[Senate Hearing 109-173]
[From the U.S. Government Printing Office]
S. Hrg. 109-173
U.S. HISTORY: OUR WORST SUBJECT?
SUBCOMMITTEE ON EDUCATION AND EARLY CHILDHOOD DEVELOPMENT
COMMITTEE ON HEALTH, EDUCATION,
LABOR, AND PENSIONS
UNITED STATES SENATE
ONE HUNDRED NINTH CONGRESS
EXAMINING ISSUES RELATING TO AMERICAN HISTORY, FOCUSING ON S. 860, TO
AMEND THE NATIONAL ASSESSMENT OF EDUCATIONAL PROGRESS AUTHORIZATION ACT
TO REQUIRE STATE ACADEMIC ASSESSMENTS OF STUDENT ACHIEVEMENT IN UNITED
STATES HISTORY AND CIVICS
JUNE 30, 2005
Printed for the use of the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and
U.S. GOVERNMENT PRINTING OFFICE
22-340 WASHINGTON : 2005
For Sale by the Superintendent of Documents, U.S. Government Printing Office
Internet: bookstore.gpo.gov Phone: toll free (866) 512-1800; (202) 512�091800
Fax: (202) 512�092250 Mail: Stop SSOP, Washington, DC 20402�090001
COMMITTEE ON HEALTH, EDUCATION, LABOR, AND PENSIONS
MICHAEL B. ENZI, Wyoming, Chairman
JUDD GREGG, New Hampshire EDWARD M. KENNEDY, Massachusetts
BILL FRIST, Tennessee CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, Connecticut
LAMAR ALEXANDER, Tennessee TOM HARKIN, Iowa
RICHARD BURR, North Carolina BARBARA A. MIKULSKI, Maryland
JOHNNY ISAKSON, Georgia JAMES M. JEFFORDS (I), Vermont
MIKE DeWINE, Ohio JEFF BINGAMAN, New Mexico
JOHN ENSIGN, Nevada PATTY MURRAY, Washington
ORRIN G. HATCH, Utah JACK REED, Rhode Island
JEFF SESSIONS, Alabama HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, New York
PAT ROBERTS, Kansas
Katherine Brunett McGuire, Staff Director
J. Michael Myers, Minority Staff Director and Chief Counsel
Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development
LAMAR ALEXANDER, Tennessee, Chairman
JUDD GREGG, New Hampshire CHRISTOPHER J. DODD, Connecticut
RICHARD BURR, North Carolina TOM HARKIN, Iowa
JOHNNY ISAKSON, Georgia JAMES M. JEFFORDS (I), Vermont
MIKE DeWINE, Ohio JEFF BINGAMAN, New Mexico
JOHN ENSIGN, Nevada PATTY MURRAY, Washington
ORRIN G. HATCH, Utah JACK REED, Rhode Island
JEFF SESSIONS, Alabama HILLARY RODHAM CLINTON, New York
MICHAEL B. ENZI, Wyoming (ex EDWARD M. KENNEDY, Massachusetts
officio) (ex officio)
Christine C. Dodd, Staff Director
Grace A. Reef, Minority Staff Director
C O N T E N T S
THURSDAY, JUNE 30, 2005
Alexander, Hon. Lamar, Chairman, Subcommittee on Education and
Early Childhood Development, opening statement................. 1
Kennedy, Hon. Edward M., a U.S. Senator from the State of
Massachusetts, opening statement............................... 3
Prepared statement........................................... 4
McCullough, David, Historian and Author, West Tisbury,
Massachusetts, statement....................................... 6
Smith, Charles E., Executive Director, National Assessment
Governing Board; Stephanie L. Norby, Director, Smithsonian
Center for Education and Museum Studies; and James Parisi,
Field Representative, Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and
Health Professionals........................................... 15
Prepared statements of:
Mr. Smith................................................ 17
Ms. Norby................................................ 24
Mr. Parisi............................................... 28
Statements, articles, publications, letters, etc.:
Theodore K. Rabb............................................. 40
U.S. HISTORY: OUR WORST SUBJECT?
THURSDAY, JUNE 30, 2005
Subcommittee on Education and Early Childhood Development,
Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions,
The subcommittee met, pursuant to notice, at 3:07 p.m., in
room SD-430, Dirksen Senate Office Building, Hon. Lamar
Alexander, chairman of the subcommittee, presiding.
Present: Senators Alexander, Kennedy, and Reed.
Opening Statement of Senator Alexander
Senator Alexander. Good afternoon. The Subcommittee on
Education and Early Childhood Development will come to order.
Excuse me for being a minute or two late; I was presiding over
a little bit of American history. The Senate is debating the
Central American Free Trade Act, and I am sure this will be a
good deal more interesting than that, with Mr. McCullough here.
I know Senator Ted Kennedy will be here. He is looking
forward to coming. Other senators may come. We welcome all of
Here is how we will proceed. We have two panels of
witnesses. Mr. McCullough is one panel, and then we have three
witnesses after that. So I will make a brief opening statement.
Senator Kennedy will do the same. And then we will invite David
McCullough to say whatever he would like to say about our
subject. We will have some questions and then we will try to
allow him to leave by about 3:45 or in that neighborhood, if
that fits your schedule. Because I know you have other
responsibilities tonight at the National Archives, which I am
looking forward to attending as well.
Monday is July 4th, Independence Day for the United States
of America, and the sad fact is that for millions of young
Americans, they don't know much about why we celebrate the 4th
According to the National Assessment of Education Progress,
which we call NAEP, and which I prefer to call the ``Nation's
Report Card'' because it is the closest thing we have to that,
fewer students have a basic understanding of American history
than have a basic understanding of any other subject which we
test, including math, science, and reading. So when you look at
our national report card, American history is our worst
That is why, on April 20th, Senator Kennedy and I
introduced S. 860, the American History Achievement Act. This
is part of our effort to put the teaching of American history
and civics back in its rightful place in our school curriculum
so our children can grow up learning what it means to be an
American. This is a modest bill. It provides for improved
testing of American history and civics so we can determine
where history is being taught well and where it is being taught
not so well, so that improvements can be made.
We also know that when testing is focused on a specific
subject, States and school districts are more likely to step up
to the challenge and to improve performance. The American
History Achievement Act gives the National Assessment Governing
Board--we call it NAGB in Washington--the authority to
administer a 10-State pilot study of the NAEP test in U.S.
history in the year 2006. They already have that authority for
reading, math, science, and writing.
This pilot program should collect enough data to obtain a
State-by-State comparison on 8th and 12th grade students'
knowledge and understanding of U.S. history. The data will
allow us to know which States are doing a better job of
teaching American history and allow other States to model their
program on those that are working well. It will also put a
spotlight on American history that should encourage States and
school districts to improve their efforts at teaching the
Teaching American history is a unique and special
responsibility of our public schools. I can remember a meeting
of educators in Rochester a few years ago, when I was president
of the University of Tennessee. The then-president of Notre
Dame University, Monk Malloy, was there. And he asked this
question in a roomful of educators: What is the rationale for a
public school? Well, there was an unexpected silence around the
room, until Albert Shanker, the late president of the American
Federation of Teachers, answered the question in this way. Mr.
Shanker said the public school, the common school, was created
to teach immigrant children the three R's and what it means to
an American, with the hope that they would then go home and
teach their parents.
From the founding of our country, we have understood how
important it is for our citizens to understand the principles
that unite us as a country. Other countries are united by their
ethnicity. If you move to Japan, for example, you can't become
Japanese, really. But Americans, on the other hand, are united
by a few things in which we believe. And to become an American
citizen, you raise your hand and take an oath and subscribe to
and learn those principles. If there were no agreement on these
principles, as Samuel Huntington has noted, we would be the
United Nations instead of the United States of America.
Still, many children are growing up as civic illiterates,
not knowing the basic principles that unite us. As Mr. Shanker
pointed out, we cannot ignore the special mission of our public
schools to teach our children what it means to be an American.
And according to recent surveys, that is what the American
people who pay the taxes want. Hart-Teeter recently conducted a
poll of 1,300 adults. They asked what the principal goal of
education ought to be. The top response was ``producing
literate, educated citizens who can participate in our
democracy.'' Twenty-six percent of the respondents said that
should be our principal goal. Teaching math, reading, and
writing was selected by only 15 percent. And you can't be an
educated participant in our democracy if don't know our
I have a longer statement that I will put in the record
because I want to spend as much of the time as possible
listening to our witnesses. But let me conclude my statement
I hope that the legislation that Senator Kennedy and I have
proposed and we are discussing today will play a part in a
whole variety of activities that are taking place here in
Congress with the goal of lifting up the importance of American
history for new Americans, for our children, and, really, for
all of us. It is part of a broader effort. Last year, Senator
Kennedy and I joined with Senator Reed, the Democratic leaders,
and many Republican senators as well, to pass the American
History and Civics Education Act. It passed by unanimous vote
here in the Senate. The purpose was to help begin to create
summer academies for outstanding teachers and students of
American history and civics.
The senator from New York, Senator Schumer, and I have
introduced a bill to codify the oath of allegiance, which
immigrants take when sworn in as new citizens. We want it to
protect and honor in law just as the National Anthem and the
Pledge of Allegiance are codified in law.
Our children are growing up ignorant of our Nation's
history. Teaching our children what it means to be an American
is one of the principal reasons we created the public school.
So it is right to put it back in its rightful place, and I
look forward to our discussion today.
Now I would like to turn to Senator Kennedy, who is the
ranking member of our committee and an enthusiastic participant
in this effort. He and I don't agree on everything, but we sure
agree on this. And he has a special passion for American
history because he and his family are such an important part of
And to give credit where credit is due, it is his
suggestion that brought Mr. McCullough here today. This hearing
was scheduled for a couple of weeks earlier, and Ted said,
well, since he is going to be here on the 30th, why don't we
just move the hearing, invite him to come--and so David
So, Senator Kennedy, why don't I ask you to make your
opening comments. And if you would like to introduce Mr.
McCullough, I would welcome your doing that.
Opening Statement of Senator Kennedy
Senator Kennedy. Well, thank you very much, Senator
I think, in listening to Chairman Alexander, I think just
listening to him you can understand about his passion for this
subject, and it has been infectious to all of us as one that
loves history and cares deeply about it, learns from it, and
also has listened to Dave McCullough on so many different
occasions speak to it. We thank you, Senator Alexander, for
your very, very strong leadership and all the things you are
getting done. It is difficult around here to get many things
done, and you have really demonstrated an ability to do it and
have a lot of strong support for it. So, thank you so much.
We are going to miss Shelby Foote, aren't we, Dave
McCullough? We lost one of the good friends, one of the great
historians, one that I think inspired so many Americans to
understand one of the great times of American history, the
Civil War. He was a very, very special person, special
historian, and added immensely to America's understanding about
the Civil War.
I think for anyone that questions whether Americans are
interested in history, all they have to do is pick up the Best
Seller List year after year and see Dave McCullough's name on
it. And there is one that I am just about three-quarters of the
way through, ``1776,'' and I've had the good opportunity to
read his other books, particularly ``John Adams'' and also
``The Path Between the Seas.'' And the list goes on.
It always seems that Americans have a terrific thirst for
history. I think that Dave McCullough has just reminded us of
that. And if we really miss the opportunity to give children in
this country the opportunity to read history and to understand
history and--including civic responsibility as well; I think
Lamar outlined that--we miss a very, very important
responsibility that we have. We can't insist that every child
is going to develop a love of history or an understanding, but
we sure can do everything we can to give that opportunity to
young people. That is what our bill is really all about.
We want to welcome Dave McCullough. As all of us know, we
are fortunate in this Nation to have someone that has spent the
time and the effort and energy to read and study and to help
all of us understand better about what this country is about,
what its values are about, what its challenges have been, and
to give us the hope from those experiences to face the
challenges that we have today. We are lucky to have him in
Massachusetts as a resident. And we are proud to say that on a
recent scoring for standards on history, Massachusetts got an
A. So I am sure it is a great deal due to Dave McCullough. We
are glad to have you here. We thank you very much for taking
the time, being down here a good deal early to give us an
opportunity to hear from you.
[The prepared statement of Senator Kennedy follows:]
Prepared Statement of Senator Edward M. Kennedy
Thank you, Mr. Chairman for convening this important
hearing. We're fortunate to have such a distinguished panel
with us today to discuss how our schools can improve the
teaching and learning of America's past. We're honored that one
of the Nation's great historians--David McCullough--could join
us this afternoon.
As you know, Mr. Chairman, I share your appreciation of the
importance of history as the foundation for the Nation's
continuing ideals and our schools can contribute immeasurably
to each generation's commitment to those ideals. America's
economy and security today require strong skills in math and
science, and the No Child Left Behind Act supports the
development of these skills. But our democracy and our future
in the world depend on much more.
It's no surprise that readers in droves are turning to
David McCullough's ``1776.'' Anyone concerned about the
quagmire in Iraq today can't help but be reassured that in the
dark days of the Revolutionary War in 1776, we summoned the
leadership to find our way out of that quagmire, and hopefully
we can do it again. As George Santayana wrote in 1905, ``Those
who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.'' Or,
as H. G. Wells put it in 1921, ``Human history becomes more and
more a race between education and catastrophe.''
Instilling appreciation of America's past--teaching the
values of liberty, justice, equality, and civic
responsibility--should be an important mission of every school.
