wtih Secondary Education/History major||2.8||3.6|
|B.A. with Combined major including History||30.0||19.6|
|B.A. with Physical Education Major||8.8||1.8|
|College History Courses|