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Social Studies not 'Left Behind' in Senate ESEA Bill

On April 7, U.S. Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee Chair Lamar Alexander and Ranking Member Patty Murray unveiled their long-anticipated compromise measure to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (aka NCLB or ESEA.) The social studies were not 'left behind' in the Senators' bill.

What's Included

Title II of the proposed bill ("High Quality Teachers, Principals and other School Leaders") contains (under section 2003) provisions for the teaching of "American history and civics education." This section of the bill creates three competitive grant programs for social studies subjects. The authorizing language states: "The Secretary (of Education) is authorized to carry out an American history and civics education program to improve education by educating students about the history and principles of the Constitution of the United States, including the bill of rights, and elevating the quality of teaching of American history, civics and government."

Section 2302 of Title II, creates a competitive grant program that would award grants to local education agencies (LEAs) to carry out activities promoting the teaching of traditional American history 1 in elementary and secondary schools as a separate academic subject and not a component of social studies, and for the development of programs to teach traditional American history as a separate academic subject, including professional development and teacher education activities. LEAs must partner with an institution of higher education or a nonprofit history or humanities organization, library or museum. Grants are maximum five years. Will receive 85% of this section's appropriations.

Section 2303, creates 'Presidential and Congressional academies for American history and civics.' Up to 12 grants shall be awarded to entities with demonstrated expertise in historical methodology or the teaching of American history and civics, or a consortium thereof. Presidential Academies shall offer summer seminars or institutes for teachers to provide intensive professional development opportunities, led by a team of primary scholars and core teachers accomplished in American history and civics, or at least two weeks in duration. Each academy shall select between 50-300 teachers to attend the seminar, and each teacher shall be awarded a stipend to attend. Congressional Academies shall be offered to students who are sophomores or juniors in high school. Will receive 10% of this section's appropriations.

Section 2304, creates a competitive grant program to promote innovative strategies to promote innovative instruction in history, civics and geography stressing serving currently under-served school populations. Grants will be awarded for developing, implementing and disseminating for voluntary use, innovative, evidence-based approaches to civic learning and American history, which may include hands-on civic engagement activities for teachers and students, that demonstrate innovation,scalability, accountability, and a focus on underserved populations. Grants may be for professional development. Grants shall be awarded for 3 years. Institutions of higher education or other non-profits or for profit organizations are eligible to apply. Will receive 5% of this section's appropriations.

What's Next

The Senate HELP Committee will markup this bill on April 14. The committee will pass this bill by the end of the month or early in May and the full Senate is expected to vote on the reauthorization bill by the end of the summer. The US House has not yet passed a companion reauthorization bill. Senate passage of the reauthorization will put great pressure on the House to act. Once the House Committee and full US House has passed a bill, the Senate and House will reconcile the versions.

This is the first time since 2011 that any Congressional action has offered the promise of Federal level funding for the social studies. This sends a powerful message that the social studies are important and valued, but it is vitally important that social studies professionals continue to advocate for these provisions at each step in the process. We also need to lobby to include funding in this year's appropriations bills.

How you can help

Sign-up for legislative alert emails from the NCSS Action Center. NCSS will keep you informed, and suggest ways you can advocate for social studies. Progress so far is thanks to our members, board and committee leadership, and the state and local council leaders who contacted legislators based on action requests over the past several weeks. We are joined in our efforts by our partners at the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, National Coalition for History, Generation Citizen and Cat Macdonald, NCSS legislative advocate. There is work to be done, and you can make a difference by adding your voice.


  1. The term 'Traditional American History' was applied to the Teach American History (TAH) Program.

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