Blog > Archive for the ‘Education’ Category
Teaching American History RFP 2011 – TAH Evaluation Is Key
The long awaited Teaching American History (TAH) program RFP has been published today, and evaluation is an even more significant part of the grant application than it has been in the past.  Read it here.

The quality of the evaluation counts for 25 points of the total score of your proposal.  Just like last year, your grant proposal will first be scored on overall project quality (35 points), quality of the project design (35 points), need for the project (20 points) and the quality of the management plan (10 points).  If you score high high enough in these areas, your application will then be scored by another set of reviewers on the evaluation plan.  The quality of the project evaluation plan (25 points) can thus make or break your Teaching American History proposal.

Further, consider two of the four new competitive preference priorities.  Priority 2 gives up to three additional points for improving achievement and high school graduation rates” and priority 3 gives up to three additional points for “enabling more data-based decision-making.”  Addressing both these priorities will require a rigorously designed and well implemented evaluation plan.

We will be breaking down the RFP in future posts with tips and commentary in the coming days, so check back soon.  Also, save the date: the ED TAH staff will hold two pre-application meetings on March 11 in Washington, D.C. at the Department of Education.

As always, never hesitate to contact us concerning your evaluation needs. Call us at (570) 744-1618 or email

As a special service to Teaching American History grant clients, we will consult with you and even assist in designing and writing the evaluation portion of your Teaching American History grant application free of charge.  The clock is ticking: call us today to get started!
Teaching American History Grant Evaluation: Glenn Beck, the Center for American Progress and “No Evidence”? -Part II
In the last post we noted a number of recent statements concerning the threatened Teaching American History (TAH) ED grant program, including the fact that, as Media Matters notes, earlier this month Fox News analyst William LaJeunesse strongly criticized the program:
Or how about the Teaching American History program.  Here is $120 million to help teachers teach history in “exciting and engaging ways.” There is no evidence it works.
Now there may be a number of reasons to expand, reshape, or eliminate TAH.  Certainly, any debate that gets us thinking about teaching American history and the worth of a taxpayer funded program is worth having.  But let’s get our facts straight.

First, the program was started and then supported by Senators Byrd, Kennedy, and Alexander among other members of Congress from both parties for the express purpose of teaching “traditional American history,” not pedagogical practices.  The official purpose of the program is easily found on the program’s website:
The program is designed to raise student achievement by improving teachers’ knowledge and understanding of and appreciation for traditional U.S. history. … By helping teachers to develop a deeper understanding and appreciation of U.S. history as a separate subject matter within the core curriculum, these programs will improve instruction and raise student achievement.
Traditional American history is defined as “the significant issues, episodes, and turning points in the history of the United States; how the words and deeds of individual Americans have determined the course of our Nation; and how the principles of freedom and democracy articulated in the founding documents of this Nation have shaped America’s struggles and achievements and its social, political, and legal institutions and relations.”  So LaJeunesse’s suggestion that the program is not about content but “engaging and exciting” pedagogy is false, although certainly one would hope that participating teachers do find ways to make history more engaging and exciting for their students. In fact, many of the teachers we’ve talked to say that the program has helped them make history more engaging and exciting though strengthening their knowledge of American history.

Second, as part of a very competitive award process every Teaching American History grant proposal includes an evaluation plan.  Evaluation is a required part of every TAH grant, and we’ve written and implemented a lot of TAH evaluation plans.  Over the years the importance of the score on the evaluation section of the grant proposal has grown.  This past year there was a two tiered scoring process in which grants with high scoring overall plans were then selected based on the coherence and rigor of their evaluation plan.  Under the program requirements set by the Government Performance and Reporting Act (GPRA), each Teaching American History grant must report:
The average percentage change in the scores (on a pre-post assessment of American history) of participants who complete at least 75 percent of the professional development hours offered by the project. The test or measure will be aligned with the TAH project and at least 50 percent of its questions will come from a validated test of American history.
Besides such serious testing on honest-to-goodness U.S. history content knowledge, we often conduct focus groups, lesson plan and student assignment and work analysis, and surveys about changes in classroom practices that we administer to students and teachers alike.  Student testing is also often a part of a good evaluation plan, although this is a complicated issue (more on this in a future post).

