History Education in the United States: A Survey of Teacher Certification and State-Based Standards and Assessments for Teachers and Students

April 18, 2013

Sarah Drake Brown and John Patrick
April 18, 2013

What is the condition of K-12 history education today? Answering this question requires an understanding of how the various states prepare and evaluate their teachers and students. This site offers a snapshot of state policies taken in Fall of 2002, focused on five key areas: teacher certification; content standards for teachers; content standards for students; high school graduation and exit exam requirements; and assessments. The Organization of American Historians and the American Historical Association present this survey to those who seek to measure and improve how history is taught in America’s elementary, middle, and high schools.

Our particular concern is with the alignment of these five areas. How do the guidelines for training history teachers line up with the history curriculum and the expected outcomes for students? How do assessments of historical knowledge for teachers compare to the assessments for their students? The results cannot be easily quantified, given the varying definitions of history and its relation to the social studies. However, we can note a few issues that bring the issue of alignment to the fore.

For instance, no state now requires its teachers to have majored in history in college to be certified at the secondary or middle school level. Only nine states expect their high school teachers to have even minored in history, and only two states require this of their middle school teachers. At the time of the report, thirteen states had no history, social science, or social studies content standards for teachers. As other recent reports have shown, the quality, range, and depth of student content standards in history vary widely from state to state. Only twenty-nine states and the District of Columbia require students to take U.S. history in high school. A mere eleven states plus the District demand that students take world history in high school.

Even a cursory review of the standards suggests that recent reform efforts have tended to address one aspect or another, but rarely look at the pieces as a whole. We hope the following survey will provide a better means of envisioning how the various components of K-12 history education fit together.

This study was prepared by Sarah Drake Brown, a doctoral student at Indiana University, and Dr. John J. Patrick, director of the Social Studies Development Center of Indiana University, from spring 2002 through summer 2003. Ms. Brown presented progress reports and sought feedback from teachers, curriculum specialists, historians, and other state education officials at the 2002 National Council for Social Studies Annual Meeting in Phoenix, the 2003 American Historical Association Annual Meeting in Chicago, and the 2003 Organization of American Historians Annual Meeting in Memphis. Funding for the study came from the National History Education Network, a joint project that OAH, AHA, and other organizations supported during the 1990s. (View the methods used in gathering and verifying data for this study.)

To view a particular state report (in Adobe PDF format*), please select a state from the list below.

A central goal of this project was to develop a snapshot of precollegiate history education in the 50 states and Washington, D.C.  Hired by the Organization of American Historians as the lead researcher for this OAH/AHA project, Sarah Drake Brown requested information in the following categories:

  1. certification requirements for history teachers at the elementary, middle, and high school levels
  2. standards in history for teachers
  3. standards in history for the K-12 curriculum
  4. high school graduation requirements and exit examination requirements in history
  5. state criterion-referenced examinations in history
  6. statewide resources for history teachers and contact information for state history/social studies specialists
  7. statewide associations for teacher membership

This proved to be a massive amount of data, so the information was collected in separate steps: independent searches for data, preliminary public presentations of initial findings, and early contact with numerous representatives in history education from each of the states and the District of Columbia. Preliminary data was then collected from the websites created and maintained by the various departments of education and certifying bodies in each of the states. This information was then compiled into reports for each state, organized into sections based on the categories listed above.

These preliminary findings were then reported at meetings of the National Council for Social Studies, the American Historical Association, and the Organization of American Historians, to generate feedback about the questions, categories, and sources of information. Concurrently with the public presentations, copies of each state’s summary were sent off to history education specialists in each state. Contacts in the states included:

  1. National Council for the Social Studies State executive directors and boards
  2. National Council for History Education state representatives
  3. members of the Council of State Social Studies Specialists (an NCSS group)
  4. certification offices and/or state departments of education

Response to the survey varied significantly from state to state. In some states, as many as three individuals completed a response form and provided feedback regarding the accuracy of their state’s report. History education specialists, in only eight states (Arizona, Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma, Utah, Washington, and West Virginia) and Washington, D.C., failed to provide a response.  So the information provided is based solely on publicly available materials.  We acknowledge, with thanks, assistance from the following individuals (and states):

Lewis W. Graydon

Louie Yannotti

Ron Tolson
Steven Weber

John Burns

Neil Deason
Brenda Ellis

Daniel W. Gregg
Joel Latman

Joann Pruitt
Jacquelyn O. Wilson

Ralph Ricardo
Denise Scheidler
Theron Trimble

Eddie Bennett
Judy Butler

Mary Anne Soboleski

Ed Pfeifer

Richard Carlson
John C. Craig

Darrell Bigham
Chris McGrew

Susan Helbert

Allison Bell
Robin Chandler
Rebecca Hanly

Richard A. Baker, Jr.

Connie Manter

Bruce A. Lesh
Mark Stout
Marcie Taylor-Thoma

Virginia Ahart
Sandra Stotsky
Dorothy Verheyen

Sue Wittick

Charles Skemp

Alberta M. Dougan
Joan M. Musbach
Warren Solomon

Robert Crosier
Larry K. Starr

Robin Cobb
Chopin Kiang

New Hampshire
Kenneth J. Relihan

New Jersey
John Pyne

New Mexico
Patricia Concannon

New York
George M. Gregory
Betsy Guardenier
Charles C. Mackey, Jr.

North Carolina
Penny Maguire

North Dakota
Janet Placik Welk

Donna Nesbitt

Janet Madland
Andrea Morgan

Susan Rimby

Rhode Island
Luther Spoehr

South Carolina
Sherry Cashwell
Paul A. Horne, Jr.

South Dakota
Jerald Goehring
Gwen Rothenberger

Michelle Ungurait

Judy Brodigan

Alice M. Evans

Colleen Bryant
Paul Joseph
James A. Percoco

Margaret Laughlin
Mark Schwingle

Adell VanPatten-Gomy