Secondary Teacher Preparation in Social
Studies: Massachusetts

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: Massachusetts results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/MA-Secondary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Social-Studies-6

Analysis of Massachusetts's policies

Massachusetts does not offer secondary certification in general social studies. However, the state's secondary history certificate requires that candidates pass the MTEL history assessment, which combines history, geography, government and economics. The political science/political philosophy certificate requires that candidates pass the corresponding MTEL test, which combines political philosophy, U.S. government and civics, comparative government and international relations, history, and geography and economics.  Neither test reports separate scores for each individual area.

Middle school social studies teachers may be certified at the middle grades level in the same two areas mentioned above for secondary grades, with the same testing requirements, or they may choose the middle school humanities certification. Its corresponding MTEL test combines literature, language and reading with history, geography, government and economics. Separate scores for each area are not reported.

Citation

Recommendations for Massachusetts

Require secondary social studies teachers to pass tests of content knowledge for each social studies discipline they intend to teach.
Massachusetts's required assessments combine subject areas and do not report separate scores for each subject area. Therefore, candidates could answer many history questions, for example, incorrectly, yet still be licensed to teach history to high school students.

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

State response to our analysis

Massachusetts recognized the factual accuracy of this analysis. However, the state asserted that it does not offer a social studies license or endorsement. 

Last word

Although the state does not specifically offer a general social studies endorsement, candidates seeking the secondary history and political science/political philosophy certificates are only required to pass tests that combine subject areas within social studies and do not report subscores. Therefore, Massachusetts cannot guarantee content knowledge in each area.  

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).