April 7, 2008 – A group of University of Virginia educators have been working with a consortium of school divisions in Southwest Virginia to secure funds so that children in that region can learn American history in the most engaging ways possible.
Their efforts paid off on April 2, when the U.S. Department of Education announced that this project received nearly $1 million, the largest of the four grants awarded to Virginia.
In all, 121 grants totaling $114.7 million were awarded to school districts in 40 states nationwide to improve the quality of American history education, U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings announced.
History is one of the core academic subjects under the No Child Left Behind Act. The most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress — commonly known as the "Nation's Report Card" — shows some overall improvement in history performance at all three measured grade levels. Less than one-quarter of America's students in grades 4, 8 and 12, however, are performing at the highest, or proficient, level in American history, according to the Department of Education press release.
The Teaching American History grant program is designed to improve student achievement by enhancing teachers' knowledge of traditional American history through intensive, ongoing professional development in both content and research-based teaching strategies, said Spellings. Grants fund projects for up to five years, and grantees must partner with one or more organizations that have extensive knowledge of American history, including libraries, museums, nonprofit history or humanities organizations and higher education institutions.
"This proposal represents an ideal collaboration, both between the University and the school divisions in Southwest Virginia and within the University," said Victor Luftig, director of the Center for the Liberal Arts, which organized U.Va.'s efforts. "The expertise of the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning, of the Curry School of Education's social studies educators and of historians from the Miller Center of Public Affairs and the history departments both in Charlottesville and Wise will ensure that children in that area learn American history in the best ways possible."
Luftig noted that U.Va.'s previous collaborations with educators in Southwest Virginia — especially Barbara Willis' Southwest Virginia Public Education Consortium, which worked with the Norton schools and historian Tom Costa of the University of Virginia's College at Wise on the proposal — have garnered enthusiastic responses from the region's middle and high school history teachers.
"What the Center for the Advanced Study of Teaching and Learning's researchers bring to this grant is the possibility of serious research into how children benefit when their history teachers learn more history," said Luftig, who also noted that U.Va.'s School of Continuing Professional Studies' Southwest Virginia Regional Center has a central role in managing the grant's credit-bearing courses.
Through its management agreement with the commonwealth, the University of Virginia is committed to working with Southwest Virginia in a number of areas, including K-12 education, said Pace Lochte, director of the Office of Economic Development. "This grant is a perfect example of that partnership in action, leveraging the resources of the University to support teachers as they seek new and engaging ways to teach American history," she said.
"The Teaching American History grant program offers educators opportunities to work with colleges and universities, nonprofit organizations, libraries or museums to learn more about our country's history, culture and democratic tradition," Spellings said. "By providing professional development for teachers, we can help them support young people in becoming active, informed citizens."
U.Va.'s Center for the Liberal Arts has worked on a number of "Teaching American History" grants, often alongside the Virginia Center for Digital History, including a previous one with the Southwest Public Education Consortium, and others involving schools in the Charlottesville area, Roanoke and Virginia Beach.
More about the Teaching American History Grant program, and its latest 121 recipients, is available at www.ed.gov/programs/teachinghistory.
Among the 121 recipients, the four Virginia school districts to win TAH grants are: Hampton City Schools, $990,107; Prince William County Schools, $856,541; Norton City Public Schools, $992,501; and Waynesboro Public Schools, $455,145.