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Read the letter sent to all members of the Board of Regents and NY State Legislators

February 26, 2005

Regent Anthony Bottar
120 Madison Street, Suite 1600
Syracuse, NY 13202
February 26, 2005

Dear Regent Bottar:

As professional historians who value historical instruction and learning at every stage of education, we welcome the current lively debate over rigorous standards, especially because our own work at the university level is inevitably affected by how history is taught in high school classrooms.

We write, however, to express our deep concern regarding the impact that the current policy of “high-stakes” testing in social studies is having on the effective teaching of history and the preparation of students for the study of history at the college level.

While gearing teaching to a mandated test may be desirable in many educational settings, experience has taught us that the use of such testing as a primary assessment tool constrains curriculum and classroom practice because it de-emphasizes the analytical reading, writing, and thinking abilities required by the discipline. We find that students and teachers girding for such tests too often proceed rapidly and superficially through a chronology utilizing a single text and examining primary source documents via rote, predetermined questions. When this occurs, students may not learn to make informed judgments central to the interpretation and understanding of history.

While we understand that some New York schools are working to cultivate these skills within the conventional framework developed by the state, we greatly admire the effort by others who have developed alternative methods of teaching history -- methods that stress depth, the use of multiple sources, and the ability of students to articulate and refine their own perspectives through a rigorous analysis of historical evidence.

Moreover, because we have met and worked with high school teachers whose knowledge, love of history, and commitment enable them to work along these lines, we would strongly recommend the adoption of a system flexible enough to accommodate such an approach. Present arrangements do not permit such flexibility.

A structure that allows alternative teaching and assessment mechanisms to operate without undue constraints has the potential to greatly enhance instruction at the high school level, strengthen collaboration between secondary and college educators, and draw more dedicated historians into the ranks of high school teachers. We urge you to ensure that this sort of teaching is able to continue, so that students can be prepared for college level work in the ways most appropriate to their background, talents, and interests. We would be willing to work with you to achieve this goal.


Eric Foner
DeWitt Professor of History
Columbia University


Bonnie Anderson
Broeklundian Professor History
Brooklyn College/Graduate Center
City University of New York

Laura Anker
Professor, American Studies
Coordinator, Social Studies
Adolescence Education Program
SUNY College Old Westbury

Rosalyn Fraad Baxandall
Distinguished Teaching Professor
American History
SUNY Old Westbury

Herman L. Bennett
Assoc. Professor of History
Rutgers University

Renate Bridenthal
Emerita Professor Of History
Brooklyn College
City University of New York

Miriam Cohen
Evalyn Clark Professor of History
Vassar College

Margaret S. Crocco
Associate Professor
Teachers College
Columbia Unviersity

Michael Frisch
Professor of History and American Studies
Senior Research Scholar
University of Buffalo
State University of New York

Linda Gordon
Professor of History
New York University

Jacqueline A. Gutwirth
Professor of History
Bronx Community College, CUNY
Maurice Isserman

William R. Kenan Professor of History
Hamilton College
Robin Kelley

Professor of Anthropology
Institute for Research in African
American Studies
Columbia University

Michael Kammen
Professor of American History and Culture
Cornell University

Jerome Krase
Emeritus and Murray
Koppelman Professor
Brooklyn College
City University

Manning Marable
Professor of Public Affairs, Political Science, History and African American Studies,
Columbia University

Anand R. Marrie
Assistant Professor of Social Studies and Education
Teachers College
Columbia University

Wilbur Miller
Professor of History
State University of New York, Stony Brook

Jennifer L. Morgan
Assoc. Professor
History and Women’s & Gender Studies
Rutgers University

Leith Mullings
Presidential Professor of Anthropology
Graduate Center
City University of New York

Mary Beth Norton
Professor of Early American and Women's History
Cornell University

Mojúbàolú Olúfúnké Okome
Associate Professor
Brooklyn College
City University of New York

Robert O'Meally
Zora Neale Hurston Professor of Literature
Director of the Center for Jazz Studies
Columbia University

Pedro Pedraza
Research Director
Center for Puerto Rican Studies
Hunter College

Ismail Rashid
Assistant Professor
History/Africana Studies
Vassar College

Judith Stein
Professor of History
City College of New York and Graduate Center
City University of New York

Howard Wach
Associate Professor of History
Bronx Community College
City University of New York

Mike Wallace
Gotham Center For New York City History

Barbara Winslow
Coordinator Adolescence Social Studies
School of Education
Brooklyn College
City University of New York

Jonathan Zimmerman
Professor of Education and History
New York University

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