SBOE #EdPolicy Roundup: January 2020 – Social Studies & Civics

By Sarah Arrington, Policy Fellow

In the new year, the D.C. State Board of Education will continues its “Research Roundup” series in an effort to increase the focus on selected education research and policy concepts, with a specific emphasis on the implications of research and policy on stakeholders in our communities.

This January 2020 #EdPolicy Research Roundup features two reports: one from the Center for American Progress that examines state civics requirements and one from the National Congress of American Indians that examines state efforts to implement high-quality curriculum about Native American people and culture.

As we have done previously, the State Board will discuss the key findings of each report and explain the implications on the State Board’s work and priorities.

This month, both reports relate to social studies and civics. The State Board is currently embarking on a process to update the District’s social studies standards under the leadership of Ward 6 Representative Jessica Sutter. The state social studies standards have not been updated since 2006.

“Strengthening Democracy with a Modern Civics Education”, Center for American Progress, December 2019

Summary: Written by Ashley Jeffrey and Scott Sargrad at the Center for American Progress (CAP), this report examines states’ civic and U.S. government requirements, which vary by state and typically include anything from the number of civics course credits, the Advanced Placement U.S. Government and Politics (AP USGP) exam, and community service hours requirement. They authors also looked at five key elements of a robust civics curriculum. These elements are an explanation of democracy, the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights, public participation, information on voting rights, and media literacy. Their main findings include:

  • Most states require at least a semester’s worth of standalone civics courses

  • Twenty states requires students to take some sort of civics exam to demonstrate competency

  • Twenty six states employ a robust civics curriculum and/or standards

  • Community service is rarely required

  • There does not appear to be a clear relationship between course requirements, civics exam requirements, or curriculum standards and scores on the AP USGP exam

The report also discusses strategies that states and schools can use to strengthen civic engagement among youth. One way to do this is to teach students how to transform civics knowledge into civic engagement through student research and activism. Schools can do this by requiring students to develop research projects that focus on systems of power, privilege, and oppression. Schools can also prepare students by cultivating media and news literacy. This involves teaching students how to access and understand sources from the media as well as how to determine a sources’ reliability. Finally, states can strengthen civic engagement through increasing voter registration and participation in youth. To do this, states can challenge voter suppression tactics in civics education. Other strategies include preregistering 16- and 17-year-olds and holding high school registration drives.

“Becoming Visible: A Landscape Analysis of State Efforts to Provide Native American Education for All”, National Congress of American Indians, September 2019

Summary: This report analyzes the education policies and programs related to Native American education in 28 states that participated in a key informant survey. Researchers wanted to know the extent to which states require schools to teach Native American curriculum in all public schools and the policies that states use to deliver their Native American curriculum. They found that only nine states provide funding specifically for Native American curriculum. In these states, the funding went to staffing, curriculum development, professional development, grants, and conferences. They also found that 18 states have full- or part-time staff dedicated to implementing Native American curriculum, although, sometimes the staff person also has other responsibilities that are unrelated to Native American education efforts. Twenty-three schools indicated that they include Native American education in their state standards. While this is promising, less than half of the 28 states actually require Native American curriculum to be taught in some or all grade levels. When the curriculum is taught, many times the lessons are inaccurate and can promote negative stereotypes. Finally, this report found that all but one of the states that are developing a Native American curriculum conferred with tribal governments or Native American education experts.

State Board context: The State Board is currently embarking on a process to update the District’s social studies standards. The Social Studies Standards Committee, chaired by Ward 6 Representative Jessica Sutter, is dedicated to making the standards more equitable and inclusive for all students. Specifically, the committee is looking to make the standards, which have not been updated since 2006, culturally relevant to all D.C. students. Several State Board members have raised potential concerns on the Eurocentric narrative of the current social studies standards.

The first report, “Strengthening Democracy with a Modern Civics Education”, found that D.C. has fairly robust civics requirements including a stand-alone civics/U.S. government course, a minimum of one credit (most states only require half a credit or none at all), a community service requirement, and the curriculum has all five key elements of a robust curriculum. While this is a positive outlook for the District, the report does not address measures of equity and inclusion. The second report, “Becoming Visible: A Landscape Analysis of State Efforts to Provide Native American Education for All”, focused on states’ efforts to bring high-quality education about Native American people and communities into classrooms. This is an example of a topic that the State Board is looking to update in the social studies standards.

Finally, the State Board wants to ensure that educators from public and public charter schools have a voice in developing the new standards. In their November 2019 public meeting, the State Board heard from several educators and received written testimony about their concerns with the current social studies standards and what they would like to see in the updated standards.

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