Historians want federal government to fund assessment of student’s performance on history tests

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Several major history organizations have sent a letter to Education Secretary Margaret Spellings requesting that she find within her department’s discretionary budget the funds necessary to initiate a state by state assessment of student’s performance on history tests.

The letter, signed by representatives of the American Historical Association, National Coalition for History, National Council for History Education, National Council for the Social Studies, Organization of American Historians, and the Society of American Historians urges the secretary, “ to find the requisite funds in the FY 2006 budget authorization for the Department of Education to carry out provisions of Senate bill 860 (S. 860).”

The referenced legislation was introduced last year by Senators Lamar Alexander (Chair of the Education and Early Childhood Development
Subcommittee) and Ted Kennedy (the Ranking Minority member for the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee). At first, congressional funding to implement the measure seemed assured, but the specific funding for implementation was struck down at the last moment by House and Senate managers. Reportedly, they eliminated the funding from the conference report that appropriates funding for the Education department in fiscal
2006 budget in order to lessen the projected budget deficit. The conferees did, however, reference the legislation in the Department of Education conference report for Public Law 109-149 and urged the secretary to begin work on the assessment using other departmental funds.

In hearings conducted in June 2005 by the Senate Education and Early Childhood Development Subcommittee on this measure, the Executive Director of the National Assessment Governing Board, Dr. Charles Smith, stated that American History is our students "worst subject" in public schools. During that hearing, noted historian David McCullough also expressed his personal concern that the ignorance America's children display about their nation's past presents the most dangerous threat to America's future.

The letter from the historical associations states: “In our collective view, this year state accountability in U.S. History must be made a departmental priority... we urge that you carefully scrutinize the budget Congress authorized your department for FY 2006 and find the necessary funds to begin work on the first state-wide comparison of the 2006 N.A.E.P.
U.S. History assessment.”

No response to the letter has yet been received from the Secretary’s office.

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