NHD Letter in Response to Supplemental Priorities and Definitions for Discretionary Grant Programs

July 21, 2014

Ms. Margo Anderson
U. S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Ave. SW, Room 4W311
Washington, DC 20202-5930

Dear Ms. Anderson,

National History Day is grateful for the opportunity to voice our concerns in response to the Supplemental Priorities and Definitions for Discretionary Grant Programs proposed by the Secretary of the Department of Education. Like our partners and colleagues who support history education, we are deeply concerned with the ongoing failure to include adequate history education in the standards for classroom curriculum and the damaging consequences for students, teachers, and our nation that inevitably flow from it. The Secretary’s proposal does little to address these concerns.

History is defined as a core academic subject under the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), however much greater emphasis is placed on English Language Arts and mathematics education as a result of the No Child Left Behind Act and the Common Core State Standards. Education in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) has also become a recent point of emphasis, best illustrated by Proposed Priority 7. These subjects are critical to student success. However, history is equally crucial to a student’s knowledge and development.

Studies show that quality history education is crucial to the wellbeing of the United States. In 2011, National History Day conducted a National Program Evaluation. The results showed that students who were involved in college level historical research outperform their peers in writing assessment and all standardized test areas. Students also demonstrated a better understanding of current events and citizenry.

Considering American society has become increasingly polarized along partisan lines, a student’s understanding of current events and citizenship is essential. Indeed, one such study published by the Pew Research Center indicates that substantial numbers of Americans now regard members of political parties other than their own as a “threat to the nation’s well- being.” STEM education may produce better-equipped workers, but if they are increasingly divided on major political issues, the wellbeing of our society will be threatened. History education is uniquely able to put our society’s political schisms into meaningful context, as well as enable students to explore the shared values, institutions, and other commonalities that have historically bound us together as a people.

History entails much more than a recitation of events and personalities – it is an intellectual undertaking that requires students to develop important critical thinking skills in order to analyze and understand the relationships between the past and the present. When paired with the related social sciences of geography, economics, and civics (all designated as “core academic subjects” under ESEA) the benefits of history education are complemented and amplified.

National History Day therefore proposes that the following priority be added to the Secretary’s proposal:

Proposed Priority – Promoting History, Geography, Economics, and Civics Education.

a. Funding innovative history and civics education projects that target under-served school populations (as outlined in the Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Learning Act of 2013);

b. Supporting replicable, research-based professional development models for history, geography, economics, and civics teachers that emphasize the promotion of enhanced content and pedagogical knowledge;

c. Implementing history, geography, economics, and civics projects that employ new technologies so as provide multiple authentic experiences for students and increase their propensity to participate in civic life;

d. Funding projects that foster school/community partnerships while enhancing students’ civic knowledge and skills;

e. Encouraging states to develop clearer and higher standards of learning in history and related social sciences.

Cathy Gorn, Ph.D.
Executive Director
National History Day

Lynne O'Hara
Director of Programs
Phone: 484-919-2595
Press Release