Secondary Teacher Preparation in Social
Studies: California

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


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

Does not meet goal
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Secondary Teacher Preparation in Social Studies: California results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of California's policies

California only offers secondary teachers a general "social science" certification. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general social studies but rather can teach any of the topical areas. Further, the state allows candidates to verify subject matter competence in one of two ways: either by passing a content test or by completing a commission-approved subject matter program.

Middle school social science teachers also primarily rely on the Single Subject Teaching Credential; however, those who hold a Multiple Subject Teacher Credential may teach in self-contained classrooms. They may also teach in any grades 5-8 classroom provided they teach two or more subjects for two or more periods per day to the same group of students. 


Recommendations for California

Require secondary social science teachers to pass tests of content knowledge for each social science discipline they intend to teach.
Although coursework plays a key role in teachers' acquisition of content knowledge, program completion should not replace the requirement of an assessment, which is the only way to ensure that teachers possess adequate knowledge of the subject area. While a major is generally indicative of background in a particular subject area, only a subject matter test ensures that candidates know the specific content they will need to teach.

Require middle school social science teachers to also pass a test of content knowledge that ensures sufficient knowledge of social science.

State response to our analysis

California disagreed with NCTQ's recommendation that although coursework plays a key role in teachers' acquisition of content knowledge, program completion should not replace the requirement of an assessment, stating: "Obviously a degree (or 32 semester units) in the subject is a much better indicator of content knowledge than simply taking a test, even one as rigorous as California's CSET exams."

The state also asserted that although it has a composite social science credential, both the approved social science subject-matter programs and the CSET social science test ensure that teacher candidates have in-depth content knowledge of all four domains because candidates must pass each section of the test. 

Last word

As stated above, secondary social studies teachers are not required to pass the CSET assessment. Further, for those candidates who choose the testing route, California is still not able to guarantee adequate subject-matter knowledge in all areas because the subtests combine subjects (e.g., world history and world geography) without providing specific subscores. 

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).