More than 60 Attend Joint Education Committee Hearing on Civic EducationSen. Sonia Chang-Díaz and Rep. Alice Peisch held a two-hour hearing on 26 Civic Education bills introduced in this session of the General Court of Massachusetts.
Sen. Harriet Chandler, Sen. Eric Lesser, Rep. Linda Campbell, and Rep. Jay Kaufman testified for their joint work on a civic engagement bill. (Currently several separate bills: S215/H2016, S278, S244/H280, S248. Find language of bills at the Legislature’s website: https://malegislature.gov/Bills/Search?SearchTerms=Civic.) Elements of these bills feature a required civic action project. Some would set up a commission of policy makers, educators, and youth to guide creation of the project system. Some bills require the state to develop model curriculum. The hope expressed by all legislative advocates is that the Joint Education Committee forward a single civic engagement bill that combines the best of these. Many educators, representatives of various organizations, and young activists also testified in support of stronger social studies and civics education. The JFK Library, iCivics, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute for the U.S. Senate, Generation Citizen, the Massachusetts Municipal Association, and local schools were among those represented.
While supportive of the general idea of civic education, Sen. Chang-Díaz and Rep. Peisch expressed particular concern about what schools will have to let go in order to make time and resources available for such a requirement. They asked about projected costs both to the state and to local districts. Rep. Peisch asked to what extent concerns can be addressed by the state’s Social Studies Frameworks Panel, which began meeting in January, 2017. The panel’s draft is scheduled to be available for public review and comment early in 2018. Civics (as well as inquiry) is certainly a driving concern of the panel.
In my testimony, I pointed out that the 2009 decision to require MCAS tests in only three of the four major academic areas has had the unintended consequence of squeezing social studies almost completely out of Massachusetts elementary schools. In 5th grade, 60% of Massachusetts schools teach social studies 60-minutes or less per week. In 2nd grade, 86% of schools teach it 60-minutes or less per week. (See June 7 post on the state survey of social studies educators.) I also urged the Legislature to take seriously the Massachusetts Board of Education elevation of civic life to its core definition of student readiness.
I noted social studies teachers’ strong support for required civic engagement project (70%) and a civics course (88%). I then spoke from my long experience with civic education at the local, state, and national level to advocate for the following points:
- Schools do not have to create a civics project program from scratch. 62% of district already require some type of civic engagement project. 86% of districts already offer a civics course, typically in 12th grade.
- Proven organizations are eager to support schools with civic engagement projects, including: the Massachusetts Service Alliance, Campus Compact, Kids Consortium, History Day, Model UN, Center for Civic Education, E.M., Project 351, League of Women Voters, Facing History and Ourselves, Kennedy Institute, iCivics, Generation Citizen, Key Club, student government, our own Windows on History–and many, many more. Regional counsels described in S215 would be a particularly good idea in this light.
- Massachusetts can learn from the work of other states, including (off the top of my head): Maryland, Illinois, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, Hawaii, Washington, and New Hampshire.
- The state should not try to directly manage such a program. Rather it should set criteria and approve district programs, allowing considerable flexibility.
- Teachers will need substantial professional development to learn best practices and skills for teaching through civic engagement projects. (See list of proven organizations above.) Yet not every teacher has to be involved.
- Successful programs will need district coordinators. (Research on successful service-learning programs found as much.)
We are at an exciting point. Yet much work remains to be done.
- Contact Rep. Peisch and Sen. Chang-Díaz who have the power to advance a bill.
- Contact your own legislators to explain why and how such projects could proceed.
- Engage superintendents, principals, and teachers union reps to address their concerns and help them see how civic projects support district goals and efforts. Their support is essential to implement such a program as well as to ensure passage of legislation.
- Join the Mass Council for the Social Studies. An entire school can join for as little as $75! http://www.masscouncil.org/
Watch the History eNews and this blog for notice of future hearing and other specific steps forward.