School districts throughout California are largely failing to ensure civics lessons are included in the educational programs of K-12 schools, raising concerns that kids are growing up with little or no appreciation of what it means to be a citizen of the United States, according to a report released Thursday by researchers at UCLA and UC Riverside.
The researchers conducted surveys and analyses that culminated in the report, titled “Reclaiming the Democratic Purpose of California’s Public Schools.” It’s part of the Leveraging Equity & Access in Democratic Education — LEADE — Initiative supported by UCR and UCLA.
They found that 87% — seven of every eight — school districts surveyed in California failed to include any mention of “civics, citizen, citizenship or democracy” in online literature, reflecting the lack of interest and resources dedicated to such programs.
In fact, the authors confirmed that of the 31 districts sampled, only 29% had a single administrator or staffer assigned to “history and social sciences.”
“In contrast, 71% had at least one dedicated staff person in English Language Arts, while 55% had at least one in math, and 58% had at least one in science,” the report stated.
Additional findings revealed 41% of districts said nothing about the social purpose of education, and only 44% vaguely mentioned the need to help students develop socially, saying virtually nothing about “civic or political development.”
Civics is focused on government, including defining how the various branches of it function, with what powers they’re invested, and how they’re limited by protections and mechanisms granted to citizens through the Bill of Rights and the voting booth.
“As John Dewey put it, `Democracy has to be born anew every generation, and education is its midwife,”’ UCLA education professor John Rogers said. “Throughout American history, public schools have been charged with preparing youth for (civic) participation … But as recent events and our research make all too clear, when it comes to fulfilling the democratic purposes of schooling, we are falling far short.”
Without more emphasis on civics in each district’s Local Control & Accountability Plans, which establish goals every academic year, the risks of turning out ever greater numbers of students with no grasp of what civic activism means continue to grow, according to the researchers.
“Our analysis suggests that more than five million of California’s six million students attend schools in districts that do not articulate a substantial focus on civic education,” said Erica Hodgin, co-director of the Civic Education Research Group at UCR. “It is also clear that few districts have staff tasked with supporting civics, history and social science compared with staff supporting other academic areas.”
The one silver lining in the report was the fact that districts now have an incentive to promote civics in order to receive statewide recognition under the State Seal for Civic Engagement.
The California State Board of Education in September approved establishing the award, aiming to promote “excellence in civic learning, participation in civics-related projects, contributions to community and an understanding of the United States Constitution (and) the California Constitution.”
“It is time to reclaim the democratic purposes of public education in California,” said Joe Kahne, a UCR professor of education policy. “The good news is, research shows that providing learning opportunities for discussion, analysis and informed civic action deepen both understanding and civic commitments.”
The full report can be found at centerx.gseis.ucla.edu/leade/reclaiming-the-democratic-purpose-of-californias-public-schools/ .
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