‘A K-12 Civics Report Card’ Ranks America’s Leading Civics Education Programs

 

In a new report released Wednesday at the Boston-based Pioneer Institute, one of America’s top education scholars provides reviews and grades for the nation’s leading civics programs.

At a time when the purpose of civics education grows increasingly polarized, and many organizations present rival resources, Dr. David Randall, author of “Learning for Self-Government: A K-12 Civics Report Card,” evaluated 15 leading civics programs and graded them on their effectiveness.

Randall, the director of research at the National Association of Scholars (NAS), and project director at the affiliated Civics Alliance, spoke with The Star News Network about the importance of social studies standards in the states.

“And part of good reform governance is not just vetoing the bills, but making sure you’re appointing people who are going to do the hard bureaucratic slog to make sure the standards are good,” he noted.

Among those receiving the top grade is Hillsdale College’s 1776 Curriculum for grades K-12.

“They thought about what a good civics education should be for three different levels – elementary, middle school, and high school,” Randall told The Star News Network about Hillsdale’s curriculum.

“They’ve got this amazing, excellent set of primary sources already included in the curriculum soup – it’s there,” he admired.

“And, then, just the level of intellectual rigor, I mean, in fact, it’s for what a 12th grade education used to be and ought to be,” he added. “It’s not something which is really a ninth grade education pretending to be 12the grade.”

Hillsdale’s curriculum, Randall said, “challenges and respects students, and they really give them a civics education that’ll get them ready to go off to college and, frankly, if that were done in the 12th grade, it would probably be about as good as any introductory American Government course.”

Asked whether, given the poor achievement scores America’s students have produced over the past decade, many public school students could handle the rigor of the Hillsdale curriculum, Randall replied that, first, “We need to get the schools better in all sorts of ways,” and added, “which everybody should be working on.”

The scholar observed, nevertheless, that “one important thing” to consider is “when you actually teach civics”:

I actually think a lot of schools do it in the ninth grade. If you were to do it as a 12th grade capstone, after you’ve already done the history courses, ideally European and United States, then you could reasonably ask 12th grade students to do a really advanced rigorous course, which might be more difficult for ninth graders. But you’ve got to say and think, yeah, civics is the capstone. We’re building toward that.

The Woodson Center’s 1776 Unites curriculum for grades 9-12, with grades K-8 anticipated, also received an “A” grade.

“1776 Unites was founded by Robert Woodson, Jr. as a patriotic and optimistic movement largely (but not exclusively) by and for black Americans, intended to act as an antidote to the 1619 Project,” Randall wrote of the effort to help the black community “become agents of their own uplift and transformation, by embracing the true founding values of our country.”

Also receiving top grades are educator training resources Teaching American History, by the independent Ashbrook Center, and the training curriculum at the Jack Miller Center.

“You have to educate the teachers first,” Randall asserted. “What the teachers learn is what they can then teach the students. So, it’s absolutely crucial that teachers know this material as well.”

“It’s really good to have a place like Ashbrook teaching American history, which has excellent in-person and distance learning for your Masters in history,” he elaborated. “And, then, that you have the Jack Miller Center supporting a whole bunch of teacher training things,” including the issue of varying state requirements, some of which, Randall noted, may be in need of reevaluation.

The study also gives a grade of “A” to the proposed Florida K-12 Civics and Government Standards.

Randall provided further details about Florida’s draft standards in the report:

They include, for example, an explicit acknowledgement of the Hebraic and Christian roots of our civic culture and a detailed requirement to study colonial history. The standards provide a framework for each grade through eighth grade, and then a detailed sequence for grades 9–12. Florida’s standards have been made more softly “bipartisan” by the usual practice of consultation with school administrators and teachers, but they show what state education machinery can achieve.

“Civics reformers should take note,” Randall wrote, “no amount of civics materials will do any good in public school if they don’t align with the state standards.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), he told The Star News Network, “has set the process for doing standards being revised. And if you look at them, and how it’s been done, it’s a long, slow process with lots of local input, including all the teachers.”

At the other end of the spectrum, the K-12 1619 Project curriculum, founded by Nikole Hannah-Jones and produced by the Pulitzer Center, received a grade of “F.” Randall noted the Project’s “historical fallacies” have served “to forward highly radical polemic.”

Also receiving grades in the “F” range are Generation Citizen’s K-12 program, which centers on “equity activism;” Educating for American Democracy, a K-12 framework designed to infuse “action civics” into each state’s standards; and the radical activist higher education curriculum offered at the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, located in Tufts University, which trains teachers in how to bring leftwing action civics into their classrooms.

In his report, Randall offers the basic principles of what a civics education curriculum should provide, with further details available in the paper itself.

A civics curriculum, he says, should:

  • Provide sustained coverage of colonial America, and not rush from the Mayflower Compact to the Declaration of Independence
  • Tell students of the founding of their country—of Thomas Paine who argued that liberty was common sense, of Thomas Jefferson who wrote the Declaration of Independence, of George Washington who led the Patriot army to victory and independence, of James Madison who thought out how our Constitution could preserve liberty
  • Provide sustained coverage of the desire to preserve and expand America
  • Teach of the expansion of American liberty
  • Emphasize the importance of national unity and of assimilation into a common culture
  • Praise the virtues of populist revolt
  • Give due weight to the power of moral crusade in American history
  • Praise the virtues of moderation in the exercise of national interest

Pioneer Director of School Reform Jamie Gass noted the report’s significance.

“In 2021, the American people and parents across the country awoke to the longstanding crisis in K-12 civics education,” he observed. “’Learning for Self-Government’ will tell policymakers and parents which civics organizations replace civics education with radical activism, which actually try to educate students about their country’s government and history, and how they can build upon existing programs to restore great civics education in our nation.”

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Susan Berry, PhD is national education editor at The Star News Network. Email tips to [email protected]

 

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