Thanks to the efforts of large numbers of teachers of history
and civics in classrooms throughout America, we're making
According to the results of the most recent assessment by
the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 4th and 8th
grade students are improving their knowledge of American
history. Children are using primary sources and documents more
often to explore history, and are being assigned historical and
biographical readings by their teachers more frequently.
But much more remains to be done to advance their
understanding of the subject. Students still consistently score
lower on American history than on any other course. A recent
study by Sheldon Stern--the Chief Historian Emeritus at my
brother's Presidential Library in Boston--suggests that State
standards for teaching American history need improvement. His
research reveals that 22 States have American history standards
that are either weak or lack clear chronology and appropriate
political and historical context, or sufficient information
about real events and people. As many as 9 States still have no
standards at all for American history.
Good standards matter. They're the foundation for teaching
and learning in every school. Every State should have creative
and effective history standards. Massachusetts began to do so
in 2000, through a joint review of history standards by
teachers, administrators, curriculum coordinators, and
university professors. After monthly meetings and 3 years of
development and revision, the State released a new framework
for teaching history in 2003. Today, our standards in both
American history and world history receive the highest marks.
Higher academic achievement in reading and math obviously
do not have to come at the expense of subjects such as history.
Students can build literacy and number skills in a history or
geography course too. Interdisciplinary approaches are
consistent with the No Child Left Behind Act's promise of high
quality education for each student.
Achieving this goal requires better teacher preparation,
better certification, and better support for new teachers.
Greater investments are needed to improve the quality--not just
the quantity--of student assessments. We must continue to
support efforts under the No Child Left Behind Act such as the
Teaching of Traditional American History program, to help
teachers improve instruction.
It's a privilege to join our Chairman, Senator Alexander,
again in this Congress in introducing the American History
Achievement Act, to establish a strong national commitment to
teaching history and civics in the Nation's public schools. It
will lay the foundation for higher standards and more effective
ways of teaching about the Nation's past, and provides a more
frequent and effective analysis of how well America's students
are learning these important subjects.
We've included civic education in the bill as well. The
strength of our democracy and the health of our communities
depend on informed, caring, and active citizens. We cannot
protect our freedom without emphasizing the character of our
Every young person should have an education that provides
them with the skills they need to be good citizens, such as
knowledge of Government, law, and democracy, and the ability to
understand and analyze important issues of the day. We need
high standards for civic education, more opportunities for
internships and service-learning, and stronger partnerships
between schools and community organizations to involve young
people more fully in the life of their communities.
Today's students will be better citizens in the future if
they learn about our history and learn the skills needed to
participate in our democracy.
Senator Alexander. Mr. McCullough.
STATEMENT OF DAVID McCULLOUGH, HISTORIAN AND AUTHOR, WEST
Mr. McCullough. Senator Alexander, Senator Kennedy, I am
very grateful and proud to be invited to say some things that
have been on my mind for a good long time. And I want to start
by emphasizing, I think, that our teachers are the most
important citizens in our society. I don't think there is
anyone doing work of greater value or work that will have more
long-lasting effect than our teachers. I have a son who is a
teacher, of whom I am extremely proud--a public school teacher.
I know the difficulties that people in teaching have today, I
know the opportunities there are, and I know how frustrating
and sometimes discouraging the teacher's life can be today.
Having said that, I think that we are sadly failing our
children and have been for a long time, almost a generation,
almost 25 years. And I see it personally when I visit as a
guest lecturer or visiting professor at colleges and
universities all over the country. I know the studies that have
been made, the surveys, the tests that have been run on seniors
in supposedly the top 50 universities in the country, and how
abysmally they score. And I am convinced that what you are
doing is the right thing. I think to bring testing, assessment
of performance in the grade schools and high schools, public
schools nationwide, is long overdue. And I certainly would
second adamantly any further success that you can do from the
Federal level to make this happen.
I think the problem is essentially that we have been
teaching our teachers the wrong way. We have too many teachers
who have graduated with degrees in education, and they are
assigned to teach history or biology or mathematics or English
literature, and they don't know the subject. Now, there is
progress being made concerning this. Former Senator David
Boren, a colleague of yours, now the president of the
University of Oklahoma, has taken a major step. You can no
longer graduate from the University of Oklahoma as a
prospective teacher without having majored in a subject. You
can't major in just education.
The teacher who doesn't know the subject is up against a
big handicap in three ways, and consequently, therefore, the
students are. Anybody trying to teach a subject they don't know
has right away got a problem. But it is also impossible to love
what you don't know, just as it is impossible to love someone
you don't know. And we all know from our experience in school,
those of us who were lucky enough to have wonderful teachers,
the best teachers were the teachers that were really excited
about what they were teaching. Their enthusiasm, their
affection for what they were teaching was tangible.
Miss Schmeltz, 6th grade: ``Come over here and look in this
microscope. You're going to get a kick out of this.'' And you
did, and you would never forget it.
Two of my high school history teachers, Walter Jones,
Robert Abercrombie, wonderful teachers, were enthusiastic about
what they were teaching every day in every class.
There was a great teacher of teachers at the University of
Pittsburgh, Margaret MacFarland, professor of child psychology,
whose most famous disciple, if you will, was Fred Rogers, Mr.
Rogers, who reached more children than any teacher who ever
lived. And Fred was someone I knew because of my work in Public
Television. And he acknowledged openly to anyone that all of
what he did was based on the teachings of Margaret MacFarland,
which were, in essence, attitudes aren't taught, they're
It is the attitude of the teacher that is caught by the
student, particularly at the grade school level. If the teacher
is enthusiastic, if she or he loves what she is teaching, the
child gets it immediately. And her admonition to teachers was,
Show them what you love.
So if a young person majors in art or music or history or
mathematics or 19th century English literature, and can convey
that love, that enthusiasm, that is the biggest step that can
possibly be made in how we improve the teaching of all
Now, if you don't know the subject, you find it hard to
know it well enough to teach it, you don't love it, there is a
third and very serious problem, and that is you are much more
dependent on the textbooks. And the textbooks, alas, are by and
large very dreary. Some are superb. Daniel Boorstin's one-
volume ``History of the United States'' is one of the best
there is. Joy Hakim's relatively new multivolume history of the
United States is superb.
But others are dismal almost beyond describing. It is as if
they had been written to kill any interest that a student might
have in history. You read some of them and you wonder, Do they
send children home with these as an act of punishment?--you
know, you weren't very good today so you have to spend an hour
a night reading this book.
Now, for a long time it was said that children don't like
to read; modern-day children don't like to read. And this was
gospel among educators and publishers of books for education.
So therefore they reduced the vocabulary, they dumbed it down.
They increased the size of the print. They put in more
illustrations and graphs and graphic art and gimmicks to try to
pull them into reading the books that supposedly they don't
like to read.
And then, along came Harry Potter and blew all of that
conventional wisdom right out of the water. Of course they will
read something that is well-written. Of course they will be
drawn to a book that is compelling to you or me or to anyone
else. And I like to stress that the author of Harry Potter
doesn't dumb down the vocabulary in the slightest. And the sad
part of it is there are wonderful things that children could be
reading today in history in the schools at every level.
Now, because of the No Child Left Behind program, sadly,
history is being put on the back burner or taken off the stove
altogether in many schools, if not most schools, with the
argument that we have to concentrate on reading and mathematics
and science. Well, fine, to concentrate on the reading all they
want. But they don't just have to read what is conventionally
seen as literature. They can read the literature of history.
And it is a very simple thing to start putting together the
kinds of wonderful reading that many of us grew up on, that
could be easily introduced to the No Child Left Behind reading
The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere; Stephen Vincent Benet's
``John Brown's Body''; Frederick Douglass's autobiography; Ben
Franklin's autobiography; the speeches of Chief Joseph;
Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address; Grant's memoirs; selections
from Shelby Foote and Barbara Tuchman; the wonderful prose of
Francis Parkman, ``The Oregon Trail.'' The list could be
indefinite. Martin Luther King's ``Letter from Birmingham
Jail.'' On and on. These are all not only major events in the
history of our country, they are great literature. They have
survived the test of time, just as literature of a conventional
kind has. And this could be exciting. This could bring young
people and their teachers into a love of history, which is
If we raise generation after generation of young Americans
who are historically illiterate, we are running a terrible risk
for this country. You could have amnesia of a society, which is
as detrimental as amnesia of an individual. And of course, if
people begin to think that all that we have, all the
blessings--our freedoms, our art, our music, our literature,
our great institutions, the faith, the creed we have that has
held us together for 229 years in equality, and the idea that
all men are created equal, the ideal of life, liberty, and the
pursuit of happiness--if all of that seems to be something that
just fell out of the sky, that it is just part of the natural
world and that nobody struggled for it, there is no story
behind it, then we are really, in my view, in the soup.
Jefferson said it perfectly. He said, ``Any Nation that
expects to be ignorant and free expects what never was and
never can be.'' Our very freedoms depend on education, and that
is why education has been a sustaining thing, one of the great
guidelines all through our history, from the time of the
founders down to the present.
And we are falling down. The literacy rate in Massachusetts
in 1776, I am sorry to say, was higher than it is today. We are
raising children who don't know who George Washington was.
Mount Vernon is about to build an $84 million visitors center
so that when those little Americans get off those yellow school
buses, they can have a quick indoctrination to know who George
Washington was before they walk up the path to Mount Vernon, so
that the visit to that house will mean something to them.
This is no joke. And it isn't just apparent among students.
It can be apparent among grownups. I had lunch 1 day with an
editor of the op-ed page of a major newspaper in this country,
a graduate of Yale University. And she was quite upset because
she had just been to the Vietnam Memorial. And she said, ``I'm
sorry if I seem upset. I've just been to see the Vietnam
Memorial.'' And she said, ``Have you seen it?'' And I said,
``Indeed I have.'' She said, ``Did you find it upsetting?'' I
said, ``I certainly did, but I have to tell you that I went
there on the same day that I went out to visit Antietam.'' And
she said, ``What is Antietam?''
I said, ``Well, maybe you're from the South and know it as
Sharpsburg.'' She said, ``No, I have no idea what you're
talking about.'' I said, ``There are 15,000 names on the
Vietnam Memorial for a war that lasted 11 years. In 1 day at
Antietam, which is a 40-minute drive from where you're sitting,
there were 23,000 casualties. On a single day. And you've never
heard of it. And you went to the same university I did. What's
Well, one of the things that is happening is you can go to
Yale, Harvard, Stanford, any number of the finest institutions
that we are so rightfully proud of, and not major in any
history whatsoever. It isn't required. One president of a
university--a college, I should say--who is himself a
historian, was asked why don't you require history? He said,
``It's not popular.'' Well, I think that is a rule of judgment
or a means of judgment we ought to dispense with.
Now, will knowing history make one a better citizen?
Absolutely. Will knowing history give us a sense of who we are
and how we got to be where we are, and why we are the way we
are? Absolutely. But history is also a source of pleasure. It
is a source of infinite pleasure, the way art and music and
literature are. And to deny our children that pleasure is to
deny them a means of extending and enlarging the experience of
being alive. Why would anyone want to be provincial in time
anymore than to be provincial in space when the whole realm of
the human experience is there for our enjoyment as well as our
Harry Truman said the only new thing in the world is the
history you don't know. Daniel Boorstin, who wrote the great
one-volume history textbook of the United States and who was
himself a front-rank historian and the Librarian of Congress,
said trying to plan for the future without a sense of the past
is like trying to plant cut flowers. And we are trying to plant
thousands of cut flowers. And it isn't going to work.
I think, personally, I think that we human beings are
naturally interested in the past. All the great childhood
stories began, ``Once upon a time, long, long ago.'' We all
want to go back to know how it was back then, who did what and
why. I don't think it is coincidental that the two most popular
movies of all time are historical. They may not be historically
accurate in total, but they are historically powerful: Gone
With the Wind and Titanic.
History is a natural human interest. And to make it boring,
to make it dull, to make it insipid or sleep-inducing is really
a shame, a tragedy. The great thing about history is it is
about life. Every time you scratch the surface of the
supposedly dead past, you find life, and you learn. Samuel
Elliot Morrison, the great Harvard historian, said, ``History
teaches us how to behave.''
I feel so strongly about this, but I also know that the
problem can be solved. There is no trick to it. Barbara Tuchman
said you can do it; she explained how to do it in two words:
Tell stories. And particularly to young people.
And I would like to say in conclusion, in my view the
concentration of effort should be put on children at the grade
school level, 4th, 5th, 6th grade. If you can catch them then,
you have them for life. And I know from experience that it
works. Those little minds are like sponges, and they want to
learn. We all know they can learn a language just like that,
much faster than the rest of us. They can learn anything just
I taught a class one morning in Montgomery, Alabama, of 6th
graders, explaining to them how the locks at the Panama Canal
work, how a ship the size nearly of the Empire State Building
can be lifted up 80 feet above sea level with nothing more than
the power of gravity. And they got it. They understood it
faster than an adult audience would. And I suddenly thought to
myself, You could teach these people anything. They will go
just as fast as you want to take them.
So it isn't that this is a problem we can't solve. This is
a problem we absolutely can solve. Go back to some basics, back
to a good liberal arts education for everybody who teaches in
our public schools, number one. And encourage those who want to
teach history to major in history. And encourage those who
teach history to give their students things to read that they
themselves, all the rest of us, would also want to read. And
never underestimate their capacity to be pulled in by wonderful
writing about great subjects.
