Secondary Teacher Preparation in Social
Studies: Alabama

2011 Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy

Goal

The state should ensure that social studies teachers know all the subject matter they are licensed to teach.

Meets in part
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Secondary Teacher Preparation in Social Studies: Alabama results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/AL-Secondary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Social-Studies-6

Analysis of Alabama's policies

Secondary social studies teachers in Alabama have the option of a general social studies teaching field license. Coursework must include courses in economics, geography, history and political science and may include coursework in other areas of the social studies. Candidates are required to pass the Praxis II "Social Studies" test. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general social studies but rather can teach any of the topical areas.

Middle school social studies teachers have two options: either a comprehensive teaching license with a specialization in general social studies, or one in a single teaching field. Commendably, candidates are also required to pass the Praxis II "Middle School Social Studies" test.

Citation

Recommendations for Alabama

Require secondary social studies teachers to pass tests of content knowledge for each social studies discipline they intend to teach.
States that allow general social studies certifications—and only require a general knowledge social studies exam—are not ensuring that their secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. Alabama's required assessment combines all subject areas (e.g., history, geography, economics) and does not report separate scores for each subject area. Therefore, candidates could answer many—perhaps all—history questions, for example, incorrectly, yet still be licensed to teach history to high school students.

State response to our analysis

Alabama recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. The state added that it provides a general social studies option at both the middle and the secondary levels to meet the needs of schools that cannot afford to employ a full-time economics or geography teacher, for example, who would carry less than a full teaching load. Program completion requires a "pure" arts and sciences-type major in one area of social studies, which includes a minimum of 32 semester hours of credit with at least 19 semester hours of upper-division credit, in addition to courses in other areas of social studies needed to document compliance with the general rules for all social studies teaching fields and the rules specific to general social studies. Candidates must also pass the Praxis II content test for general social studies.

Alabama also noted that it provides options for the preparation of social studies teachers in the specific disciplines of geography and history and requires candidates to pass the subject-specific Praxis II content test. Program-completion requirements are similar to those stated above. 

Last word

Just as with the general science certificate discussed in Goal 1-G, there is no doubt that districts, especially small and/or rural districts, appreciate the flexibility offered by the general science certificate. The state need not do away with this license but rather change its requirements to ensure that a teacher with such a license has the requisite knowledge and skills to teach all included subjects. There are also other ways to address situations where a full-time teacher might not be needed without sacrificing teacher content knowledge, including distance and blended learning or a part-time adjunct license as described in Goal 2-D. 

How we graded

Is a social studies teacher prepared to teach history?

Just as with broad field science, most states offer a general social studies license at the secondary level.  For this certification, teachers can have a background in a wide variety of fields, ranging from history and political science to anthropology or psychology. Under such a license a teacher who majored in psychology could be licensed to teach secondary history having passed only a general knowledge test and answering most—and perhaps all—history questions incorrectly.

Middle school social studies teachers must know middle grade-level social studies.  

Middle school teachers should demonstrate their knowledge of social studies through a test with a separate passing score for this subject area. General knowledge tests with an overall passing score can mask serious weaknesses in teachers' content knowledge. As problematic as general tests with a composite passing score are for elementary teachers, the problem is exacerbated for middle school teachers, who may well teach only one subject in a departmentalized setting.  

Research rationale

Carlisle, J. F., Correnti, R., Phelps, G., & Zeng, J., "Exploration of the contribution of teachers' knowledge about reading to their students' improvement in reading." Reading and Writing: An Interdisciplinary Journal, 22, 459-486 (2009) includes evidence specifically related to the importance of secondary social studies knowledge.
 
In addition, research studies have demonstrated the positive impact of teacher content knowledge on student achievement.  For example, see D. Goldhaber, "Everyone's Doing It, But What Does Teacher Testing Tell Us About Teacher Effectiveness?" Journal of Human Resources, vol. XLII no.4 (2007).  Evidence can also be found in White, Presely, DeAngelis "Leveling up: Narrowing the teacher academic capital gap in Illinois," Illinois Education Research Council (2008); D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "Does teacher certification matter? High School Certification Status and Student Achievement." Educational Evaluation and Policy Analysis. 22: 129-145. (2000); and D. Goldhaber and D. Brewer, "Why Don't Schools and Teachers Seem to Matter? Assessing the impact of Unobservables on Educational Productivity." Journal of Human Resources (1998). See also Harris, D., and Sass, T., "Teacher Training, Teacher Quality and Student Achievement." Teacher Quality Research (2007).