Just days before the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, Congress and the White House struck an overdue budget agreement that deals a blow to a federal program favored by many advocates for improved history instruction.
Under the plan, funding for the Teaching American History grants program, which has supplied more than $1 billion over the past decade for school districts and their nonprofit partners, is being reduced from $119 million in fiscal 2010 to $46 million in the current year.
The House and the Senate approved the measure late last week, and President Barack Obama was expected to sign it into law.
Although supporters of the program said they were disappointed by the reduction, some expressed relief that it was still funded at all, given the growing appetite among Republicans and Democrats alike for federal budget cuts. If the program had been zeroed out, analysts say, it likely would have faced a tough time getting reinstated.
Launched in 2001, the program supports a range of professional-development initiatives around the country to build teachers’ knowledge and understanding of U.S. history, as well as their appreciation for it. A central goal, according to the U.S. Department of Education, is “to demonstrate how school districts and institutions with expertise in American history can collaborate ... to ensure that teachers develop the knowledge and skills necessary to teach traditional American history in an exciting and engaging way.”
A variety of Civil War museums have opened in recent years, exploring such issues as medical innovations, the experiences of African-American soldiers, and the Underground Railroad.
- Abraham Lincoln Presidential Library and Museum, Springﬁeld, Ill.
- African American Civil War Memorial and Museum, Washington
- The American Civil War Center at Historic Tredegar, Richmond, Va.
- Civil War Museum in Kenosha, Kenosha, Wis.
- Corinth Civil War Interpretive Center, Corinth, Miss.
- Gettysburg National Battleﬁeld Museum and Visitor Center, Gettysburg, Pa.
- National Civil War Museum, Harrisburg, Pa.
- National Museum of Civil War Medicine, Frederick, Md.
- National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, Cincinnati
- Pamplin Historical Park and the National Museum of the American Civil War Soldier, Petersburg, Va.
- President Lincoln’s Cottage, Washington
SOURCE: Education Week
A variety of history educators give the program high marks, saying it’s been influential in improving instruction.
“It’s been huge,” said James M. Percoco, a history teacher at West Springfield High School in Springfield, Va. With grant funding, he has been hired to instruct teachers in the use of primary-source documents and of monuments during summer institutes, in some cases focused on the Civil War. (“Primary Sources Breathe Life Into Civil War,” April 20, 2011.)
The program has helped to “reshape and reinvigorate the teaching of history,” he said.
But a federal evaluation in 2005 offered a mixed review of the program. For example, it said the projects examined showed “some, but not all, of the research-based characteristics of effective professional development.”
Also, while the work products, such as lesson plans and research papers, teachers produced as part of their participation demonstrated “a firm grasp of historical facts, ... they had difficulty interpreting and analyzing historical information.”
In any case, Kimberley Warrick, a curriculum specialist for a group of districts in Georgia, said her past participation as a Montana teacher in programs supported by the Teaching American History grants was transformative.
“It absolutely changed the way I taught history,” she said. The programs encouraged her to dive down more deeply into topics, and make better, and more frequent, use of primary sources. “I was missing how to hook [students]. After being a participant, I knew what I needed to hook them.”
A version of this article appeared in the April 20, 2011 edition of Education Week as Federal History-Grant Program Takes Budget Hit for Fiscal 2011