Senator Alexander. Thank you, Mr. McCullough. I will now
take 5 minutes or so and then turn to Senator Kennedy.
You mentioned the No Child Left Behind legislation and its
emphasis on reading, math, and science. And I mentioned in my
remarks about how Albert Shanker had pointed out that the
public school, the common school was created for a public
purpose. I mean, school could teach math, science, and reading,
but a common, public school has a special purpose. And part of
that, he thought, was to help teach immigrant children,
especially, what it means to be an American, with the hope they
go home and teach their parents.
Now, as we look for ways to do that from Washington, we
have to be a little careful. For example, with No Child Left
Behind, our emphasis on reading, science, and math may be at
the expense of U.S. history, even though there is a section in
the No Child Left Behind bill that Senator Byrd, put in, which
authorizes $100 million a year for what he called traditional
American history. So that is also part of No Child Left Behind.
And we have worked, as I mentioned, on summer academies for
outstanding teachers and students. And this legislation we are
talking about today is to give States the option of comparing
Tennessee's high school seniors and 8th graders with
Massachusetts's high school seniors and 8th graders, as a way
of putting a focus on it.
I want to ask you if you have any other suggestions of how
Federal resources can be used to encourage the teaching of
American history without turning us into a national school
board here in Washington, which we don't want to be. And I want
to specifically ask you about an idea we have talked a little
about before, and that is the idea of using our national
monuments, historical homes--the Adams home, for example, The
Hermitage in Tennessee--these places are all over America. They
are often part of our National Parks system. You often talk
about bringing history alive. I wonder if you have thought any
more about the idea of combining some of our Federal monuments
and institutions in places with putting a new and renewed
emphasis on the teaching of American history?
Mr. McCullough. I have indeed. I would like also to say I
don't really think that the basis of our public school system
was to teach new Americans, immigrants. The basis of our public
school system began before the Constitution of the United
States was written. It began with the Constitution of the
Commonwealth of Massachusetts, which is the oldest written
constitution still in use in the world today, written by John
Adams, in which there is a paragraph unlike anything that had
ever been written before, saying that it shall be the duty of
the Government to teach everybody, to provide public education
for everybody. And then he went on to list what those
institutions should teach, and he listed just about
everything--science, literature, history, natural history, on
and on--and that these should be cherished by society.
Washington said that real happiness could only come through
education. They all said it over and over again, public
education is essential. Jefferson's establishment of the
University of Virginia was what he considered one of the great
life works of his whole career.
I think that the National Parks system, which has something
like 300 historic sites, could be the vehicle, could be the
venue, if you will, of a whole program of summer seminars for
teachers, where they would come to Gettysburg or the Adams
House at Quincy, or Monticello, or Mount Vernon, or The
Hermitage, or the historic sites west of the Mississippi, in
California, to learn about that place but, in learning about
that place, learn much about a whole segment of the American
story--which would not only enlarge and improve their interest
in and ability to convey the details and the importance of
those subjects, it would also set them in a position to be far
more interesting and stimulating, even inspiring, to their
students when they bring their students to that site.
This is relatively inexpensive because the sites are there
and the on-site Park Service people, the guides and historians,
are superb historians. Sometimes they are the leading expert on
that subject. So that we have a built-in wealth of marvelous
historic sites and we have a built-in wealth of on-site people
who know what they are talking about.
One other quick point, Senator. I don't think we should
just leave the job to the Federal Government or to the
teachers. I think in many ways, as my daughter Dorie Lawson
said at dinner one night to us, the trouble with American
education is us, we who are parents and grandparents. We have
to do more to talk about history with our children. We have to
reinstate the dinner table conversation. We have to reinstate
And we have to take them to those historic sites ourselves.
Don't wait for the school trip.
Senator Kennedy has been taking his nieces and nephews and
many of his family to historic places year after year. It is a
wonderful family tradition. It ought to be a family tradition
everywhere. Because those trips can change your life.
I was taken to Monticello by a school pal and his mother
and father on spring vacation when I was about 14. And I know
it changed my life. It is what started me down the trail in my
interest in history. And we should be giving our children the
books that we liked when we were just discovering history, at
whatever level. That should all be part of it.
And you who are people in public prominence can do wonders
individually, not just in your role as representatives in the
Government. You can set a standard conspicuously of parental or
grandparental involvement in what ought to be something we all
enjoy talking about.
Now, some young families will say, You don't understand,
there is not enough time anymore for that. I can't find that
acceptable. When you read that the average American family
spends 3 to 4 hours a day watching television, surely there is
time to have a common interest with your children or
grandchildren about the history of this country.
Senator Alexander. Thank you. As I turn it over to Senator
Kennedy, your point about the national parks and the monuments
being inspiring, I know that as a fact, after Senator Kennedy's
most recent visit to the church in Richmond with his family,
where Patrick Henry and Thomas Jefferson and George Washington
walked through the door shoulder-to-shoulder and Patrick Henry
made his famous speech, Ted nearly tackled me on the Senate
floor the next week to tell me about it and how exciting it was
to him and to the members of his family to go.
Senator Kennedy. Well, thank you. Thank you so much again,
David, for reminding us all about what is possible in this
area. You know, it is interesting, that back in 2001 we did
have history listed as a required standard in the Senate
version of the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary
Education Act. That was one of the subjects. But in the
conference of the No Child Left Behind Act, it was dropped. I
was just talking with my staff about the reasons for it. But I
can tell you, we will reconsider history standards in the next
reauthorization in 2007.
I think one of the things that I have listened to you talk
about, the parks that we have and how we ought to get the
teachers tied into this and these summer programs, I am going
to talk to my chairman, to see if we can try and develop some
kind of summer programs. Because we have these parks, as you
well know, in Massachusetts--you mentioned the Adams, we have
Lexington Park, you can go down to New Bedford and the
magnificent parks down there that go back, the Whaling Museum--
and we have them really scattered, as you pointed out, across
the country. And I think we ought to try to do something.
I think for us, getting the States to develop these
standards is enormously important, because to get the teachers
to really pay attention to history and civics as a priority in
school curriculum, this is where it really starts. This is part
of the underlying Alexander and Kennedy legislation.
You have been so eloquent on this subject, but what we need
is continued upgrading of these teachers in these courses. How
we can get the professional training we do require in the No
Child if people are going to be graduates and teach us in the
subjects in which they are going to teach. But this has to be a
continuing process, I imagine, from what you are saying.
You mentioned you get these good teachers. And while you
were speaking about your good teachers, I was thinking about
mine. I was lucky enough to have Arthur Holcombe, who wrote
``Our More Perfect Union'' when I was at college. He described
the Constitutional Convention, and every student felt that they
were there. It was unbelievable that that kind of learning--
that everyone that would leave that course could hardly wait to
go over to the library. We need continuing professional
development, too, for these teachers.
I think they want it, they need it, but we don't do it
terribly well. And that is something that we have to give some
I just want to thank you very much. It has been a very
important challenge for us. I think Senator Alexander is up to
it, and I will certainly be there as a spear carrier.
Mr. McCullough. I would like to just add one more point. I
am very optimistic about what can be done. I think the problem
is very serious, and we have let it drag on much too long. But
I know that these programs work. I am involved with the
National Council for History Education, the NCHE, which was
started by Theodore Rabb from Princeton and Kenneth Jackson
from Columbia, two of our front-ranked historians. And the idea
was to help improve the teaching of the teachers. And every
summer, we have had seminars or clinics, call them what you
will, where several hundred teachers come together for about 2
weeks and they get involved, not just by hearing people speak
about the art of teaching and what sources and books and so
forth can be used, but the teachers themselves do some actual
research. They get their hands dirty in the process of history,
in the excitement of--detective-case excitement of history.
And it never fails to work. They come away absolutely
thrilled with the possibilities of what they can do in the
classroom. And we have had nothing but volunteer professors,
teachers, lecturers for years now, 15-20 years. And I know that
if a program with the Park Service were to be established you
could get the best people in the country to come and
participate as an act of patriotism or citizenship. It isn't
going to cost a great deal, and it works. It works.
And we can change it. When you see what some programs are
doing in colleges and universities, there is no question it can
be turned around.
Senator Alexander. Well, maybe Senator Kennedy and I can
put our heads together and make that our next little project.
As you mentioned, there are already a number of summer
programs. The presidential academies are just getting started.
The National Endowment for the Humanities had a teachers
program at The Hermitage, which I attended last year, same kind
of thing. But we could, at a relatively small expense, we could
lift those up. And my experiences with the Governor's Schools
that many States have is that a 2 week program for teachers
fits the teachers' schedule very nicely and offers an inspiring
opportunity that livens up the rest of the school year and
infects them for another 3 or 4 years, when they go back to
their schools. This infects other teachers. It is a benefit,
really, that teachers don't have. Much of teachers'
professional education is really pretty dull. It is a lot like
legal professional education.
Mr. McCullough. And they are wonderful people. Senator Byrd
invited me to come down and speak to a conference of teachers
in West Virginia a few years ago. And I went--and I don't know
how many hundreds of teachers were there, filled a huge
auditorium. And the enthusiasm, the vitality of that group of
people--I came back buoyed up. I don't know whether I had any
effect on them, but they had a huge effect on me. And I think
that is a well of commitment and enjoyment in the subject
matter that is just waiting to be tapped everywhere.
Senator Alexander. Mr. McCullough, thank you for changing
your schedule and being with us today.
Mr. McCullough. Thank you, sir.
Senator Alexander. I have ``1776'' on my bedside table.
Senator Kennedy's a little ahead of me in terms of reading it.
Mr. McCullough. Well, the test isn't until September, so
you are okay.
Senator Alexander. We will now welcome the second panel to
come up. Let me introduce all three of our guests and invite
each of you, if you will, to summarize your comments in about 5
minutes. If you can do that, and then that will give us a
chance to ask questions and to discuss the legislation and
other things you would like to say.
I am going to make my introduction brief. Charles Smith is
executive director of the National Assessment Governing Board.
He runs the 26-member National Assessment Governing Board,
which Congress established in 1988. Mr. Smith and I have known
each other a long time. He has a distinguished career in
Tennessee, in education, as a university president, as
chancellor, as commissioner of education. I am delighted that
he is joining us today.
Stephanie Norby is director for the Smithsonian Center for
Education and Museum Studies. She manages Smithsonian's
Smithsonian-wide museum education programs for museum
professionals and educators. She has 26 years of experience in
education as a classroom teacher, school district
administrator, and museum educator. And we welcome you.
And I want to invite Senator Reed, if he would like to
introduce our other witness and make any comments he would
like, and then we will go in the order of introduction and ask
each of you to present your testimony.
Senator Reed. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank
you for holding this hearing.
I am delighted to be able to introduce James Parisi, who is
testifying this afternoon. Jim is the field representative for
the Rhode Island Federation of Teachers and Health Care
Professionals. He has worked there for over 10 years. And he is
also working to enhance the study of American history and civic
education nationally in Rhode Island. He brings to this hearing
an important perspective as he is helping Rhode Island develop
standards. In fact, yesterday, legislation passed the Rhode
Island General Assembly that will set standards for history and
civic education, which is a result of his efforts.
I am pleased that Rhode Island, under Jim's urging and with
his great advocacy, is taking this step forward. And I want to
commend you for your efforts, Jim.
I am pleased Jim could be here today, Mr. Chairman, and I
look forward to his testimony.
Senator Alexander. Thank you, Senator Reed. Mr. Parisi,
STATEMENTS OF CHARLES E. SMITH, EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR, NATIONAL
ASSESSMENT GOVERNING BOARD; STEPHANIE L. NORBY, DIRECTOR,
SMITHSONIAN CENTER FOR EDUCATION AND MUSEUM STUDIES; AND JAMES
PARISI, FIELD REPRESENTATIVE, RHODE ISLAND FEDERATION OF
TEACHERS AND HEALTH PROFESSIONALS
Mr. Smith. Thank you, Mr. Chairman, Senator Reed. It is a
great pleasure to be here today, and I appreciate the
I also think I would be remiss if I didn't note for the
record of this committee hearing that the role that Chairman
Alexander has played in the development of the organization
that I have held, that he and Senator Kennedy were two very key
players back in the late 1980s, when a blue ribbon committee
was commissioned to take a look at National Assessment of
Education Progress. And out of that set of deliberations and
recommendations came the recommendation to Congress that the
board I serve be created and that there be State-based NAEP and
that there also would be a role played by the governing board
that I serve to set the standards, to develop the frameworks.
And all of that has led us to where we are today.
So, Mr. Chairman, I commend you for what you have done. I
should say, too, that Senator Kennedy took that ball from the
committee and was the key sponsor, the key supporter of the
legislation that resulted in the creation of our board. We are
deeply grateful for all that you have done.
Let me say at the outset that responding to the needs of
Congress and other policymakers at all levels of Government is
our reason for being. You have continually looked to the
Nation's Report Card as a reliable and valid source of useful
data on the academic performance of our Nation's students. And
let me assure you that we take that charge very seriously.
Mr. Chairman, you have asked that my testimony address the
provisions of S. 860 and provide results from the NAEP surveys
in U.S. history and civics. In written materials provided to
this subcommittee prior to this meeting, considerable detail
has been provided. This afternoon, my comments will focus on
just a few highlights to meet the constraints that the chairman
set in regard to time.
