CIVIC EDUCATION IN SCHOOLS

By Bob Katzen

Gov. Charlie Baker signed into law a bill will require Massachusetts public high schools and school districts serving eighth-grade students to provide at least one individual, small group, or class wide, student-led, non-partisan civics project for each student.

The projects must be designed to promote student abilities related to the analysis of complex issues; consideration of different perspectives; engagement in civil discourse; and understanding of the connections between federal, state, and local policies.

Another key provision establishes a Civics Project Trust Fund which will be used to create a statewide civic infrastructure and provide professional development to teachers, prioritizing underserved communities in “school districts with high concentrations of economically disadvantaged students.”

“This bill could not have come at a better time,” said Arielle Jennings, Massachusetts Executive Director of Generation Citizen, a group that was at the forefront of the campaign to get this measure signed into law.

“We are in a moment when so many young people are seeing the power of youth voice on the national stage and are eager to participate in the civic and political process. In order to do so, youth need educational experiences to help develop their civic skills and knowledge and real-world civic engagement opportunities that show them the political process is relevant to their lives.”

According to Generation Citizen, only one in four Americans can name the three branches of government and voting rates of young adults are at an historic low. Lower-income students often receive lower-quality civic learning education at school and demonstrate significantly lower levels of achievement in standardized tests of civics than their higher-income peers.

“This bill ensures that all students throughout the commonwealth will be exposed to robust civics curricula in order to prepare them to be informed and thoughtful participants in our democracy,” said Rep. Alice Peisch (D-Wellesley), House Chair of the Education Committee. “This bill, in conjunction with the Department’s new History and Social Science Curriculum Framework and a new assessment aligned with these standards, are critical to preparing students for a lifetime of civic responsibility.”

“I am incredibly proud that this bill is being signed into law because comprehensive civics education leads to more informed voters, better public policies, and a superior Commonwealth,” said Sen. Harriette Chandler (D-Worcester). “So much work went into this bill: from the legislators to the educators, to the administrators, the students and the advocates, we could not have made this effort a reality without your hard work and dedication.”

“Massachusetts has moved forward to a leadership role on civics education,” said Steven Rothstein the executive director of the John F. Kennedy Library and the co-founder of the Mass Civics Learning Coalition. “This legislation will ensure that every student is ready for civic life. This is especially important at this time.”

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