Secondary Teacher Preparation in Social
Studies: Rhode Island

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.

Does not meet
Suggested Citation:
National Council on Teacher Quality. (2011). Secondary Teacher Preparation in Social Studies: Rhode Island results. State Teacher Policy Database. [Data set].
Retrieved from: https://www.nctq.org/yearbook/state/RI-Secondary-Teacher-Preparation-in-Social-Studies-6

Analysis of Rhode Island's policies

Rhode Island offers secondary certification in general social studies. Candidates must earn a total of 36 semester hours, with at least 24 semester hours in history as required for a history certificate. In addition to being valid for teaching history, it may also be endorsed to include any academic area in which a candidate has completed six semester hours. Academic areas include anthropology, economics, geography, political science and sociology. Content tests, however, are not required. 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 in Rhode Island must earn a middle school science endorsement. In addition to either an elementary or secondary certificate, candidates must also have either 21 credits in social studies (to include coursework in U.S. history, Western history and nonwestern history, and coursework in at least three of the following: anthropology, economics, geography, political science and sociology), and they must pass the Praxis II "Citizenship Education" content test, or earn a major in the content area.

Further, current state policy allows a teacher with a K-8 license to teach grades 7 and 8, if they are "organized on the elementary school plan." Rhode Island has indicated, however, that there are no longer any such schools; however, the policy does remain on the books.

Citation

Recommendations for Rhode Island

Require secondary social studies teachers to pass tests of content knowledge for each social studies discipline they intend to teach.
Although coursework plays a key role in teachers' acquisition of content knowledge, it should be accompanied by the requirement of an assessment, which is the only way to ensure that teachers possess adequate knowledge of the subject area.

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

State response to our analysis

Rhode Island asserted that it does not issue a K-8 license. The elementary license is for grades 1-6. 

The state also noted that it is drafting new regulations that will require a content test for secondary social studies. Currently, Rhode Island requires the Citizenship test for middle school teachers with 21 credits only.

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).