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Ken Burns, Norman Augustine & Cokie Roberts Join with National History Day to Call on Policy Makers to Focus on History Education
New Study Finds Students Who Participate in History Education Programs Gain 21st Century College- and Career-Readiness Skills

For Immediate Release: May 2, 2011
Contact: Mariam Ali: 202-777-3847, mariam.ali@edelman.com

College Park, Md. – As Congress and the Administration work to reauthorize the Elementary and Secondary Education Act (ESEA), supporters of  National History Day (NHD), a year-long academic program focused on historical research for 6th-to 12th-grade students, today called on policymakers to place greater importance on history education programs.

In a letter sent to Congress and the Obama Administration, acclaimed filmmaker Ken Burns, former Lockheed Martin CEO Norman Augustine, and author/journalist Cokie Roberts made the case for a greater focus on history in pending legislation to reauthorize ESEA. On a conference call with reporters Burns and Augustine pointed to a new study by Rockman, et al, which finds students who participate in NHD become better writers and critical thinkers, and learn 21st century college- and career-readiness skills they can take into the competitive workforce.

“Those of us who work with National History Day students have witnessed firsthand that history education does not just help students achieve academically, it prepares them for life,” said NHD’s Executive Director Cathy Gorn, Ph.D. “I am proud to stand with some of America’s most distinguished leaders from the worlds of business, media and the arts in calling on our political leaders to guarantee history is not left behind.”

According to a Job Outlook 2011 survey conducted by the National Association of Colleges and Employment (NACE), employers look for skills such as verbal communication, ability to collaborate with peers and time management in their future employees.

“To be successful in today’s competitive workplace, we need to teach students communication skills and the ability to work in teams,” said Norman Augustine, former CEO of Lockheed Martin. “History education and the National History Day program give students the skills to succeed far beyond the study of history—which in itself is important.”

“What an incredible, compelling way to get kids excited about education, research and the mechanics of storytelling,” said Ken Burns, award-winning documentary filmmaker. “The skills that students take from history education and the NHD program are ones they will carry with them throughout their lives.”

The study conducted by Rockman, et al found students who participate in the NHD program outperform their peers on state standardized tests in multiple subjects, including reading, science, math and social studies. In addition, the study also found that Black and Hispanic NHD students posted higher performance assessment scores than their peers by a margin of two to one.

The study found NHD is successful because it applies a research-based methodology, specifically engaging students in rigorous research, connecting teacher practice and instruction to student achievement, and providing students and teachers career-ready skills they can use outside the classroom.

“Students have always told us how much they loved their NHD experience and how it has changed their life, both in their academics and their careers. History not only teaches students about the stories of our past, but it is vital to creating a generation of young people who can apply these lessons to the future,” said Cokie Roberts, journalist, author and political commentator.

The group concluded that without history and civics education, students will not be equipped with these foundational skills, which are needed to compete in the global marketplace. Schools across the country are decreasing instructional hours devoted to history and civics. History education programs are effective in teaching critical thinking, writing and research skills that prepare students for college, career and participatory citizenship. This is why history education needs to be applied across the system, so we can continue to create the next generation of leaders and engaged citizens.

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About National History Day
National History Day (NHD) is a year-long academic organization for elementary and secondary school students. Each year, more than half a million students, encouraged by thousands of teachers nationwide participate in the NHD contest. Students choose historical topics related to a theme and conduct extensive primary and secondary research through libraries, archives, museums, oral history interviews and historic sites. After analyzing and interpreting their sources and drawing conclusions about their topics’ significance in history, students present their work in original papers, websites, exhibits, performances and documentaries. These products are entered into competitions in the spring, at local, state and national levels where they are evaluated by professional historians and educators. The program culminates in a national competition each June held at the University of Maryland at College Park. Visit www.nhd.org.