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History Graduates are Not Alone: An Improved System for All College Alum Is Needed for a New Era in the Employment Marketplace
By Laura J. Sweeney

I pursued my master’s degree in history because of my love of the discipline, and mistakenly “believed” there would be plentiful job prospects in community college teaching. However, I never did in-depth research to verify this assumption. In recent years, hiring for professors, whether by community colleges or four-year institutions, has increasingly been for part-time adjunct faculty instead of full-time positions. In addition, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics Occupational Outlook Handbook (BLS OOH), “in some fields, there are more applicants than available positions. In these situations, institutions can be more selective, and they frequently choose applicants who have a Ph.D. over those with a master’s degree.” The lack of full-time opportunities available to master’s degree holders in academia led me to research public history occupations. Unfortunately, the job outlook is not too promising there either. After searching for jobs in earnest for over a year-and-a-half, two realizations have become incredibly apparent. A basic history master’s degree seemingly is no longer enough to qualify for most public history positions, and the number of job announcements are few and far between.

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Teachers workshop at the National Archives

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Teaching American History Program

Of all the categories of federal history work, we should not forget efforts to improve teachers’ knowledge of “traditional” U.S. history. Educators in the Office of Innovation and Improvement at the U.S. Department of Education are charged with improving instruction in history through better educated and trained teachers.

The Teaching American History (TAH) program is authorized through the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, as amended by the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001. Grants from the program go directly to Local Educational Agencies (LEAs or school districts) “to develop and disseminate innovative models of professional development in consultation with organization with content expertise,” writes Margarita L. Melendez, an education program specialist in the Office. These partnering institutions range from the Presidential libraries to civic organization such as the Bill of Rights Institute. About 500 annual grants totaling $117.9 million were awarded in Fiscal Year 2008.

The goal is teacher expertise in American history, and the program relies on affiliated historians and organizations to provide the training. The training activities a summer institute, workshops, mentoring or collaboration with Master teachers, lesson plan development, and technology integration.  Teachers work with primary documents on original research. This training is directed at targeted school districts.

Melendez notes that the TAH program also works to improve history education and instruction at the national level, as in the National History Education Clearinghouse, for example (www.teachinghistory.org). The web site “builds on and disseminates valuable lessons learned by more than 800 funded TAH projects, containing “a wealth of information on history content, teaching materials and practices, professional development, and research.”

For more information, visit http://www.ed.gov/programs/teachinghistory/index.html

Margarita L. Melendez’s article appears in the Fall 2008 issue of The Federalist at www.shfg.org under “Publications.”

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