Let me say that your bill captures the essence of the
importance of our Nation's youth knowing and understanding who
we are as a people, how we have gotten to where we are in our
200-plus-year history, and the responsibilities that we bear as
citizens of this great country. The bill also underscores, in
my judgment, the troubling reality of significant deficiencies
in what American students know about their Nation's history and
their civic duties.
It is essential, I believe, that policymakers at all levels
have access to the outcomes of teaching and learning in these
two subjects. The Nation's Report Card has a basic
responsibility to shine the light on results, and I believe it
has done just that--in the U.S. history in 1994, in 2001; and
in civics in 1998. I might say, too, and I will say a little
bit more about it later, both subjects will be assessed again
As is noted in the bill before you today, the student
achievement results of previous NAEP assessments are cause for
great concern. Your bill specifies in some detail some examples
of these deficiencies. What students don't know about U.S.
history and civics, we recognize, is significant. We have to be
troubled by a finding from the 2001 U.S. history assessment
that 57 percent of 12th graders scored below the basic level of
achievement, a percentage unchanged from the 1994 assessment.
Failure to achieve basic means that the majority of 12th
graders were unable to identify the significance of many
people, places, events, dates, ideas, and documents in U.S.
history. It also means that they fail to relate relevant
experience from the past in understanding contemporary issues.
The list goes on, and in the written testimony that has been
provided to you, we provide some more examples.
In civics, the picture that emerged from the 1998
assessment is not quite as gloomy as that for history, but it
is also a cause for concern nonetheless. More than a third of
the 12th graders fell below the basic level of achievement in
civics. This means that more than one in three members of this
Nation's class of 1998, a group approaching or at voting age at
the time they took the assessment, did not demonstrate an
understanding of the principles of American Government, its
structure of checks and balances, and the roles of political
parties and interest groups on our democracy.
I might say and should say that in both U.S. history and
civics, the news was not all bad. On the positive side, 4th and
8th graders in both subjects achieved at or above basic in
percentages significantly higher than those of the 12th
graders. Also, the findings in U.S. history showed that the
scaled scores for both 4th and 8th graders increased between
1994 and 2001. The position results were tempered, though, by
the finding that in both subjects the percentages of students
achieving at or above basic declined in the progression from
4th to 12th grades.
Also, at all three grades, in both subjects, the percentage
below basic is much higher in general for minority students
than for white students.
In closing, I offer just three quick comments. Point one
regards Finding 3 of the acts that states, and I quote:
America's past encompasses great leaders and great ideas that
contribute to our shared heritage and to the principles of
freedom, equality, justice, and opportunity for all.
Mr. Chairman, the results of NAEP assessments raise serious
questions about how well these noble principles are being
transmitted to and absorbed by rising generations of young
adults. The disparate performance between minority and
nonminority students in U.S. history and in civics is
egregious. It poses challenges to our Nation's progress in
achieving those very principles.
Point two. The current NAEP legislation makes the governing
board responsible for determining the schedule of subject and
grades to be assessed by NAEP. I am pleased to report that the
governing board adopted last month a schedule of assessments
that provides for the assessment of U.S. history and civics
once every 4 years into the future. As noted earlier, U.S.
history and civics assessments in grades 4, 8, and 12 at the
national level were already scheduled for 2006. Under the new
schedule, assessments in these two subjects at all three grades
will also be conducted in 2010 and 2014.
And finally, point three. The American History Achievement
Act provides for trial State assessments in at least 10 States
that are geographically diverse. Because a number of
prerequisite steps are required in the year before a State
level assessment is conducted, funding must be provided both in
the year before and the year of the assessment, which your bill
does indeed provide for. These prerequisite steps include
identification of participating States, drawing a sample of
schools and students, working directly with the schools to
provide an orientation to the assessment, and printing test
booklets. Therefore, there is reason to believe that, with
adequate notice, appropriate outreach, and targeted follow-up,
achieving voluntary participation of 10 States at grade 8, we
believe, is a reasonable and attainable goal.
However, in contrast to NAEP's 15 year experience securing
participation for State-level assessments in grades 4 and 8,
NAEP has never conducted State-level assessments at grade 12.
We know that at the national level, obtaining the cooperation
of high schools to participate in 12th grade NAEP is more
challenging than at grades 4 and 8, and that participation
rates are much lower at grade 12 than at grades 4 and 8.
Obviously, however, at the direction of Congress and with the
provision of the appropriations that are sufficient and timely,
you may be assured that NAGB will make every effort to address
this issue effectively.
In conclusion, Mr. Chairman, Senator Reed, it is
commendable that you, Senator Kennedy have introduced this act
and that you are conducting this hearing. I, again, appreciate
this opportunity to speak and, at the appropriate time, I will
be happy to respond to questions.
Senator Alexander. Thank you, Mr. Smith.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Smith follows:]
Prepared Statement of Charles E. Smith
Chairman Alexander and members of the subcommittee, thank you for
the opportunity to testify on the American History Achievement Act. I
am Charles E. Smith, Executive Director of the National Assessment
Governing Board. The Governing Board was created in legislation
introduced in 1988 by Senator Kennedy, developed to reauthorize the
National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP). The legislation
also provided for the first-ever state-by-state NAEP results and for
standards-based reporting by NAEP. Senator Kennedy's bill implemented
recommendations made in 1987 by a national study group charged with
improving NAEP's usefulness. The study group, comprised of highly
respected leaders in education, was chaired by then Tennessee governor
Lamar Alexander. One of the members of the study group was the First
Lady of Arkansas at the time, Hillary Rodham Clinton.
It is with a profound sense of appreciation for your and Senator
Kennedy's continuing support for NAEP's role in providing information
useful to educators and policymakers, that I appear before you today.
Mr. Chairman, you have asked that my testimony address the
provisions of S. 860--the American History Achievement Act--and results
from the National Assessment of Educational Progress in U.S. history
and civics. I will provide selected NAEP results first. The Findings
section of the American History Achievement Act already includes a
listing of data drawn from the 2001 U.S. history assessment and I will
augment those results. The remainder of my testimony will address the
provisions of S. 860.
NAEP Results in U.S. History and Civics
Recent events remind us that our ability to survive as a Nation
depends on our belief in the value of our purposes as a Nation. Schools
are the primary means for transmitting these purposes to each new
generation--through instruction in U.S. history and civics. It is
essential that students leave school with a deep understanding of the
ideas, traditions, and democratic values that bind us with our fellow
citizens and that serve as a compass that guides our societal and
Likewise, it is essential to shine a light on the outcomes of
teaching and learning in U.S. history and civics and on successful or
promising instructional practices. Mr. Chairman, you and the
subcommittee are to be commended for the light that will be shined on
these topics by conducting this important hearing today.
Achievement in U.S. History
The NAEP results in U.S. history for 1994 and 2001 and in civics
for 1998 present a somewhat mixed but troubling portrait of student
achievement in these subjects. The NAEP achievement results listed in
the Findings section of the American History Achievement Act indicate
that U.S. students have significant deficiencies in the knowledge of
our Nation's history. Of particular concern is the finding from the
2001 U.S. history assessment that 57 percent of 12th graders scored
below the Basic level in U.S. history and that this was unchanged from
the 1994 assessment.
There are three achievement levels reported by NAEP: Basic,
Proficient, and Advanced. The Basic level represents partial mastery of
the knowledge and skills prerequisite for the Proficient level. The
Proficient level denotes competency over challenging subject matter.
The Advanced level signifies superior performance.
The results in U.S. history in 2001 by achievement level and grade
are displayed in Table 1:
Table 1.--Percentage at Achievement Levels by Grade
NAEP U.S. History Assessment 2001
Basic Basic Proficient Advanced
Grade 4....................... 33 49 16 2
Grade 8....................... 36 48 15 2
Grade 12...................... 57 32 10 1
* Totals by grade may not add to 100 due to rounding.
Please note that, as the student grade level increases, the
percentage below Basic increases and the percentage at Proficient
decreases. At 4th grade, 33 percent are below Basic; at 8th grade, 36
percent; and at 12th grade, 57 percent. At the Proficient level, the
percentages are 16, 15, and 10, respectively, for 4th, 8th, and 12th
To illustrate the meaning of these results, please consider what it
means for 57 percent of 12th graders not to have reached the Basic
level on the U.S. history assessment. At the Basic level in U.S.
history at the 12th grade, student responses indicate the ability to:
identify the significance of many people, places, events,
dates, ideas, and documents in U.S. history;
recognize the importance of unity and diversity in our
social and cultural history;
understand America's changing relationships with the rest
of the world;
relate relevant experience from the past in understanding
understand the role of evidence in making an historical
This means that the majority of 12th graders did not know, for
example: (1) that the Monroe Doctrine expressed opposition to European
colonization in the Americas at the early part of the 19th century; (2)
how Government spending during the Great Depression affected the
economy; and (3) that the Soviet Union was an ally of the U.S. in World
However, there were some positive signs in the NAEP results. The
average score of 4th graders increased from 205 to 209 and of 8th
graders from 259 to 262 between 1994 and 2001. The gains for 4th
graders between 1994 and 2001 were for the lowest performing students,
that is, those at the 10th and 25th percentiles. At 8th grade, gains
were found for students at the 25th, 75th and 90th percentiles.
However, at the 12th grade, there were no differences in achievement
between 1994 and 2001 at any point along the performance distribution.
Other positive signs were in the narrowing of differences in
average score by race/ethnicity. At the 4th grade there was a 7 point
narrowing of the average score between white and African-American
students between 1994 and 2001. At the 12th grade there was a 7 point
narrowing of the average score between white and Hispanic students. But
at the 8th grade, the achievement gap between these groups was
Although the narrowing of average score differences between
minority and non-minority student demographic groups is positive, the
differences when looking at the percentage below Basic in 2001 are
stark and worrisome.
Table 2.--Percentage at Students Below Basic by Grade and Race
NAEP U.S. History Assessment 2001
White African Hispanic Native Pacific
American American Islander
Grade 4....................................................... 21 56 58 47 29
Grade 8....................................................... 25 62 60 50 32
Grade 12...................................................... 51 80 74 66 47
There are important observations to share about the data in Table
2. First, at grades 4 and 8, the percentage below Basic is much higher
in general for minority students than for white students, and twice as
high or more for African American, Hispanic, and Native American
students than for white students. As with the overall results displayed
in Table 1, the percentage below Basic increases as the grade increases
for each respective group. At grade 12, the percentage below Basic for
any group should be viewed as unacceptable, but the results for African
American, Hispanic, and Native American students, respectively, at 80
percent, 74 percent, and 66 percent below Basic should be viewed as
Achievement in Civics
I will now turn to the NAEP civics results. The results from the
civics assessment in 1998 also indicate that improvement is needed.
About these findings, the well-known scholar R. Freeman Butts observed,
``These findings are . . . disturbing . . . for our citizenship itself
is at stake.''
Table 3.--Percentage of Students at Achievement Levels by Grade
NAEP Civics Assessment 1998*
Basic Basic Proficient Advanced
Grade 4....................... 31 46 21 2
Grade 8....................... 30 48 21 2
Grade 12...................... 35 39 22 4
* Totals by grade may not add to 100 due to rounding.
Although the percentage below Basic in civics is lower than in U.S.
history at all three grades, and the percentage at proficient is
higher, the results of the 1998 civics assessment are still troubling.
It is important to point out that 35 percent of 12th graders did
not reach the NAEP Basic level and that the percentage below Basic is
higher at the 12th grade than at the 4th or 8th grade. These young
citizens, approaching or at voting age, do not demonstrate an
understanding of the principles of American Government, its structure
of checks and balances, and the roles of political parties and interest
groups in our democracy. Students at or above the NAEP Proficient level
in civics have a good understanding of how governments and
constitutions work and the ability to apply what they've learned to
concrete situations. However, it is worrisome that only 26 percent of
12th graders were at or above the Proficient level.
At the Basic level in civics at the 12th grade, student responses
understanding that constitutional Government can take many
knowledge of the fundamental principles of American
constitutional Government and politics;
familiarity with both rights and responsibilities in a
recognition of the value of political participation.
This means that 35 percent of 12th graders in 1998, for example,
(1) could not list two ways in which the American system of Government
is designed to prevent absolutism and arbitrary power; (2) did not know
that the President and the State Department have more authority over
foreign policy than either Congress or the courts; and (3) did not know
that the Supreme Court used the 14th Amendment to the Constitution to
invalidate State laws that segregate public schools.
As with U.S. history, the results show, generally, that the
percentage below Basic increases as students progress through the
grades and that much larger percentages of minority students are below
Basic than white students. At all three grades, differences in the
percentage below Basic between white students and African American,
Hispanic, and Native American students are more than two to one.
Table 4.--Percentage of Students Below Basic by Grade and Race
NAEP Civics Assessment 1998
White African Hispanic Native Pacific
American American Islander
Grade 4....................................................... 21 52 57 46 29
Grade 8....................................................... 20 50 55 51 29
Grade 12...................................................... 27 58 56 56 34
Finding 3 of the American History Achievement Act states that
``America's past encompasses great leaders and great ideas that
contribute to our shared heritage and to the principles of freedom,
equality, justice, and opportunity for all.''
Mr. Chairman, the data cited above raise serious questions about
how well these noble principles are being transmitted to and absorbed
by rising generations of young adults. The disparate performance
between minority and non-minority students in U.S. history and in
civics is egregious and poses challenges to our Nation's progress in
achieving those very principles. Aristotle said, ``If liberty and
equality. . .`are chiefly to be found in democracy, they
will be attained when all persons alike share in the Government to the
utmost.'' Are not the chances of all our citizens sharing equally in
Government lessened if the knowledge about the core principles and
history of that Government is unequal?
