Amid the ongoing budget dispute in Washington, the U.S. Department of Education’s $119 million Teaching American History grants program may be in trouble. As my colleague Alyson Klein reports over at Politics K-12, House Republicans have put forward a new stopgap spending measure that would strip out money for that program, as well as many others.
The bill, which includes about $12 billion in cuts, comes as lawmakers and the White House are way behind schedule in finalizing a fiscal 2011 budget, and many analysts suggest a government shutdown could be imminent. An earlier stopgap measure effectively eliminated aid for some other education programs, including the $250 million Striving Readers Comprehensive Literacy program, arts education, the National Writing Project, and Reading Is Fundamental. (Congress could still decide to restore aid for some of these programs, however.)
I have to mention that the Teaching American History grants program has come up an awful lot in interviews I’ve been conducting lately about how schools teach the Civil War. (I’m working on a package of stories pegged to the 150th anniversary of the start of the conflict, which is only days away. See this post and this post for more.)
The Teaching American History grants 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 key goal, according to the U.S. Department of Education, is “to demonstrate how school districts and institutions with expertise in American history can collaborate over a three-year period to ensure that teachers develop the knowledge and skills necessary to teach traditional American history in an exciting and engaging way.”
The teachers I’ve spoken with, as well as those who help provide the professional development, suggest the work supported by the program has been powerful for educators, and typically has a strong emphasis on encouraging teachers to go beyond the textbook, helping students to dig into primary sources and other materials to bring history to life for them.
The federal program was launched in 2001, and was championed by the late Sen. Robert Byrd, of West Virginia.
Some observers have suggested that President Barack Obama may have opened the door to abolishing this and other education programs. As part of a larger attempt to consolidate some programs at the Department of Education, the administration has proposed to consolidate funding for the Teaching American History grants program into a broader, competitive fund, called Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-Rounded Education.
A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.