Study Recommends That States Require Passage of U.S. History Assessment as High School Graduation Requirement
Content knowledge, not pedagogy, should be focus of teacher hiring and professional development
BOSTON – States should mandate passage of a U.S. history assessment with a strong focus on the founding documents as a high school graduation requirement, according to “Advanced Civics for U.S. History Teachers,” a study published by Pioneer Institute.
“Absent meaningful statewide assessments, district leaders will not make history and civics a priority,” said Pioneer Institute Executive Director Jim Stergios.
The paper features a preface from Paul Reid, the co-author with William Manchester of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965. In 2004, Manchester requested that Reid complete the last volume of Manchester’s Churchill trilogy. The book was a New York Times bestseller and named one of the best books of 2012 by The Wall Street Journal.
In 1946 Churchill, who was half American, said “[W]e must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man which are the joint inheritance of the English-speaking world and which through Magna Carta … find their most famous expression in the American Declaration of Independence.” The report is being released today, November 30th, the date of Churchill’s birth over 140 years ago.
Content knowledge, not pedagogical techniques should be the focus when it comes to professional development programs and the hiring of history teachers. “Absent strong content knowledge, students might be entertained by the latest pedagogical techniques, but they won’t learn much of value,” said co-author Anders Lewis.
The authors recommend that states should create funding streams for professional development centered on teaching strong academic content.
In historical terms, thinking critically requires tremendous historical knowledge. Absent such knowledge, critical thinking is not possible.
But a recent Newsweek poll found that almost half the respondents failed to define the purpose of the Bill of Rights. Ninety-eight percent of graduating high school seniors could not explain Brown v. Board of Education on the National Assessment of Educational Progress. Educational historian Diane Ravitch called the case “very likely the most important decision” in the history of the Supreme Court.
To buck these disturbing trends, the authors recommend four programs that afford teachers and students the opportunity to teach and learn history in a rich, engaging and vigorous manner. The programs are the Center for the Study of the Constitution, We the People, the Robert H. Smith Center for the Constitution at James Madison’s Montpelier and the Ashbrook Center at Ashland University.
Anders Lewis, Ph.D., is a history teacher and chair of the History Department at the Advanced Math and Science Academy Charter School in Marlborough. He previously worked at the Massachusetts Department of Education, where he helped write the commonwealth’s History and Social Science Curriculum Framework and create the History and Social Science MCAS test.
William Donovan is a former staff writer at the Providence Journal, where he wrote about business and government. He has taught business journalism at Boston University and Northeastern University.
Paul Reid is the co-author, with William Manchester, of the biography of Winston Churchill, The Last Lion: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965. In 2004, Manchester requested his friend Reid complete the third volume of his Churchill trilogy. The book was a New York Times bestseller and named one of the best books of 2012 by The Wall Street Journal. Reid has appeared on C-SPAN, the Churchill Chat, and was a Mason Distinguished Lecturer. In 2013, Reid was made a Churchill Fellow at Westminster College, where Churchill gave his Iron Curtain speech. Previously, Mr. Reid was a feature writer for The Palm Beach Post and a regular op-ed writer for The Boston Globe. He worked in manufacturing before earning a bachelor’s degree from the Harvard University Extension School and beginning a career in journalism. A native of Massachusetts, Mr. Reid lives in North Carolina.
Pioneer Institute is an independent, non-partisan, privately funded research organization that seeks to improve the quality of life in Massachusetts through civic discourse and intellectually rigorous, data-driven public policy solutions based on free market principles, individual liberty and responsibility, and the ideal of effective, limited and accountable government.