Florida Moves to Increase Civic Learning Opportunities

Multiple recent developments in Florida promise to continue the State’s national leadership in providing civic learning to all its K-12 students.

On January 24th, Governor Ron DeSantis announced the completion of a review of Florida’s K-12 Standards for English Language Arts and Mathematics, with recommendations for improvements. Among the improvements is infusing Civics throughout the English Language Arts (ELA) Standards. The State has developed a comprehensive grade by grade reading list on civics and history topics that will be a requirement for use in all Florida schools. Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Cochran commenting on the revised standards, stated, “They not only incorporate civics throughout every grade, a first of their kind in the nation, ensuring that our students are well versed in the United States Constitution and the responsibilities of citizenship, they also provide educators with clear and concise standards.”

Here is a link to Florida’s new ‘Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking’ (B.E.S.T.) Standards for English Language Arts (ELA), the comprehensive civics and history related reading list begins on page 168: www.fldoe.org/standardsreview

Last year the Florida Legislature passed a measure (HB807) directing the Commissioner of Education to conduct a review of “instructional material for certain civics classes; to identify any errors or inaccuracies” and for a review of “statewide civics education course standards.” The review of the instructional material was done in consultation with several national civic education organizations and institutions of higher education. The instructional material review has been completed. The results of the standards review have not yet been announced.

On January 27th, Governor DeSantis announced the Florida Civics and Debate Initiative with The Marcus Foundation, for elevating civic knowledge, civic skills and civic disposition for middle and high school students. The Marcus Foundation has committed $5 million over a three-year period to the Florida Education Foundation to increase Florida students’ access to speech and debate programs. The Florida Civics and Debate Initiative is expected to:

  • Promote the expansion of middle and high school debate and speech programs to all of Florida’s public school districts;
  • Increase middle school civics end of course state passage rate from 71% to 80%;
  • Increase high school civics end of course state passage rate from 71% to 75%;
  • Implement a National Civics, Speech, and Debate competition for all students — the first-of-its-kind in the nation; and
  • Make Florida a nationwide leader in training high school teachers in all Florida counties and train other states to continue or begin to successfully run competitive speech and debate teams at their schools.

In announcing the Civics and Debate Initiative, Governor DeSantis said, “By offering civic debate, we can better challenge our students to think critically and provide them with the knowledge of our nation’s founding principles and institutions. I hope that this initiative will have a strong impact on classrooms and school campuses across our state as we look to build a bolder, brighter, and better education system in Florida.”

Florida State Representative Ben Diamond (D), joined by State Rep Vance Aloupis (R), (with State Senator Jeff Brandes (R, sponsoring the Senate version), have sponsored HB 581, a bill that would allow high schools to include a nonpartisan civic literacy project in their existing government curriculum. Students would formally identify an issue or problem in their community, research it from multiple perspectives, and develop strategies to address it. The bill enables students to apply in the real world what has been taught in the classroom.

Students who successfully complete a civics project would be eligible to receive community service hours that apply toward Bright Futures Scholarship requirements. Schools that integrate these projects into their curriculum and demonstrate a commitment to high-quality civic instruction would be recognized for their efforts. This measure successfully passed its first Committee hurdles in both Chambers as of the first week in February.

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