The American History Achievement Act
The American History Achievement Act consists of amendments to the
current authorizing legislation for the National Assessment of
Educational Progress. It amends the authorizing legislation by:
(1) calling for assessments in history at least once every 4 years;
(2) authorizing trial State assessments in U.S. history and civics
in grades 8 and 12, with priority given to conducting assessments in
(3) assigning the National Assessment Governing Board the
responsibility for identifying and selecting participating States, in
consultation with the Commissioner for Education Statistics;
(4) authorizing appropriations for these purposes for NAEP
operations and the Governing Board.
Schedule of U.S. History and Civics Assessments
The current NAEP legislation makes the Governing Board responsible
for determining the schedule of subjects and grades to be assessed by
NAEP. The Governing Board maintains a schedule of assessments with a
minimum 10-year outlook to allow advance notice to NAEP participants
and sufficient time to plan for NAEP operations.
I am pleased to report that the Governing Board, just a few weeks
ago at its quarterly meeting of May 19-21, 2005, adopted a schedule of
assessments that provides for the assessment of U.S. history and civics
once every 4 years. The newly adopted assessment schedule revises and
extends the current schedule through the year 2017.
U.S. history and civics assessments in grades 4, 8, and 12 at the
national level were already scheduled for 2006. Under the new schedule,
assessments in U.S. history and civics in grades 4, 8, and 12 at the
national level will also be conducted in 2010 and 2014. In addition to
monitoring progress within grades over time, the once every 4-year
schedule provides the added advantage of aligning with the cohort
progression from grades 4 to 8 and grades 8 to 12. These assessments
will continue a trend line of assessments in U.S. history conducted in
1994 and 2001. In civics, these assessments will continue a trend line
with a base year of 1998.
Trial State Assessments in Grades 8 and 12
The American History Achievement Act provides for the conduct of
trial State assessments in U.S. history and civics at grades 8 and 12
in at least 10 States that are geographically diverse. Because a number
of prerequisite steps are required to be carried out in the year before
a State level assessment is conducted, funding must be provided both in
the year before and the year of the assessment. These prerequisite
steps include identification of participating States, drawing the
sample of schools and students, working directly with the schools to
provide an orientation to the assessment, and printing test booklets.
In contrast to the requirement under title I that States receiving
funding must participate in NAEP reading and mathematics assessments in
grades 4 and 8 every 2 years, State participation in NAEP U.S. history
and civics assessments at grades 8 and 12 would be voluntary. Eliciting
voluntary State participation at grade 12 would pose new challenges for
NAEP that will be discussed in detail below.
The American History Achievement Act provides that only grades 8
and 12 will be assessed at the State level. This appears to recognize
that significant variation exists from state-to-state in U.S. history
and civics curricula by grade 4, making this grade less appropriate as
an object of State level assessment. On the other hand, by grades 8 and
12, it is likely that students have been exposed to instruction in U.S.
history and civics. These grades are also important for assessment
purposes because they represent important transition points in
schooling in the U.S. Grade 8 generally represents the transition point
to high school, and grade 12 marks the end of K-12 schooling in the
U.S. and the transition point to adult pursuits--college, training for
employment, and entrance into the military.
While grades 8 and 12 are important points in American education,
NAEP's experience at the State level at the respective grades is vastly
different. From 1990 to 2002, State level participation in NAEP was
strictly voluntary, was limited to grades 4 and 8, and involved only
the subjects of reading, mathematics, science, and writing. Mandatory
State level participation in grades 4 and 8 in reading and mathematics
became a legislated requirement in 2003 under title I. State level
participation in science and writing assessments at grades 4 and 8
remains voluntary. Voluntary State level participation at grades 4 and
8 from 1990 to the present across the four subjects offered has been
solid, generally reaching between 40 and 44 States per assessment.
Therefore, there is reason to believe that, with adequate notice,
appropriate outreach, and targeted follow up, achieving the voluntary
participation of 10 States at grade 8 is a reasonable goal. However, in
contrast to NAEP's 15-year experience eliciting participation for
state-level assessments at grades 4 and 8, NAEP has never conducted
state-level assessments at grade 12. We know that, at the national
level, obtaining the cooperation of high schools to participate in 12th
grade NAEP is more challenging than at grades 4 and 8, and that
participation rates are much lower at grade 12 than at grades 4 and 8.
Mr. Chairman, the Governing Board's primary role is to oversee and
set policy for NAEP, in accordance with legislative guidance. I want to
assure you that, upon enactment of the American History Achievement Act
and provision of appropriations that are sufficient and timely, the
Governing Board will commit to doing its utmost to elicit the voluntary
participation of 10 States in assessments of U.S. history and civics at
grade 8 and at grade 12.
Mr. Chairman, it is commendable that you and Senator Kennedy have
introduced the American History Achievement Act and that you are
conducting this hearing. As the bill so eloquently states: ``. . . the
strength of American democracy and our standing in the world depend on
ensuring that our children have a strong understanding of our Nation's
Regrettably, the NAEP results, especially at the 12th grade and by
race/ethnicity, give cause for concern about the state of knowledge of
American students about U.S. history and civics. We ignore at our own
peril the implications of these results for our Nation's future.
Drawing from her remarks about the NAEP U.S. history and civics
results, I would like to close with these quotes made by former
Governing Board member Diane Ravitch: ``Preparing our youth to be
responsible members of a democratic society is one of the most
important missions of American education.'' ``Our ability to defend--
thoughtfully and intelligently--what we as a Nation hold dear depends
on our knowledge and understanding of what we hold dear.'' ``We cannot
be content when so many . . . are so poorly prepared.''
Senator Alexander. Ms. Norby?
Ms. Norby. On behalf of the Smithsonian Institution, I
would like to thank the members of the subcommittee for this
opportunity to testify on the strengthening American history
and civics instruction in our schools.
As Mr. McCullough mentioned, classroom teachers aren't the
only ones responsible for ensuring that our children understand
history and the duties of citizenship. All of us in the
scholarly community share this responsibility. And the
Smithsonian as our national museum has unique resources to
commit to this effort, with nine research centers, 18 museums,
thousands of scholars, and millions of artifacts.
Today what I would like to do is talk about three ways in
which we are using these resources to support the teaching of
American history and civics. First, for teachers, through
professional development and curriculum resources and, for
students, through specific programs that are offered
First I will talk about professional development. The
Smithsonian offers in-depth week-long seminars in Washington,
DC. and workshops in communities across the country. I would
like to describe a typical seminar focusing on teaching
In the morning, teachers work directly with historians. For
example, they look over the shoulder of Doug Owlsley, who is a
forensic anthropologist, as he examines recently unearthed
skeletons from Jamestown. Or they work with Doug Mudd, who is a
numismaticist, who compares Colonial currency; or Harry
Rubenstein, a curator, to analyze the purpose and symbolism of
George Washington's uniform. These experiences bring the past
to life. They deepen our understanding about what historians do
and they generate excitement. As Mr. McCullough pointed out,
they reinvigorate the pleasure of history. Then, based on these
experiences, teachers also work with Smithsonian staff to find
ways to replicate these experiences in their own classrooms
using resources from their own communities, using reproductions
or even digital images. In this way, they can share the thrill
of discovery with their own students.
Usually, we develop these programs in partnership with a
school district or an organization like Advanced Placement
College Board. Recently, our work in school districts in
Arizona, Louisiana, Maryland, New York, and North Carolina has
been funded by the Teaching American History grants
administered by the U.S. Department of Education.
Our curriculum resources are also based on Smithsonian
scholarship and our experiences working with teachers. Our
central education Web site, Smithsonianeducation.org, is a
gateway to nearly 1,000 resources that includes lesson plans,
Web sites, and now even video streaming.
This fall we will launch a new Web site, Smithsonian
Source, that will be devoted exclusively to history and civics
instruction. What makes this site unique is that it is designed
by teachers for teachers in consultation with Smithsonian
scholars. In a sense, it is the Smithsonian collection, as
curated by educators, representing the body of work from our
collaborations through the Department of Education grants. So
it replicates virtually the week-long experiences in
Washington, DC., with video streaming of curators modeling how
to look at evidence, like a portrait or a photograph; digital
images, so students can practice these skills to investigate a
specific topic, like civil rights; and background information
vetted by Smithsonian historians that teachers can trust.
We also disseminate this information through a biannual
publication called Smithsonian In Your Classroom, which is sent
free to 83,000 elementary and middle schools in the United
States. So for the issue on Colonial money, for example, it
includes a background essay, full-color, accurate reproductions
of a sampling of Colonial money, and teaching ideas on how to
use it in the classroom.
Our annual Smithsonian Teachers Night in Washington, DC.
and cities around the country is an opportunity to widely
disseminate these resources, with 4,000 teachers attending this
event last year.
I would like to turn now to students. I have talked about
professional development and curriculum resources that we
provide to teachers, but will the difference it will make
interest the lives of students?
Distance learning is extending our reach right into the
classroom, taking Smithsonian scholarship and collections
directly to those students. This year, virtual field trips
enabled thousands of school children to witness the opening of
the National Museum of the American Indian. Other students
participate in point-to-point video conferences with
Smithsonian staff. Imagine a high school student who is reading
``1776'' and then participates in a video conference to examine
George Washington's uniform as a symbol of his leadership.
Other students viewed a virtual field trip of our Witness to
History exhibition and then participated in online chats about
how our world has changed since 9/11.
Even our science museums are committed to these efforts.
For example, the Smithsonian Tropical Research Center in Panama
uses the Internet to work with students and teachers in the
United States to help them understand the connection between
biodiversity research and international environmental policies.
These experiences can have a profound effect on students,
motivating them to want to learn about American history and
inspiring them to be better citizens themselves.
Finally, I would like to take a few minutes to talk about
partnerships with national leadership organizations. We are
currently working with the Council for Chief State School
Officers and the National Board for Professional Teaching
Standards to forge formal partnerships that will make these
resources more widely available.
In this brief overview, I hope I have conveyed the ways in
which the Smithsonian is reaching out into schools across the
country, and I commend the committee for its efforts to improve
American history and civics. I welcome the chance to assist you
in any way that I can.
Senator Alexander. Thank you, Ms. Norby.
[The prepared statement of Ms. Norby follows:]
Prepared Statement of Stephanie L. Norby
On behalf of the Smithsonian Institution, I would like to thank the
members of the subcommittee for this opportunity to testify on how to
strengthen American history and civics in our schools.
Classroom teachers are not the only ones responsible for ensuring
that our children understand our history and the duties of citizenship.
All of us in the scholarly community have an obligation to assist in
this effort. The Smithsonian--with its 9 research centers, 18 museums,
hundreds of scholars, and millions of artifacts--has a special
obligation. My purpose today is to describe the unique opportunities
the Smithsonian offers teachers of American history and civics, and to
share with you some of the things we have learned from those teachers.
As director of the Smithsonian Center for Education and Museum
Studies, I have the privilege of overseeing the Smithsonian's museum-
based education programs and our educational outreach initiatives.
Today I would like to tell you about three aspects of our work:
professional-development programs for teachers, curriculum development,
and programs that reach students directly in classrooms nationwide.
The Smithsonian offers in-depth weeklong history seminars in
Washington, D.C., and workshops in communities across the country.
Usually, we develop these programs in partnership with a school
district, or with an organization like Advanced Placement College
Board. Recently, our work with school districts in Arizona, Louisiana,
Maryland, New York, and North Carolina has been supported by Teaching
American History Grants administered by the U.S. Department of
Education. From such collaborations, we know that teachers,
particularly at the elementary school level, need to build their
subject knowledge. The average elementary-school teacher takes only one
college course in American history.
In a Smithsonian program, a teacher can peer over a historian's
shoulder as, together, they do the detective work of primary-source
scholarship. Imagine a teacher from San Francisco working side-by-side
with a Smithsonian forensic anthropologist to gather clues about life
in colonial Jamestown from newly unearthed skeletons. Or imagine this
teacher working with a curator to examine wet-plate photographs of San
Francisco in the Gold Rush days of the 1850s. Then imagine these
teachers learning how to recreate this excitement in their own
classrooms, using local objects or documents.
It is particularly rewarding when the Smithsonian is able to deepen
a teacher's understanding of the history of his or her own community.
The Smithsonian, as a national institution, is not only devoted to
history on a national level, but also to the history of a Nation
composed of communities--the history of all of us. All of these
experiences generate excitement and a renewed commitment to the
teaching of American history. Just last week, a teacher reported that a
Smithsonian workshop inspired her to enroll in a college course in U.S.
history. We regard this as a success story, but we know it is not the
end of the journey. Her renewed enthusiasm will be passed on, in
incalculable ways, to her students. We all know that it takes an
inspired teacher to inspire students.
Our curriculum materials, too, are based on Smithsonian
scholarship, and they are available to every teacher in the country,
regardless of whether or not the teacher is able to visit the
Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. Our central education Web site,
SmithsonianEducation.org, is a gateway to nearly 1,000 lesson plans,
activity ideas, and teaching resources. This fall, we will unveil a new
Web site, SmithsonianSource.org, devoted exclusively to American
history and civics. It will contain resources for building subject
knowledge and improving teaching skills. With content selected and
evaluated by teachers, and aligned with history standards in select
States, SmithsonianSource.org will include images of primary sources,
document-based questions, lesson plans, and video clips that bring
Smithsonian historians into the classroom.
