Secondary Teacher Preparation in Social
Studies: North Carolina

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: North Carolina results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from:

Analysis of North Carolina's policies

North Carolina offers a secondary teaching licensure area in comprehensive social studies. Coursework requirements are unclear, as the state seems to rely on the HQT requirement of an undergraduate major, while North Carolina's standards articulate that high school teachers must "have depth in one or more specific content areas or disciplines." Regrettably, North Carolina does not require content tests for initial licensure; such tests are only mandated once candidates apply for the standard professional 2 license, usually after three years. At that point, candidates must pass the Praxis II "Social Studies" content test. Interestingly, however, the state does not require a minimum score. Rather, candidates must earn a certain combined score from the content test and the social studies pedagogy test. Teachers with this license are not limited to teaching general social studies but rather can teach any of the topical areas. Further, although North Carolina offers additional licensure areas in specific areas of social studies, such as geography, history and sociology, the state still only requires the general content test and similarly combines its score with the pedagogy test.

Middle school social studies teachers in North Carolina have the option of earning a middle grades science certificate. They, too, do not have to pass a content test until the professional 2 license. Then, candidates must pass the Praxis II "Middle School Social Studies" test.


Recommendations for North Carolina

Require secondary social studies teachers to pass tests of content knowledge for each social studies discipline they intend to teach, as a condition of initial licensure.
States that allow general social studies certifications—and only require a general knowledge social studies exam—are not ensuring that these secondary teachers possess adequate subject-specific content knowledge. North Carolina's required general assessment combines subject areas (e.g., history, geography, economics) and does 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. In addition, combining content test scores with the pedagogy assessments waters down the state's already weak effort to ensure that candidates demonstrate adequate subject-matter knowledge in social studies.

Require middle school social studies teachers to pass a test of content knowledge as a condition of initial licensure.

State response to our analysis

North Carolina contended that in order for a teacher candidate to teach a secondary content-specific area, he or she must have earned a major in that area. There are four licensure areas for secondary social studies that require a major in that particular area (e.g., political science and sociology). However, there are some secondary licensure areas in which a major is not required. 

Last word

While coursework, even a major, may be generally indicative of background in a particular subject area, only a subject-matter test ensures that teachers know the specific content they will need to teach.

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).