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civic education

Civics Loses Out Again

In our 2010 survey of high school social studies teachers, respondents reported that civics was getting squeezed out because of pressure to show progress on statewide math and language arts tests. While civics is still a required subject in many states, its absence from the education-reform agenda has led many to forget that preparing students for citizenship is one of the central purposes of schooling.

Among the forgetful, it seems, is the governing board of the National Assessment of Educational Progress (a.k.a. “the nation’s report card”), which recently voted to indefinitely postpone the 4th and 12th grade tests in history, civics, and geography for 2014.

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Remembering Memorial Day

Our friends at What So Proudly We Hail are remembering Memorial Day with a new ebook of stories, speeches, and songs—featuring classic American writers and great American statesmen.

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The Literary Profession and Civic Culture

In our latest addition to the Professions and Civic Culture series, University of Virginia professor and literary scholar Paul A. Cantor examines the relationship of the humanities to civic life today. Cantor argues that the academy, in abandoning the traditional defense of studying literature in higher education, has unwittingly undermined public support for the humanities. He urges his colleagues in the university to consider how they might reconnect with older traditions of general education, such as the Great Books.

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Lessons in Citizenship

In Philanthropy Magazine, Naomi Schaefer Riley writes about philanthropic efforts to strengthen civic learning in American schools. Riley highlights programs by the Gilder Lehrman Institute, the Bill of Rights Institute, and What So Proudly We Hail by AEI’s own Leon R. Kass and his wife Amy.

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Texas and Civic Education

We’ve noted before that many social studies teachers favor accountability for their subjects. Our survey, High Schools, Civics, and Citizenship: What Social Studies Teachers Think and Do, found that more than nine out of ten teachers want social studies to become part of their state’s set of standards and testing. Now, Texas educators are protesting changes to the state’s accountability system that could marginalize social studies.

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What would a national civics standard look like?

In The Atlantic, Robert Pondiscio, executive director of CitizenshipFirst, suggests that a ground-floor civics standard that must be met by all graduating students from high school is in order—and that the US Citizenship Test is just the place to start. Writing shortly after the release of his white paper for the Pioneer Institute (coauthored with Gilbert T. Sewall and Sandra Stotsky)—“Shortchanging the Future: The Crisis of History and Civics in American Schools”—Pondiscio laments the crisis in civic education and civic knowledge today, but thinks that setting a modest standard like the Citizenship Test would be more helpful than establishing more high-stakes testing or overhauling state standards.

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Citizenship lessons from the vault

We recently came across this speech by the education reformer and Massachusetts state senator Horace Mann (1796–1859) and just had to share. Given in celebration of Independence Day in 1842, Mann discusses the need to think seriously about the perpetuation of our political institutions (a theme Abraham Lincoln had given attention to in his 1838 Lyceum Address) and the role that a strong culture of civic education plays in doing so. We thought it especially appropriate to share now, as it relates to the recent release of our latest case study looking at civic education and school culture in charter schools.

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The memeification of civic engagement

Writing at the Huffington Post, Rachel Tardiff worries that the decline in civic education in public schools has had very real effects on how citizens engage (or don’t engage) their government and advocate for change. Using the recent debate on social networking sites over gay marriage as an example, Tardiff notes that her Facebook feed became “a stream of red, with a huge swath of [her] friends changing their profile pictures” to the red equal sign to show their support for same sex marriage. Unfortunately, she writes, not many of her friends knew what else they could do to show support for their cause: “We’ve grown up in the political reality . . . where civic education courses are a luxury and a sense of civic duty is quaint. When all you feel you can do to further your views is to share a photo on Facebook . . . then it’s a short but hard fall from engagement to impotence.”

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Civic learning, digital badges, and alternative assessment

The folks over at the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) have just released a new working paper on civic education: “New and Alternative Assessments, Digital Badges, and Civics: An Overview of Emerging Themes and Promising Directions.” Building on their previous research looking at the way states test (or don’t test) their students on social studies or civics, this study takes a look at alternative assessment mechanisms that can test students’ knowledge and civic skills. Instead of just using multiple-choice tests, for example, schools might look at introducing digital badges that students can earn when they have demonstrated some civic skill.

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Educating students for liberty

In last week’s edition of the Hoover Institution’s Defining IdeasMark Blitz, a professor of political philosophy at Claremont McKenna College, looks at the challenge of encouraging a liberal education that aims for excellence in a land that is devoted to equality and liberty. Does conserving liberty in a democratic regime necessarily mean an overall decline to an equality of mediocrity? What is the role of primary and secondary schools in educating students for liberty?