Let me give you an example of the kinds of curriculum resources we
create here at the Smithsonian. As you might know, the National Museum
of American History recently opened a major new permanent exhibition,
The Price of Freedom: Americans at War, which shows how wars have
shaped our Nation's history and transformed American society. At the
museum's Web site, teachers can download lesson plans and can order a
free DVD related to the exhibition. But the Smithsonian is such a vast
and various institution that the teacher need not stop there. He may
visit several other Smithsonian museum Web sites to find additional
resources--writing activities based on the personal experiences of
soldiers and their families, primary sources that document the
contributions of African American aviators, and enormous collections of
artworks and music clips that bring alive the cultural climate of the
We disseminate this work through our bi-annual publication,
Smithsonian in Your Classroom, to all elementary and middle schools in
the United States. Each issue includes a background essay, lesson plan,
images from our collection and recommended resources. Lessons guide
students as they examine, for example, currency from the colonial era,
children's letters from Japanese American internment camps, and Native
American dolls from different regions. We also make these resources
available to more than 4,000 teachers who attend our annual Teachers'
Night in Washington, D.C., and select cities around the country.
OUTREACH TO CLASSROOMS AND STUDENTS
Distance-learning technology is opening our doors to an even larger
audience nationwide, taking our scholarship and collections directly to
students through virtual field trips, broadcasts, and point-to-point
conferencing. Students can see for themselves our Nation's treasures
and go behind-the-scenes to watch Smithsonian historians at work. This
year, virtual field trips enabled thousands of schoolchildren to
participate in the historic opening of the National Museum of the
American Indian; thousands more viewed the Wright Brothers' Flyer at
the National Air and Space Museum and learned about the history of
flight through interactive online experiments. Through real-time
``video visits,'' students have a chance to view artworks depicting the
American Revolution and to discuss the works with curators from the
Smithsonian American Art Museum. These technologies also enable
students to see the plants and animals that Lewis and Clark found on
their expedition and read the journal entries describing these
discoveries. Access to these primary sources can have a profound impact
on the imagination and curiosity of students.
The Smithsonian can also serve as a virtual gathering place for
students to talk about the issues that will become tomorrow's history
lessons. Through our annual Talkback Classroom video-conference
program, students in Washington, D.C., hold discussions with students
in Canberra, Australia. Topics have included the meaning of citizenship
and the challenge of forging a national identity among citizens of
varying backgrounds and cultures. To supplement these student-to-
student exchanges, U.S. students attend workshops with Smithsonian
curators and historians, study Smithsonian resources, and take part in
online conversations. The program culminates in the live
videoconference in which students interview a prominent elected
It may come as a surprise that even our science-focused museums and
research centers are helping to improve students' civic skills, by
showing them the ways in which scientific research and inquiry inform
policy. For example, our Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute in
Panama works with students and teachers to help them understand the
connection between biodiversity research and international
environmental policies. The National Zoo's Conservation and Research
Center teaches students scientific methods for monitoring the health
and diversity of plants and animals in their own communities. These
experiences are preparation for the responsibilities of citizenship.
The Smithsonian works with education-leadership organizations to
better understand and serve the needs of students and teachers. We are
currently seeking formal partnerships with the Council of Chief State
School Officers and the National Board for Professional Teaching
Standards. Officials in these organizations have confirmed that there
is a great need for the kinds of professional-development training and
distance-learning programs the Smithsonian can offer.
Throughout its history, the Smithsonian has been devoted to the
``increase and diffusion of knowledge.'' It is a weighty mandate. I
hope that I have conveyed, in this brief overview, the ways we are
fulfilling the mandate by reaching out to schools across the country. I
commend the committee for its efforts to improve American history and
civics education, and thus to equip students with the knowledge and
skill to shape their own future. I welcome the chance to assist you in
any way I can. Thank you.
Senator Alexander. Mr. Parisi?
Mr. Parisi. Thank you, Chairman Alexander. Thank you for
the opportunity to speak about how the American History
Achievement Act can help to strengthen the teaching of American
history and civics. And thank you, Senator Reed, for your
attendance and your kind words of introduction.
As a staff member with the Rhode Island affiliate of the
American Federation of Teachers, one of my assignments has been
to serve on a State delegation to both congressional
conferences on civics education. As a result of these
conferences, Rhode Island has begun the hard but important work
of ensuring that all its students are educated in State history
and the principles of democratic Government. Unfortunately, my
State has a long way to go. As you know, the most recent NAEP
assessment suggests that American students are less proficient
in American history than in any other core subject.
Given the essential civic mission of our schools, one must
ask how can this be. Some of the reasons on how this can be are
contained in the 2003 study of the Al Shanker Institute, a
nonprofit institute dedicated to promoting inquiry and
discussion of education policy issues, and named in honor of
the late president of the AFT. The report, Educating Democracy,
states standards to ensure a civic core, evaluates all history,
State and civics, and social studies standards at the secondary
grades to determine their worth for educating democratic
citizens. That is, viewed as a whole, do these standards embody
a common core of learning that equip citizens to make informed
decisions and are the required topics clear, concise and, most
importantly, teachable in the fewer than 180 days a year that
is typically available for classroom instruction?
The results are mixed. The report found that only 24 States
met or partially met the criteria for specifying a civic core
within their standards, but none of the 48 States in the study
had written a document that had both a clear focus on democracy
education and was teachable in the limited time schools have
available. I say 48 States because two States--Iowa and my own
State of Rhode Island--do not even have standards in these
essential subject areas. As the report suggests, the work of
setting standards, deciding what is important, what is less
important or not important for students to learn is crucial.
We are doing what we can to rectify the lack of standards
in Rhode Island. Fortunately, as of last night, bipartisan
legislation has passed through the General Assembly to require
our State Board of Regents to adopt standards in civics and
Rhode Island history by August 31, 2007. And I must say that
this important work was accomplished in large part because of
the attendance of a team of Rhode Islanders to the two
congressional conferences on civics education. We met, we had a
rich discussion on the importance of civics and history, and we
went back to our State with a plan on how to strengthen civics
education in the State. We had a successful civics summit this
past May 4th--Rhode Island Independence Day--and we were happy
to be able to work on legislation to ensure that we join the
other 48 States in having standards in this important area.
Mr. Chairman, by introducing S. 860, both you and Senator
Kennedy have sent a clear message that good standards are vital
because they are a foundation for teaching and learning in
every school. But having them and using them are two different
things. Among the other findings in the Gagnon Report noted
that only 12 States actually state that schools are required to
teach and students are required to study the content defined by
State standards. In 18 States, the existence of statewide tests
for history or social studies at least implies that most
students are required to learn this content. So good standards
matter, but good assessments matter, too.
I believe that S. 860 could be of great benefit to the
creation of high-quality civics and history tests. The more
frequent administration of the NAEP assessment in U.S. history
would provide a more accurate picture of student achievement
and help to draw public attention to the progress or lack of
progress in this area. It might help as well in bringing some
focus and clarity to the question of what constitutes an
essential civic core for learning.
The funding of State-level pilot assessments is also vital.
State departments of education have a limited capacity to
develop and implement any more assessment programs. Although
State and Federal accountability requirements have placed
increasing demands on State education agencies, these agencies
around the country are losing staff as a result of State budget
constraints. In the May 11th edition of Education Week, there
was a front page article on this phenomenon. For example, over
the past 2\1/2\ years, California's education agency lost 200
employees; Michigan had a three-quarter reduction in staff over
the past decade; Indiana staff has been reduced from 400 to
260; and in my own State of Rhode Island, the professional
staff at the State Department of Education has dropped from 95
to 50 in recent years. And that approximately 50 percent drop
is common throughout the country.
So clearly, if States are to develop high-quality
assessments, Federal assistance will be needed. By funding
these pilot programs, quality models could be developed for all
other States to emulate. And the existence of such testing
programs also would help mitigate the tendency of No Child Left
Behind and other accountability measures to narrow the
curriculum toward reading and math and away from the
humanities, arts, and social sciences.
In education, getting the basics right is important. But
neither can we forget that since our Nation's birth, the prime
reason for free public education in a common school has been to
nurture politically perceptive, committed citizens.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for the opportunity to speak
about this important issue from the perspective of teachers. I
welcome any questions from you or other members of the
committee that you may have about my statement.
[The prepared statement of Mr. Parisi follows:]
Prepared Statement of James Parisi
Good afternoon Chairman Alexander, Ranking Member Dodd and members
of the subcommittee. Thank you for this opportunity to speak on how the
American History Achievement Act (S. 860) can help to strengthen the
teaching of American history and civics.
My name is Jim Parisi. As a staff member of the Rhode Island
affiliate of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), one of my
assignments has been to serve on the State delegation to both
congressional conferences on Civics Education. As a result of these
conferences, Rhode Island has begun working to ensure that all of its
students are educated in State history and the principles of democratic
Unfortunately, my State has a long way to go in this regard. As you
know, the most recent NAEP assessments suggest that American students
are less proficient in American history than in any other core subject.
Given the essential civic mission of our schools, how can this be?
One reason is suggested by a 2003 study from the Albert Shanker
Institute, a nonprofit institute dedicated to promoting inquiry and
discussion of educational policy issues and named in honor of the late
president of the AFT. This report, Educating Democracy: State Standards
To Ensure a Civic Core, \1\ evaluates all State history, civics, and
social studies standards for the secondary grades to determine their
worth for educating democratic citizens. That is, viewed as a whole, do
the standards embody a common core of learning that equips citizens to
make informed decisions--and are the required topics clear, concise,
and teachable in the fewer than 180 days a year that are typically
available for classroom instruction?
\1\ For downloadable excerpts, go to http://www.ashankerinst.org/
The results were mixed. The report found that only 24 States met or
partially met the criteria for specifying a ``civic core'' within their
standards. But not one of the 48 States in the study had written a
document that had both a clear focus on democracy education and was
teachable in the limited time schools have available. I say 48 States
because two States, Iowa and my own State of Rhode Island, do not even
have standards in these essential subject areas.
As the report suggests, the work of setting standards--deciding
what is most important and what is less important or not important for
students to learn--is crucial. So what should be in a civic core
curriculum? The late Paul Gagnon, the noted historian and education
scholar who authored the study, put forward some concrete suggestions.
According to Gagnon, ``Political education requires mastery of the
fundamentals of civics--the principles and workings of Federal, State,
and local Government, of the law and court systems, the rights and
duties of citizens, and how the United States Constitution and its
resulting institutions and practices are like and unlike those of other
societies. But to sustain the principles, institutions, and practices
of democracy, citizens need to understand why and how they came into
being, the conditions that allowed them to be established, as well as
the ideas and forces that have been supportive or destructive of them
over time.'' In other words, they need to have a working knowledge of
U.S. history and a basic knowledge of world history.
We are doing what we can to rectify the lack of standards in Rhode
Island. Bipartisan legislation has been introduced in our State
Legislature that would require our State Board of Regents to adopt
standards in civics and Rhode Island history. The Senate version of
this bill was amended to give the regents until August 31, 2007, to
accomplish this important task. This bill has widespread support in the
State, and we are hoping to see it passed this year.
Mr. Chairman, by introducing S. 860, both you and Senator Kennedy
sent a clear message that good standards are vital because they are the
foundation for teaching and learning in every school. But having them
and using them are different things. Among its other findings, the
Gagnon report noted that only 12 States actually say that schools are
required to teach, and students are required to study, the content
defined by State standards. In 18 States, the existence of statewide
tests for history or social studies at least implies that most students
are required to learn this content. So, good standards matter. But good
assessment matters, too.
I believe that S. 860 could be of great benefit in the creation of
high quality civics and history tests. The more frequent administration
of the NAEP assessment in U.S. history would provide a more accurate
picture of student achievement and help to draw public attention to the
progress--or lack of progress--in this area. It might help, as well, in
bringing some focus and clarity to the question of what constitutes an
essential civic core of learning. The funding of State-level pilot
assessments is also vital.
State departments of education have a limited capacity to develop
and implement any more assessment programs. Although State and Federal
accountability requirements have placed increasing demands on State
education agencies, these agencies around the country are losing staff
as a result of State budget constraints. The May 11, 2005 edition of
Education Week had a front-page article on this phenomenon. For
example, over the past 2\1/2\ years, California has lost 200 employees.
Michigan has had a three-quarter reduction in staff over the past
decade. Indiana's staff has been reduced from 400 to 260. In my own
State of Rhode Island, the professional staff of the State education
department has dropped from 95 to 50 in recent years.
Clearly, if States are to develop high-quality assessments, Federal
assistance will be needed. By funding these pilot programs, quality
models could be developed for all other States to emulate. And the
existence of such testing programs also would help mitigate the
tendency of No Child Left Behind and other accountability measures to
narrow the curriculum toward reading and math and away from the
humanities, arts and social sciences. In education, getting the basics
right is important. But neither can we forget that, since our Nation's
birth, the prime reason for free public education in a common school
has been to nurture politically perceptive, committed citizens.
Mr. Chairman, thank you again for the chance to talk about this
important issue from the perspective of teachers. I welcome any
questions that members of the committee may have about my statement.
