HM - Oct. 2014 - Brugar and Wrobel

Issues in History

 

The Post-TAH Future: Constrained Horizons or a Landscape of Possibilities?

Kristy Brugar and David Wrobel
University of Oklahoma
Norman, OK

For a decade, from 2001-2010, the United States Department of Education made a total of 1,143 Teaching American History grants to school districts all across the country.  Given that the average size of these multiple year awards was about $850,000, the financial loss to history education nationwide is massive, to put it mildly.  These grants were designed to improve practicing teachers’ “knowledge, understanding and appreciation” of American history (USDE, 2003), and from our experience working together with several of these grants, and separately on many more, TAH worked.  We were both saddened by the termination of this federal funding program and began reflecting on the matter during and after our participation (as a team) in one of the last colloquia for one of the final grants, in Clarksburg, West Virginia last spring (2014).  Just before the Clarksburg colloquium we learned the great news that Kristy would be joining the faculty in the College of Education at the University of Oklahoma, where David is a member of the History Department; so the sadness of playing a part in closing up the TAH shop was offset a little at least by the knowledge that we would now have a chance to face the post-TAH world together, on the same campus. 

David has had the good fortune to participate as a content expert in 26 different TAH grants from 2002-2014, beginning with Jefferson County (Jeffco), CO In 2002, and including multiple visits to some districts (including seven in total to Jeffco, three to Mahoning, Ohio), and everything from one-week colloquia to one-week field study and one-day visits).  Kristy has served as both education specialist and master teacher on multiple grants, including:  The West Shore Consortium, Muskegon, MI, Blue Springs, MO, and multiple experiences in Lafayette, LA.  The benefits for us both have been remarkable.  We’ve had the opportunity to engage with each other and learn from each other as presenters, to see how rich historical content and innovative pedagogical practice can provide teachers (and scholars) with both the knowledge and the tools to augment their own teaching as well as their confidence concerning the material they teach.  The programs that we were so lucky to be part of encapsulated several elements of effective professional development including:  (1) continuing development of the same topic over time; (2) addressing the needs of teachers; and (3) embedding/exemplifying information in everyday practice (Garet, Porter, Desimone, Birman, & Yoon, 2001). Just as importantly, we have been lucky enough to get to work with superb, dedicated, inspiring teachers, all across America. 

We understand that the TAH teacher crowd was a particularly self-selecting group of enthusiastic, committed teachers, but, nonetheless, knowing that they have gone back into their classrooms and interacted with their colleagues over the course of the last decade, bringing a little of what they gained from working with us is truly humbling.  It goes without saying that we gained much more from the teachers we had the pleasure of working with than they could ever have gained from us.  We got to know America and American public K-12 education, from some of the smallest school districts to some of the largest, and after every single colloquium or workshop left gladdened by the myriad talent, passion (for their students and content) and effort we saw from the teachers, saddened by the financial and curricular constraints they work under, and, to be frank, maddened by the comparative lack of public appreciation for the work that America’s public school teachers do and the shallow and uninformed attacks they are subjected to by some cultural commentators and political pundits.
We were as much the beneficiaries of TAH as the teachers, and reflecting on the model, we’re left pondering a plethora of new possibilities in the wake of the program’s demise.  For one thing, we were flying (and driving) across the country, reaping the benefits of our interactions with K-12 teachers and having an inspired set of experiences. However, throughout the country there are more localized content experts, master teachers, and curriculum specialists within easy driving distance of every school district and they were un-utilized, or at least under-utilized.  Might the program have been sustained for at least a few additional years had the travel costs not been so high—with the human resources of each individual state or perhaps tri-state area being more fully utilized?  And had those local experts played a bigger part in TAH is it not possible that stronger ties would now bind individual school districts, and schools, to the neighboring institutions of higher learning?  One hopes that those of us who were flying across America are now dedicating our time to our local school districts, reaching out to see what we can do to continue to enhance K-12 history education in the post-TAH era. 

Think about it: thousands of university faculty, and thousands of master teachers and curriculum specialists have interacted with tens of thousands of committed teachers during the TAH decade.  The foundations are there for us to build on, and the challenge to continue and further these productive and educative relationships is ours to take up.  Local and regional consortia of history educators could work with NCHE to keep the energy flowing even if the funds have dried up. 

Also, since the inception of TAH at the beginning of the last decade, advances in technology have made It so much easier for history educators in all settings to interact in meaningful and productive ways, through videoconferencing (webinars, Skype sessions), wikis, blogs, etc.  Perhaps the funding for history education will come back in a big way.  Perhaps there will be a new era, a TAH II.  But in the meantime, hoping and waiting will not help us build on the strong foundations we have in place.  This is not the first time in the nation’s history that significant federal funding has come to history education and then gone away, and it is unlikely to be the last time.  But it is time to break with the past practice of relative inactivity in the wake of the termination of funding streams, and turn to the local and regional level for our collaborative, bridge- building endeavors.  More thought to developing History MA programs that are geared to K-12 teachers with an understanding and focus toward the content they need to teach; more thought to using our collaborations as models for educational research, and thereby providing a firmer base for our arguments concerning the vitality of K-20 partnerships; less frequent flyer miles for traveling presenters, but no reduction in inspiring interactions between professors and teachers.  Post-TAH America is a landscape of possibilities, but it’s our responsibility to take them on and ensure that we’re ready to make the best use of any new funding streams that come our way in the future, but also ready to ensure the future good health of history education through continued collaborations and partnerships, and regardless of speaker fees.

We hope this set of reflections starts a conversation among thoughtful and creative stake holders who want to carry on the mission of TAH – to improve teachers’ knowledge, understanding, and appreciation, so they can continue to better educate the students in their classrooms.


References

United States Department of Education (2003). "Teaching American History Grant Program; Notice Inviting Applicants for New Awards for Fiscal Year (FY) 2004."  Federal Register. Vol. 68, No. 246. December 23, 2003, 744224-74229.

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Garet, M., Porter, S., Andrew, C., & Desimone, L. (2001).  What makes professional development effective? Results from a national sample of teachers. American Educational Research Journal, 38(4), 915-45. 


About NCHE

The National Council for History Education promotes historical literacy by creating opportunities for teachers and students to benefit from more history, better taught.