Secondary Teacher Preparation in Social
Studies: Tennessee

Delivering Well Prepared Teachers Policy


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

Analysis of Tennessee's policies

Tennessee does not offer certification in general social studies for secondary teachers. Teachers must be certified in a specific discipline within the subject area of social studies. 

Middle school social studies teachers in Tennessee must earn a middle grades certification. The state articulates a major requirement, which includes an interdisciplinary major that involves study in English, mathematics, science and social studies; an interdisciplinary major in two disciplines from the arts and sciences; or a major in a single discipline from the arts and sciences with an area of emphasis in at least one additional discipline outside the major. Candidates are only required to pass the Praxis II "Middle School" general content test, which combines all four subject areas.


Recommendations for Tennessee

Require middle school social studies teachers to pass a test of content knowledge that ensures sufficient knowledge of social studies.
A general subject-matter test that combines literature/language arts, mathematics, history/social studies and science—without reporting separate scores—does not ensure that middle school social studies teachers possess adequate knowledge of social studies, as it may be possible to answer many—perhaps all—social studies questions incorrectly and still pass the test.

State response to our analysis

Tennessee noted that subject-specific licensure for secondary social studies teachers is offered in history, government, geography, economics, psychology and sociology. Preparation includes a set of social studies core standards that focuses primarily on middle grades social studies content. As a condition of licensure, the subject-specific Praxis II test must be passed. 

Last word

This analysis acknowledges Tennessee's policy regarding secondary social studies teachers, and the state has received credit for the fact that secondary social studies teachers are required to pass a content test in each subject area they plan to teach. Middle school teachers also may teach under these 7-12 licenses.

However, it is Tennessee's policy pertaining to middle grades (4-8) social studies teachers that is problematic. These teachers are only required to pass the Praxis II "Middle School" content test, which does not report an individual subscore for social studies. Therefore, the state cannot guarantee that these teachers possess adequate subject-matter knowledge for the classroom. 

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).