Senator Alexander. Thanks to each of you. I will take about
5 minutes for questions and then go to Senator Reed. And we
will go back and forth for a few minutes.
Mr. Parisi, thank you very much for your testimony. Albert
Shanker was a real leader in standards and the American
Federation of Teachers has been as well. And the Shanker
Institute's focus on the civic mission in the public schools
has been one of the leading educational efforts in the country
to remind us of the importance of--helping us remember that an
important part of public education is teaching children what it
means to be an American. So it is especially appropriate that
you be here.
And Ms. Norby, it is almost impossible to imagine what the
Smithsonian could do to help in so many different ways, so I
look forward to talking with you.
Let me direct my first questions, though, to Mr. Smith so I
can understand what we are talking about. Now, as I understand
it, you said that the national assessment in U.S. history and
in civics--that is two different assessments, right?
Mr. Smith. Yes.
Senator Alexander. One in history, one in civics. And that
the next national assessment is scheduled for 2006? Is that
Mr. Smith. Yes, sir.
Senator Alexander. In the 4th, 8th, and 12th grades?
Mr. Smith. Yes, sir.
Senator Alexander. And then it will be again in 2010 and
Mr. Smith. Yes, sir. The 2006 had already been scheduled,
but the change in schedule added 2010 and 2014.
Senator Alexander. So we can look forward, based upon your
recent action, to a national assessment in 2006, 2010, 2014, in
all three grades, of U.S. history and in civics?
Mr. Smith. Yes, sir.
Senator Alexander. Well, that is terrific. And then, what
we are talking about today is seeing whether we can allow 10
States to compare their results, which is one way to put the
spotlight on the question. And as I understood your comments,
you said that with appropriate notice and with funding for 2
consecutive years, the year before and the year of
administration that you could most easily do that in the 4th
grade and 8th grade, and with more difficulty do it in the
12th. Is that right?
Mr. Smith. Actually, the 8th grade, with your bill calling
for the 8th and the 12th, the 8th grade is something we have
had experience and we have found that when your blue ribbon
committee in the late 1980s did what it did and Congress
followed the lead and enacted the legislation, we found that
even in those years before No Child Left Behind, when it was a
voluntary participation by the State, we typically were getting
40 to 45 States a year to do that.
Senator Alexander. In the 8th grade?
Mr. Smith. In the 8th grade, yes. In the 12th grade, we
have actually never tried the assessment. Now, as you know, we
do have a national commission that has handed us a set of
recommendations that would indeed suggest and move us toward
12th grade assessment at the State level in the math and
reading. And that is still under review. We have been getting
mixed reactions, as you might imagine, from that.
But the other factor that we have to look at--and as I
indicated, if Congress says we will do it, we are going to get
out and roll up our sleeves and we are going to do it--but we
have found that there has been a declining participation rate
at the 12th grade level in the 12th grade assessments that we
are now conducting at the national level. And whether that is a
trend that we can reverse is yet to be found. That is one
reason why we created the national commission, to look at ways
to increase participation. The last time, I believe it was in
2002, when we had a 12th grade assessment, we only had 55
percent participation. Well, that gets us to a level that puts
us on a precarious edge as to whether or not we have a large
enough sample to be valid and reliable and to produce results
that are valid and reliable.
So these are unknowns. They may not be hurdles. It may be
that there will be enough interest that we can do it. But it is
something that we have never tried before, and that is the main
point I wanted to make. It is going to be unknown turf for us.
Senator Alexander. But if we are going to do the State-by-
State comparisons, 8th grade, you say fine, with appropriate
notice and funding?
Mr. Smith. I really would not anticipate much of a problem
getting the volunteer States to do that.
Senator Alexander. And did I misunderstand or you didn't
say anything about 4th grade for the State-by-State
assessments, did you?
Mr. Smith. No, sir, only because, with the bill calling for
grades 8th and 12th, that is where we focused.
Senator Alexander. Right.
Mr. Smith. If you were to say 4th, I would say----
Senator Alexander. No, I am just really seeking your
advice. I guess I heard Mr. McCullough suggest, which was
interesting, that he would focus on the middle school grades,
it sounded like--5th, 6th, 7th, and 8th, those grades, which
would argue in favor of the 8th grade test. On the other hand,
if as a result of all the discussion that is going on about
high schools right now, if we end up with a new focus on
reading and math and science in the high schools and we leave
out U.S. history, we may have unintentionally de-emphasized it
at a time when we are trying to emphasize it.
So I guess what we need to do is to hear you say that 8th
grade no problem, and that is probably comparing your comments
with Mr. McCullough's if that makes sense. Twelfth grade, we
will look forward to your further advice.
I wonder, Mr. Parisi or Ms. Norby, do you have any comment
about 8th or 12th grade before I go to Senator Reed, your
advice about where it would make the most sense for us to focus
Mr. Parisi. I think one of the problems our report found
was that there weren't always State standards that had the
scope and sequence down pack. They were clear that, you know,
in this grade you are going to take world history and this
grade you are going to take American history. I know we have
recommended 2 years of American history, and I have to tell
you, Senator, that----
Senator Alexander. In which years?
Mr. Parisi [continuing]. In the secondary year. So if you
had a 12th grade assessment, I would imagine that school
districts would really have to closely examine what they
require their high school students to take. Are they requiring
their students to take enough U.S. history, for example, to
score well on these assessments?
Senator Alexander. So it would be one way to encourage
States to focus on your recommendation.
You know, one of the great ironies is that Iowa may have
the best schools in the country, yet it doesn't have State
standards in anything. But that is a separate discussion.
Senator Alexander. Ms. Norby, do you have anything to add?
Senator Reed. Thank you very much, Mr. Chairman, and thank
you all for your testimony, particularly thoughtful and
One of the areas that was alluded to, at least, was the
pressure put on States by the requirements under No Child Left
Behind for the grading, if you will, and testing in other areas
such as English and mathematical reasoning. I wondered, from
your perspective, Jim, can you give any insights from Rhode
Island? Then I will ask Dr. Smith and Ms. Norby also.
Mr. Parisi. Well, I know, you know, our State, like the
rest of the country, developed report cards--you know, this is
how this school has done on these State assessments. And people
look at the page of the newspaper and, you know, think about
their property value and think about how the schools are doing
and make judgments about the performance of their local school
based on those tests. But if those tests only cover a couple of
subject areas, just English and just math, and they don't cover
science and, sadly, they don't cover something like U.S.
history, I don't think the general public is getting a full
picture of how schools are doing.
So if we expanded the tests to other important areas, I
think it would really provide a better piece of public
information so people can make informed judgments on what their
schools are doing and what they need to be doing better.
Senator Reed. Dr. Smith, any comments?
Mr. Smith. I think most of what I have said already would
be the essence of it, although I might add that there are two
other trains moving down the track now, I think, that could
have an impact, Senator, on your question also. One is the
emphasis that is now being given by the National Governors
Association by a lot of States on the high school focus. And to
what degree that would inspire some change, some greater
participation, some greater interest in knowing, that is an
unknown, too, but at least it is an encouraging movement, I
think, in that direction, that we should know something before
The other thing that I failed to mention a while ago that I
think is another piece of the answer, Senator, to your
question, is that our board has been looking at the high school
assessment for nearly 2 years now. And in that process, one of
the items on the agenda has been whether or not there should be
a State NAEP in these other subjects, like math and reading and
science. And the recommendation of the blue ribbon commission
was yes, there should be. So we are still in the process of
Another important piece that I think has represented a
change element that has relevance to what we are talking about
here today, the commission recommended that we change our
assessment at the 12th grade from one that is almost totally
reflective--looking back--to one that would be predictive as to
whether or not students are leaving prepared to go to college,
to go to the workplace, or go to the military.
In all of the many discussions, we have had many commission
papers, we had a lot of presentations, a lot of discussion, it
has been the central item on our agenda, and one of the things
that has begun to crop up in the last 6 months or so is the
feeling that maybe reading and math and even science are not
the only ones that should be factored in to the preparedness
question. History and civics have also, because after all,
these assessment results would show that we have a whole lot of
students leaving the high schools not prepared to be citizens.
And that is an important point that now our board is even
looking at whether or not extending that to whether you change
the assessment in history to one that would be more predictive
Now, that is a tough challenge. It would be a little
tougher to do that, I think, than it would be in math or
perhaps in reading. But it is something on our table that is
very much alive in the discussion.
Senator Reed. Can you elaborate on the difference between
looking backward and looking forward? Is that what you do with
math and English now, you look forward and look backward?
Mr. Smith. Well, presently, the present 12th grade
assessment is one that really assesses what students have
learned in high school and can do. What it doesn't do is
project ahead to how well prepared they are to make it in
college and the military and the workplace. And we have already
addressed it with reading, and our board has gone on record in
support of converting the framework, the new framework for
reading, to one that would in fact look at preparedness. And it
didn't take a whole lot of change. One of our great fears was
that you might have to have 17 or 18 or 20 different levels of
achievement to take into account what kind of workplace they
were going into, what kind of college or university they were
But the basic conclusion--it is not just our conclusion; we
have looked to Achieve, the organization Achieve, for some
guidance on this and they came to the same conclusion--that in
today's world what you need to make it in the workplace and
college is not all that different. There are certain basics
that you have to have. And what we are looking at is
preparation for going into these areas, not assuming we are
going to train every person to be this type of technician in
one area and a business leader in another area and a Ivy League
college in another area, but there are certain basics that
would prepare you to go into these types of endeavors trained
and prepared to do the work on the front end. Without
remediation, I might say.
Senator Reed. Thank you, Doctor.
Just a final point, if I may, and I will address it to Ms.
Norby and invite all the other participants. History and
civics. You have two separate assessments, is that correct?
Mr. Smith. Yes, sir.
Senator Reed. OK. You know, again, I think maybe on the
street the notion is, you know, history is important but much
more important is civics--how does the Government work, how old
do you have to be to vote, what are your responsibilities, etc.
And harkening back to our youth, I think we used to, from our
parents, get the notion that, well, these are the basic
lessons, these civic lessons you have to know. In fact, that
was often taught in Americanization classes. But if there is
the pressure of time and curriculum, space, is civics something
that has to be the essential for someone coming out of school?
Ms. Norby. Senator Reed, if I can respond to that. What we
have found in working with the teachers through the workshops
is that they are under enormous pressure. And when given that
pressure, they tend to focus on the areas of greatest
accountability, where there is testing. At the same time, we
find that teachers are trying to find ways to engage with the
history and civics education through reading assignments,
through analyzing primary sources. And to come back to the
earlier discussion, we think that is a critical role that the
civics and history education play in developing these critical
thinking skills, of how do you compare different sources, how
do you analyze them for detail, how do you weigh evidence.
These are skills that will apply in whatever work they
eventually go into.
If I could also just mention on how we use tests in order
to guide the development of our programs. We work very closely
with Advanced Placement College Board looking at how actually
children perform when they take those tests in school districts
across the country and where the areas that they have greatest
difficulty are. And in fact it is on the document-based
questions, where students have to look at different documents,
compare different sources, and arrive at an opinion and
argument. And so when we develop our materials and our courses,
that is what we focus on, is we have them working with
historians modeling and then assisting the students and
coaching the students in those kinds of schools. So the tests
also help us in determining what kinds of programs and where we
should put our focus.
Senator Reed. Thank you.
Just a final point, because the chairman has been most
gracious. But Jim, do you have a quick comment?
Mr. Parisi. Yes, I just wanted to note that the legislation
that we got through the assembly last night did ask for civics
standards K-12, so we definitely have a focus on civics. One of
the five standards in this report on evaluating State standards
talked about context and connection, that it can't just be U.S.
history, but it has to be U.S. history in the context of civics
and geography and economics, so that it is not just an issue of
repeating facts, but understanding all the political
ramifications of historical events.
Senator Reed. Thank you. Thank you all very much.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Alexander. Thank you, Senator Reed.
I appreciate Senator Reed's last point. If I could disagree
just a little bit with him. My own view is that one of the
reasons why I believe U.S. history scores are the lowest of any
of the scores is because we have gotten them all mixed up with
civics lessons and social studies and we don't teach history
anymore. We are teaching kids how to balance a checkbook and go
vote, but we don't teach them about the Constitution, they
don't read the Declaration of Independence, they don't read
Martin Luther King's ``Letter from Birmingham Jail,'' and they
haven't read the Second Inaugural Address, and they don't read
the basic founding documents.
And that is a real conflict for many teachers, because
the--I mean, I think civics is important, but my own view is
that we sometimes, when pressuring teachers and educators to
mix up U.S. history and civics, they water down the history and
don't have time for it and don't teach it very well.
And so what I would much--I mean, just as one Senator's
view, I like the fact that you have a distinct and discreet
subject, U.S. history, and from that we would hope they would
learn many of the things they need to know to be good citizens.
And then in addition to that, there are lots of civic duties
and responsibilities that need to be learned. So we could--I
guess those are different points of view. Maybe they are, maybe
they are not.
Senator Reed. I don't think we are too far. I think we see
the connection between the two. You can't really understand
fully civics without a historical context, and American history
leads you to lessons about how the country operates today as
well as in the past.
But I think this is a dilemma because of the pressure of
schedules, time, and resources that teachers face every day.
And perhaps just this discussion might be helpful to try to
provide some focus.
Senator Alexander. I think that is a good point. For
example, you and Mr. Parisi were talking about the history of
Rhode Island. And Senator Reed is very interested in this. He
brings it up a lot. We have a lot of debates here in the U.S.