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Charter Schools and Civic Education

The National Alliance for Public Charter Schools spotlights our recent work on charters and civic education, as well as the Center for Education Policy’s analysis of the national civics assessment to compare charters to district schools.

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Making Civics Count at Harvard

Calling all Bostonians: This afternoon, March 7, the Civic & Moral Education Initiative at the Harvard Graduate School of Education will be hosting a discussion about our recent volume of essays on civic education: Making Civics Count: Citizenship Education for a New Generation.

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Higher education, liberal arts, and civic education

Last week, Peter Levine, director of the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, spoke to a meeting of 17 college presidents and other representatives of higher education about the civic mission of the university. As more and more emphasis is being placed on higher education as a path to employment, Levine noted, the liberal arts and the civic mission of higher education are being placed on the sideline. But this would be a mistake, he argues, and supporters of these programs “can proudly and forthrightly make the case for both the civic mission of the university and the liberal arts and openly tell our fellow citizens that they should support those things.”

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Renewing the social compact

Yesterday, Massachusetts state Senator Richard T. Moore took to the opinion pages to promote a new civic education report in Massachusetts by the Special Commission on Civic Engagement and Learning: “Renewing the Social Compact.” As Moore writes, “if our government, ‘of the people, by the people, and for the people, shall not perish from the earth,’ as Abraham Lincoln proclaimed, we, the people, need to learn about how our government works, understanding our role as citizens in our own government, and how to become civically engaged. As citizens of our town, state, and country, we have more to do than just voting.”

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Civics in Tennessee

Last year, the Tennessee legislature passed a law that requires school districts in the state to test students’ civic knowledge at least once while students are in grades 4–8 and at least once while they are in grades 9–12. According to a new report released by the state’s comptroller’s office, “the legislation is significant because it is the first time the state has required an assessment for civics.” Further, the report emphasizes, this latest requirement for testing is also significant because of how it mandates that the testing take place: “(1) [the assessments] will not be standardized tests developed by vendors according to state-determined specifications, but instead are to be developed and implemented by school districts, and (2) they are required to be project-based.”

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Civic education and charter schools: current knowledge and future research

The Center on Education Policy at George Washington University has just released a new report that provides a good overview of current research on civic education in charter schools and suggests opportunities for further research. (In regard to this latter point about future research opportunities, as Maria Ferguson, the head of the Center, notes, “The most interesting finding from our analysis is that the research that exists about civic education in any kind of school (charter, traditional public, or private) is limited at best.”)

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School choice week

In celebration of National School Choice Week, we have been highlighting our ongoing case study series “Teaching Citizenship in Charter Schools.” The series explores how top-performing charter schools have incorporated civic learning in their school curriculum and school culture. We have published three case studies so far: Daniel Lautzenheiser and Andrew P. Kelly’s “Charter Schools as Nation Builders: Democracy Prep and Civic Education”; Joanne Jacobs’ “Counting on Character: National Heritage Academies and Civic Education”; and, most recently, David Feith’s “Making Americans: UNO Charter Schools and Civic Education.”

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Why charters?

The third-annual National School Choice Week officially kicked off earlier this week, with over 3,600 events planned across the United States to bring attention to and advocate for more educational options for students and families. (Click here to see what school choice events are happening near you.) As the nation turns its attention to school choice, it’s  a good time to take a look at how charter schools are approaching civic education.

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Preparing for democracy

Over at the “Rick Hess Straight Up” blog at Education Week, AEI’s Rick Hess highlights our new series of case studies on teaching citizenship in charter schools. Providing some helpful background as to why we think these case studies are important, Hess writes: “Amidst our “achievement-gap” drenched discourse, it’s easy to slight other educational priorities–like, say, the obligation of schools to teach, prepare, and equip students to be good and responsible citizens. As I noted in The Same Thing Over and Over, since our nation’s founding, schools have been asked to inculcate good citizenship with at least as much urgency as they’ve been asked to promote literacy and numeracy.”

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Civics in the nation’s capital?

According to the Washington Post, a new proposal by the Washington DC State Board of Education would, among other things, eliminate the current requirement that students take a course in American government in order to graduate from high school. Instead, students would be required to take courses in world history (1 unit), United States history (1 unit), and Washington, DC history (0.5) units, and then would have the choice to fill their remaining 1.5 units of social studies with classes such as economics, financial literacy, global studies, or government/civics.

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