Social Studies From Our Research Center

Despite Obstacles, Educators Find a Way to Teach Black History

Teachers cite time constraints, and lack of state requirements as challenges to teaching Black history.
By Ileana Najarro — April 26, 2023 5 min read
Emmitt Glynn teaches AP African American studies to a group of Baton Rouge Magnet High School students on Monday, Jan. 30, 2023 in Baton Rouge, La. Baton Rouge Magnet High School in Louisiana is one of 60 schools around the country testing the new course, which has gained national attention since it was banned in Florida.
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

At a time when a growing number of states are passing restrictions on how to teach about race in K-12 schools, a slim majority of educators say they spend some or a lot of time teaching Black history, according to new survey results.

The EdWeek Research Center administered a national online survey to 863 educators, including 401 teachers, from March 29 through April 11.

Of surveyed teachers who said their job this year includes teaching students about aspects of history, 56 percent said they spent some or a lot of time this school year teaching students about Black history—either as a standalone subject or incorporated into other subjects.

Of those who said they teach aspects of history, but haven’t spent a lot of time teaching their students about Black history this school year, one write-in response theme emerged:

“Time constraints.”

“Time.”

“Not enough time.”

And, of all teachers surveyed, 65 percent said their state does not require students to learn Black history.

Educators and researchers alike point to a number of challenges state legislators and local educators must address to improve access to Black history in K-12 schools.

Only a few states mandate Black history instruction

Teachers look to state standards and requirements on instruction to know what the parameters are in developing lesson plans.

But only about a dozen states set up mandates and/or state oversight committees related to instruction on Black history, said LaGarrett J. King, the founding director of the Center for K-12 Black History and Racial Literacy Education housed within the Graduate School of Education at the University at Buffalo.

And these committees connected to those mandates need to do a better job in promoting Black history that is mandated within the state, which can mean ensuring teachers are ready to include Black history in their classwork, and clarifying how teachers can, in fact, teach this topic.

For instance, King pointed to Florida state law, which requires instruction of African American history, so long as it is aligned to the state’s law restricting how topics of race can be taught in K-12 schools. Florida is one of 18 states so far that have imposed bans and restrictions on the instruction of such topics either through legislation or other avenues.

These restrictions at state levels on how race can be discussed in the classroom need to be undone if true instruction of Black history is to take place in K-12 schools, said Rodney D. Pierce, a 7th grade social studies teacher in Nash County Public Schools in Nashville, N.C.

“As someone who wants to make teaching Black history a priority in their instruction, or in the content they can give students, it’s not surprising given the political minefield that surrounds the teaching of Black history being misconstrued as critical race theory, or something that’s going to make, namely, white students uncomfortable,” Pierce said.

Regardless of whether a state standard or rule exists that requires instruction of Black history, Pierce said it’s up to educators to push for this instruction themselves.

That could mean teachers reaching out to state leaders, urging them to enact state instructional requirements on Black history, and school administrative leadership supporting teachers in these efforts.

It can even mean teachers getting creative in incorporating more Black history into their classwork.

“If I teach about the American Revolution, I can talk about people like Peter Salem, who’s the hero of the Battle of Bunker Hill,” Pierce said.

Teachers will need training to get this right

Even if states require Black history instruction, states would still need to address the issue of teacher training on how to lead such discussions in the classroom.

Today’s teachers were students in an education system that didn’t teach them Black history and then teacher education programs or teacher alternative training programs didn’t offer proper knowledge for instruction of this topic, King said. If mandates on teaching Black history are to truly take effect, teachers need to be equipped with pedagogical content knowledge.

“There needs to be money to help school districts have professional development around these particular topics to ensure that their teachers are ready to teach those particular topics in the class,” King said.

“The teacher is the most important person in this process,” he added. “The curriculum is important, but the teacher is the most important because a teacher can take a bad curriculum and make the class better. But a good curriculum versus a bad teacher is not going to do anything.”

Districts can even rely on current staff already incorporating Black history into their lessons, and set them up as instructional coaches to facilitate collaborations across classrooms for this type of instruction, Pierce said.

There are solutions to the issue of time

While time constraints as an obstacle to teaching Black history aren’t necessarily new, both Pierce and King say there are immediate and long-term solutions available.

For Pierce, this can mean doing more research into how Black luminaries can be brought up in lessons across subject areas and grade levels.

For King, this can also mean a re-evaluation of how history is taught in K-12 schools.

“When teachers are talking about this notion of time, they’re also talking about how the history curriculum is set up, and this kind of content gap where we try to fit all this history into one year with X teacher, particularly within high school [teachers] probably can’t even get to modern day history,” King said. “In many ways, school needs to be about depth and not breadth.”

He suggests a more thematic approach to history akin to how ethnic studies is taught, where students inquire about critical aspects of history through the lens of multiple, diverse groups of people.

“We learn history, so we don’t repeat it. The problem is we continuously repeat it, because we’re not learning the true history,” King said.

“And if we learn about Black history, and other people’s historical narratives, then we’re getting at true history where if we really believe in that particular statement, we will not repeat it, because we understand people’s historical experiences.”

education week logo subbrand logo RC RGB

Data analysis for this article was provided by the EdWeek Research Center. Learn more about the center’s work.

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Budget & Finance Webinar
Innovative Funding Models: A Deep Dive into Public-Private Partnerships
Discover how innovative funding models drive educational projects forward. Join us for insights into effective PPP implementation.
Content provided by Follett Learning
Budget & Finance Webinar Staffing Schools After ESSER: What School and District Leaders Need to Know
Join our newsroom for insights on investing in critical student support positions as pandemic funds expire.
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Student Achievement Webinar
How can districts build sustainable tutoring models before the money runs out?
District leaders, low on funds, must decide: broad support for all or deep interventions for few? Let's discuss maximizing tutoring resources.
Content provided by Varsity Tutors for Schools

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Social Studies What the Research Says Oral History Offers a Model for How Schools Can Introduce Students to Complex Topics
Community history projects like a curriculum in Memphis, Tenn. can help students grapple with issues like school segregation, experts say.
4 min read
A group photo picturing 12 of the Memphis 13.
A group photo of 12 of the Memphis 13 students.
Courtesy of the Memphis 13 Foundation
Social Studies How These Teachers Build Curriculum 'Beyond Black History'
A pilot to infuse Black history and culture in social studies is gaining ground in New York.
4 min read
Photograph of Dawn Brooks-DeCosta at Thurgood Marshall Academy Lower School in the Bronx.
Dawn Brooks Decosta, pictured on Oct. 2, 2020, is the deputy superintendent of the Harlem Community School District 5 in New York. Its 23 schools piloted units of a curriculum developed in collaboration between local educators and the Black Education Research Center at Columbia University Teachers College.
Kirsten Luce for Education Week
Social Studies Q&A Here's How AP African American Studies Helps Teachers 'Get Students to Think'
Ahenewa El-Amin in Kentucky is teaching the second year pilot of the College Board's new course set to officially launch this fall.
4 min read
Ahenewa El-Amin leads a conversation with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
Ahenewa El-Amin leads a conversation with students during her AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week
Social Studies What Students Have to Say About AP African American Studies
Students at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., share their takeaways from the pilot course that officially launches this fall.
5 min read
Nia Henderson Louis asks a question during AP African American Studies class at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19, 2024.
Nia Henderson-Louis asks a question during AP African American Studies at Henry Clay High School in Lexington, Ky., on March 19.
Jaclyn Borowski/Education Week