Senate about religious tests or faith--you know, the role of
Government and the role of religion. And if there is a single
State in the country which has a lot to teach us about that, it
would be Rhode Island. And so I would argue that learning just
the flat-out history of Rhode Island and the early years and
why it had a different point of view than Massachusetts Bay
Colony and why it was different than Pennsylvania is worth
doing before you ever get to civics. You might learn some
civics as a result of that, but we might make better decisions
about what we do here if we knew more about the history of
Mr. Parisi. I would have to say, Senator, our one National
Park, all 4\1/2\ acres of it, is dedicated to Roger Williams.
But to the point you just raised, I think a close
examination of a State standards document would reveal that
there is room for both. There is room for U.S. history
standards and there is absolutely room for some kind of civics
education, not only because it is an important core mission of
schools, but there is ample evidence that when students take
civics classes, they value voting more, they value keeping in
contact with political officials more, they understand how the
process works. So I think there is some real public benefit
from ensuring that civics finds a place in whatever standards
document States adopt.
Senator Alexander. Senator Reed, do you have any other
comment you would like to make?
Senator Reed. No, I don't, except that was a very good idea
for an amendment on your bill, to teach Rhode Island history to
everybody, particularly here.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
Senator Alexander. And on Mr. Parisi's point, Senator, the
number one school in the United States last year in terms of
the highest percentage of students placing with a 4 and 5 on
the Advanced Placement Test for U.S. history was the House Page
School, were the students in the House of Representatives who
work all day, live in the Government, hopefully get inspired by
it, but at least in the middle of it they learn history and,
hopefully, some civics.
I have a few more questions and then we will bring the
hearing to a conclusion.
Dr. Smith, you may know this or you may not. I should know
it, but I don't. In Tennessee, do you remember or do you know
what has happened over the last 25 or 30 years in terms of the
teaching of U.S. history and civics? Is there more of it? Is
there less of it? Is it about the same? Is it being taught
differently? You have seen it from many vantage points. What
would your estimate be?
Mr. Smith. I think, Senator--and I have some gaps because I
have been in and out in different roles--but I would say that
there has been a kind of an ebb and flow in the way that it has
developed. I think that in the period of the 1980s, when you,
and Governor McWherter in the 1990s, were building what I felt
was a very firm foundation, you with the Better Schools
program, he with the Basic Education program. That really
brought Tennessee, I think--and in some cases ahead of many
other States--a foundation building process and it was a whole
lot happening all at one time. And I think that during that
period, people were scrambling at the school and district level
to try to come up with all the various issues related to
standards, to curriculum, to assessment. And in that process, I
think some did it well and some did it not too well. There were
a lot of stops and starts.
I think, bottom-line, though, to your question is that the
end result of that is--and I have talked with people in
Tennessee in the past several days about where they are, and I
think one very important movement is that the State Board of
Education within the last couple of years has developed an exit
exam in American history that didn't exist before. And that is
building off of some of the things that were done in that
earlier period that I talked about, when you were governor and
Governor McWherter was governor.
But I don't think--and I might say, too, that I am
answering this as a former commissioner of education, not as
the head of the National Assessment Governing Board, because we
are not really supposed to be commenting about different
States. But I hope that is understood by all for the record, I
had to say that.
But as I look back on it, I really wish I had had this
experience that I am in now first and then became commissioner
of education, because there are some things that are happening
here, I think, at the State level that are not generally
known--and I don't mind admitting. For example, I had no idea
as State commissioner of education, even though I supported
NAEP and we were one of the early States to get into the NAEP
assessment process, I had no idea of the type of process at
this level that you go into in developing the assessment
frameworks. It is a 2 year process. It involves literally
hundreds of people, experts, from all across the Nation, people
who are from practically every State involved in that process.
And I think if you ask anyone who knows anything at all
about NAEP, the great majority of them would say, well, that is
an inside-the-Beltway product. And nothing could be further
from the truth. It is really a document that represents the
best thinking of citizens at the grassroots level who are in
some cases teachers, in some cases curriculum experts, in some
cases members of the public, parents, and others. And one thing
I have noticed even in the short 2\1/2\ years I have been here,
there has been an upsurge in States coming to us and saying we
want to know more about your framework. I actually heard a
commissioner of education say in my presence and in the
presence of other State commissioners, We're going to make our
State assessment more ``NAEP-like.''
I see that as a positive, because there is no way that a
single State, except maybe some of the really large States,
would have the human and fiscal resources to develop the type
of framework that we are able to develop at the Federal level.
And to the extent that becomes an item that is of value to the
States, I think that is very, very positive. If we had had that
or known we could get that in the early 1990s, late 1980s, when
I was commissioner, I think we would have saved a lot of
spinning of our wheels.
Senator Alexander. I wonder, do you have any annual
conference of State education commissioners to explain what you
Mr. Smith. Well, one of the things that is coming out of
this overall review that I referenced earlier is a
recommendation that we work with State chiefs and with
assessment directors and become, hopefully--get a place on
those programs, to where we can go and do just what you
Senator Alexander. One suggestion might be the National
Governors Association meets here every February and they meet
with the President and with one another, and you might invite
the education commissioner of each State to come at that time
and spend a day on a variety of things. Because I agree with
you, it is a new governor or a new education commissioner, even
if they have a fair amount of background, would save a year or
2 or 3 if they could find out early in the term what is
Mr. Smith. Yes.
Senator Alexander. And that sort of focus, I bet you could
get pretty good attendance at such a thing in February.
Mr. Smith. We will pursue that idea. That is excellent.
Senator Alexander. May I shift to Ms. Norby. The
Smithsonian has such resources and does such a good job on so
many things, I wanted to refer to something Mr. McCullough
said. He said Mount Vernon is spending $84 million to build a
visitors center, first to teach the visitors who George
Washington was before they go into his house. And that is
something to make us stop to think. You know, often we start
talking about a subject assuming everybody knows what we are
talking about, and we haven't stopped first to introduce
ourselves or to introduce the subject.
And I suppose there was a time in our history not so long
ago when no one had to introduce George Washington or Thomas
Jefferson or John Adams or many other people. But today that
may not be true.
There was an article in the Washington Post last week that
you may know about, which I would say chided the Smithsonian's
Museum of American History a little bit by suggesting that ``it
doesn't tell the whole American story or even chunks of the
American story in chronological order, from Washington to Adams
to Jefferson, from Roosevelt to Truman to Eisenhower. When this
museum was built in 1964, this sort of thing probably wasn't
necessary. But judging from a group of teenagers whom I
recently hear lapse into silence when asked if they could
identify Lewis and Clark, I suspect it is now necessary
One of the criticisms of the teaching of U.S. history is
partly that it has gotten all jumbled up with social studies
and so we just don't teach the raw documents anymore. Another
of the criticisms is that we don't teach it as a great
narrative story and that, because our history is such a work in
progress that just taking snapshots of everything about this
group of people or everything about that group of people misses
the drama, misses the saga, misses the misunderstanding.
I mean, if we just took snapshots, Jefferson would be a
slave-owner, women wouldn't be voting, and we wouldn't
understand that our whole history has been one of reaching
toward goals, failing to meet them, falling back, trying again,
making progress. I mean, that is what most of our politics is
about here in the U.S. Senate, about great goals that we have
aspired to but we don't make them, so we recommit ourselves to
I wonder if the Smithsonian--is it a valid criticism of the
Smithsonian that when there are visitors there, that you don't
spend enough time first introducing the United States to the
visitor and saying this is George Washington, this is 1776,
this is a chronology of this period of time? Obviously there is
an appetite for that, because books on Washington, Franklin,
Jefferson, 1776 are best-sellers in our country.
What would you say to this sort of criticism, or
constructive criticism, let's say.
Ms. Norby. I think, Mr. Chairman, it has been a fair
criticism but it is one that the Smithsonian has been
addressing. If you look at some of our more recent exhibitions,
for instance the exhibition that opened just a couple of years
ago on the presidency, that looks at presidents over time, so
it gives a narrative, and looks at how leadership has changed
as a result of circumstances. Or if you look at our most recent
exhibition looking at our Nation at War. It is a large
narrative, looking at war over our entire history. So I think
that our recent exhibitions have worked with this.
There is another way we are dealing with it as we transform
our museums, and that is through Web sites, developing hand-
held devices that people can use while they are in the
galleries. There are a lot of additional tools we have
available to us now to extend that story beyond the museum
Senator Alexander. Thank you for that. The drama or the
gripping part of America is that it is a great story. The
reason the room fills up when David McCullough comes and the
reason his book is at the top is because he tells a great
story. And the stories have a beginning and they keep going and
going, and it is just one thing after the other. As one
political scientist said, most of our politics is about two
One is conflicts of principles in which almost all of us
agree. For example equal opportunity versus rule of law, in the
immigration debates we have in the Senate. We both agree on
rule of law and we both agree on equal opportunity, but when we
talk about illegal immigrants having drivers licenses, they
conflict. And other principles conflict. So we debate that.
And then we are always debating what do we do when we fail
to reach a great goal, what do we do about the failure to have
a Federal law abolishing lynching in 1937; what do we do about
not giving women the right to vote for such a long period of
time. And we still say no child left behind. Even though we
will never quite get there, we set these high goals and then
deal with the disappointment. So I would hope that chronology
and great narratives are something that we could continue to
put a spotlight on.
I want to thank each of you for your contribution today in
helping us put a spotlight on the importance of U.S. history
and civics and the civic role of our public schools. I want to
invite you to continue. There are a number of us interested in
this and we are going to keep lifting up the subject as much as
we can without getting the Federal Government improperly
involved in the administration of local schools, which all of
us are wary of.
We look forward to further suggestions that you have. I
hope very much, Dr. Smith, that we can work with you and NAGB
and pass this legislation, which would, at least in the 8th
grade and perhaps in the 12th as well, permit 10 States to put
a focus on achievements in U.S. history and in civics.
Let me invite each of you, to wind up the hearing, I am
going to give you each 60 seconds, Dr. Smith and then Ms. Norby
and Mr. Parisi, and if you have anything you would like to say
to conclude the hearing, I would like to invite you to do that
Mr. Smith. Well, thank you, Senator. Let me say again how
much we appreciate this opportunity to be a part of this
hearing and also for the consideration that has been given to
NAEP and the Nation's Report Card to be an important ingredient
in your overall initiative. We would certainly welcome
continuing dialogue with you. And I want to say again that,
while we can't be in a position of promoting legislation, we
can certainly be in a position of responding to it. And if this
is a successful effort, as we hope it will be, you can be
assured that we will give it a 100 percent effort in getting it
implemented, and I think it would be a step in the right
Senator Alexander. Thank you.
Ms. Norby. Thank you for giving us this opportunity, and we
look forward to working with you. There is an enormous
challenge to continue to prepare teachers for their
responsibilities in the classroom and to reinvigorate their
teaching. I think what the Smithsonian in particular has to
offer is, through our resources, the ability to inspire the
teachers, and then through the teachers the students. So we
look forward to committing those resources to the continued
improvement of teaching of history and civics.
Senator Alexander. Thank you.
Mr. Parisi. Mr. Chairman, thank you very much for the
opportunity to be here. The Shanker Institute Report is
constructive criticism on the 48, soon to be 49, State
standards. We think that passage of your legislation and having
a more frequent assessment would be yet another piece of
important information for all States to look at so that they
can strengthen their State standards and that student
achievement would increase. So thank you again for raising this
important issue, and thanks for letting me speak today.
Senator Alexander. Thank you, and the hearing is adjourned.
[Additional material follows.]
Prepared Statement of Theodore K. Rabb
Mr. Chairman, and members of the committee, among the many issues
and concerns that face the United States and its Government today, none
has larger implications for the future health of our democracy than the
one that bill S. 860 addresses: namely, our citizens' understanding of
Behind the grim statistics of student ignorance that are cited in
the bill lie a series of basic educational conditions that make it
unlikely the situation will soon improve. Indeed, a few months ago some
30 of the Nation's leading historians, joined by a number of public
figures, signed a statement entitled ``Crisis in History''. They
emphasized the need for urgent action to remedy the serious decline in
attention to history in our schools, and the related lack of adequate
preparation among our teachers. Over 550 teachers and academic
historians have since signed the statement, and a copy, together with a
list of the original signatories, has been sent to the committee's
Even as the Teaching American History grant program in the
Department of Education and the ``We the People'' initiative by the
National Endowment for the Humanities indicate the commitment of the
Federal Government to a citizenry informed about its past, the actual
amount of time devoted to the subject in our classrooms is shrinking
and the qualifications demanded of teachers are eroding.
As a result, not only are there inadequate opportunities in our
schools to give students a better grounding in history, but the content
of what they are taught leaves much to be desired. Teachers often lack
the necessary credentials, the emphasis on general ``Social Studies''
reduces serious consideration of history, and books and other classroom
materials fall far short of the standards we should expect.
It will take a major effort to turn this situation around, but bill
S. 860 is at least an important first step. Testing may not be the
answer to all problems, but the comparative NAEP data that the bill
requires will provide essential information on which future policies
can be built. As the former chair of the National Council for History
Education, and the originator of the ``Crisis in History'' statement, I
applaud Senators Alexander and Kennedy for introducing this bill, and
enthusiastically endorse its passage.
[Whereupon, at 4:45 p.m., the hearing was adjourned.]