$1.5 Million Awarded for Center on History
WASHINGTON--Officials of the National Endowment for the Humanities last week announced the award of $1.5 million over the next three years to the University of California at Los Angeles to establish a center for the study of how history is taught in elementary and secondary schools.
The new center will analyze curricula, textbooks, and teacher-preparation programs with an eye to improvements that will restore the field to the "center of the curriculum,'' according to Lynne V. Cheney, the endowment's chairman.
Charlotte Crabtree, a professor of education at UCLA who will serve as the center's director, said that there has been "no voice speaking strongly for the role of history in schools, as there has been in the other major fields of the social studies.''
"We hope to serve as that voice,'' Ms. Crabtree said.
The announcement follows the release over the past year of several national reports--including "American Memory,'' Ms. Cheney's Congressionally mandated study of precollegiate education in the humanities--that have called for substantial improvements in precollegiate history instruction.
"This is the next step,'' Ms. Cheney said last week. "We have to move beyond recommendations.''
As its first project, the new center will initiate an assessment of the state of history instruction in the schools. "There is growing evidence,'' Ms. Crabtree said, "that it is in trouble.''
The new director called the results of a 1986 NEH-funded study of high-school-students' knowledge of U.S. history "nothing short of appalling.''
But the data, published in the book What Do Our 17-Year-Olds Know?, by Assistant Secretary of Education Chester E. Finn Jr. and the Columbia University education historian Diane Ravitch, also suggest possible areas for reform, Ms. Crabtree said.
In particular, she noted, the K-8 history curriculum should be upgraded to provide an adequate foundation for high-school studies.
"There is no significant history taught in elementary school,'' she said. "We suspect there is none taught in junior high school, either.''
As a result of this omission, she said, high-school students face a "blockbuster, 1,000-page book, which they are marched through at a relentless pace.''
"We would never teach math that way,'' she argued.
In addition to its study of teacher-preparation programs, the center will seek improvements in subject-matter knowledge and instructional methods by bringing at least 60 teachers annually to UCLA to study with "center scholars,'' Ms. Crabtree said.
Officials will then follow those teachers as they use their new knowledge in the classroom, videotaping their lessons to provide models for other teachers.
"History is no better than the quality of teaching that goes on in classrooms,'' said Ms. Crabtree.
Ms. Cheney announced plans for the new center last October, calling it the first venture of its kind ever funded by the endowment. (See Education Week, Oct. 7, 1987.)
It will be similar to the five "mini-centers'' established by the Education Department to study instruction in mathematics, science, the arts, literature, and elementary-school curricula.
Although 11 institutions applied to operate the history center, the UCLA researchers offered particular expertise in improving history teaching, according to Ms. Cheney.
She noted, for example, that Ms. Crabtree was a principal author of the curriculum framework for history and social science recently adopted by the California Board of Education. That framework, which has won praise from national reform advocates, would add an additional year of world history and boost history instruction in the early grades.
Ms. Crabtree is also a member of the Bradley Commission on History in Schools, a group of historians and teachers who are studying the status of K-12 history instruction and ways it can be improved.
The work of the two entities will be "complementary,'' she predicted, adding that she has invited members of the panel to serve as center scholars to identify the "essential historical knowledge students should acquire.''