You might have a problem with these requirements.  You might have a problem with the aggregated results.  But it is false to say there is no evidence that TAH grants work.  Teachers are routinely tested before and after they participate in their grant’s events, often by independent evaluation firms such as ours, and we do see scores rise.  In a time when American history is often not an educational priority, teachers themselves routinely report to us how much they’ve learned and how much they love this program precisely because it focuses on content as well as methodology.

I’m not talking about whether or not TAH should remain as is.  I’m not saying that across the board all TAH grants are perfect.  Our claim is that it is false to say there is no evidence for the success of the teaching American history program. Define evidence. Define success.  If success is U.S. history teachers learning more about traditional American history and the evidence is their increased scores on U.S. history tests, there is indeed evidence the program is successful.

If you held up the rest of ED and other federal departments and programs to the same standards some propose for TAH (definitive proof that the program is succeeding and fulfilling its ultimate, highest of goals–in this case, to raise student achievement), one wonders what you would be left with.  Should we base programs and policy on the evidence for what works and what doesn’t?  Absolutely.  TAH should be up for debate along with every other program in these days of budgetary belt tightening.  Should we strengthen our standards and ensure we have solid evidence for the success of policies and programs?  Of course.  But, again, let’s get our facts straight and let’s be as fair and balanced as we can about it.

In the next post, having pointed out the glaring errors of LaJeunesse’s statements, we’ll discuss some of the more serious objections to Teaching American History evaluation.

Teaching American History Grant Evaluation: Glenn Beck, the Center for American Progress and “No Evidence”? -Part I

It is fascinating how, much like the study of history itself, the Teaching American History program can be politicized by right and left.  The Center for American Progress (CAP) released a report in April, 2010 that recommended the Teaching American History (TAH) grant program at the Department of Education be eliminated, along with We the People, the Academies for American History and Civics and a number of other small, subject-specific ED grant programs in favor of large scale block grant programs. In August, Fox News talk show host Glenn Beck used the report’s suggested cuts to criticize the CAP on at least two occasions.

Pat Garofalo at ThinkProgress criticized Beck’s comments as hypocritical.  Beck mentioned the CAP report and TAH again the next day:

CAP responded here.

On the other hand, as Media Matters notes, earlier this month Fox News analyst William LaJeunesse criticized the TAH program:
Or how about the Teaching American History program. Here is $120 million to help teachers teach history in “exciting and engaging ways.” There is no evidence it works.
In the next series of posts, we’ll investigate the truth of some of this rhetoric as relates to Teaching American History grant evaluation. We’ve evaluated quite a lot of these grants, and in the next post we’ll tell you why LeJeunesse is wrong.
Teaching American History Resources: NHEC & TAH
The Evaluation Solutions blog will be highlighting lots of great resources out there for United States Department of Education Teaching American History (TAH) grants, with which we have a lots of evaluation experience. One such resource is the National History Education Clearinghouse (NHEC) at  Their TAH section has a lot of helpful content that can help you ensure your grant is on the right track.  Learn from the lessons already learned by other TAH grants (like tips on how best to model historical thinking), find out what other innovative TAH grants are up to, and watch video from the intensive three day TAH project director’s conference. For instance, consider the words of this associate professor in the History Department at Boise State University:
John Bieter: So many of the grants, I think, separate content and pedagogy. So they do summer intensives that are loaded up with wonderful scholars that come in and do wonderful work, but if I’m a classroom teacher, 5th grade, 9th grade, or 11th grade, and I’ve got 20 minutes to cover this topic—four days is going to enrich me tremendously, but can I really distill that down to something my students could use? And can I—I would argue, most importantly, develop a set of skills that are going to be retained as long or, we hope, even longer than the information, that may or may not be relatively fleeting? So what we really try to do consciously, and I think the biggest—Kathleen and I sat down after year one and said we really need to retool—is to develop content and pedagogy alongside of each other and to integrate that in everything that you do. So with all your partners, insist that they do that. With your scholars, get them to practice exactly this model that we’ve been trying to do.
NHEC also posts some of these videos on YouTube. For instance, what is historical thinking? Check out the NHEC YouTube channel.