The Boston Tea Party had nothing to do with dolls and tea sets, but don’t quiz American history teachers on that.
Following low American history test scores, the U.S. Department of Education has granted $1 million to the UC Davis History Project, a program on campus that educates history teachers in the Sacramento area.
“We’re very reliant on this grant funding to be able to provide services,” said Stacey Crabtree, program coordinator for The History Project. “It really goes toward providing the best services for teachers and students.”
Currently in the Solano County public schools, only one in three students tested proficiently in U.S. history, according to California Standardized Test statistics.
The UC Davis History Project gathers teachers from around the country to meet with UC Davis historians and develop a hands-on curriculum for their students. A grant like this will bring in 50 new teachers to the American History Academy and enhance the learning of 15,000 students.
The money from the grant will be distributed to various parts of the project, including stipends for the teachers attending the summer workshops. In addition, the grant will also fund yearly evaluations, staff salaries and teaching materials.
Beginning this summer for eighth-grade teachers and next summer for 11th grade teachers, teachers will attend two-week seminars at UC Davis with campus professors and will be allowed access to the supply of historical data available in Peter J. Shields Library.
“I think the government has made a commitment toward funding these grants,” Crabtree said. “It shows that they are concerned that American students know more about our country and be informed citizens in the future.”
Though some have mixed feelings because the government funding only targets American history education and not world history classes, the majority of educators agree that public opinion prioritizes American history, Crabtree said.
Professor of U.S. history at UC Davis Clarence E. Walker agreed, saying that understanding American history is vital in understanding world history.
“[The grant] is one of the best things America has done in a long time for education,” Walker said. “The stupid No Child Left Behind Act only prepares students to take tests. Students need to understand the vital role America plays in the world.”
The Academy will also put extra emphasis on teaching to English learners, as many believe that the problem with test scores lies in difficulty reading and understanding history texts. Teachers hope to accomplish this through extra class time devoted to improving reading and writing skills in a history class setting.
“Our English learners are struggling because they don’t have the language and literacy skills to be able to achieve in such a language-based subject,” Crabtree said.
The History Project has already met success in its 17 years of operation within the Sacramento area. Teachers enrolled in the program have noticed a remarkable increase in interest from their students and significantly higher class averages, said Carrie Malenab, vice principal at Pleasant Grove High School in Elk Grove, Calif.
“The main focus [of the workshops] is to help teachers to become historians and use primary sources and helping their students use these sources,” Malenab said. “It allows teachers to bring history alive and makes kids actually want to learn about history.”
LAUREN STEUSSY can be reached at email@example.com.