State Policy

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State Policy

The CivXNow Coalition unites the civic learning community in a nationwide movement to improve and strengthen state-level policies and practices in civic education. To strengthen the quality of K–12 civic education, the CivXNow Coalition urges state and local education policymakers to focus on the policy goals in our State Policy Menu.

Click here to download the CivXNow State Policy Menu

  • Universal Access to High-quality Civic Learning Opportunities: States should work to strengthen their course requirements in civic education. Based on existing research and recognized best practices.
  • State Standards: As states undertake periodic revisions of their standards for learning in the social studies, these standards should be updated in alignment with the Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy. States should also ensure a uniform approach to media literacy instruction across core curricular areas.
  • Pre-service Teaching Requirements: States should strengthen pre-service requirements for civics teachers by requiring undergraduate courses in U.S. Government and U.S. History, as well as undergraduate course work in the unique pedagogy of history and civics. States should also implement a fellowship program to encourage humanities and social science graduates of color to join the social studies teaching profession.
  • Educator Professional Development: States should provide adequate resources for ongoing professional development (PD) for civics teachers, on par with that provided to math, literacy, and science teachers. PD opportunities should strengthen teachers’ civic and historical content knowledge, as well as instructional strategies, including media literacy, to facilitate engaged and effective learning.
  • Assessment and Accountability: States should ensure that assessments are embedded in classroom instruction and used as sources of information for students and teachers, with the results informing and/or shifting classroom practices. States should provide student credentialing benchmarks at appropriate grade-level junctures, including civics graduation seals or certificates, with district-level implementation. States should require a civic learning plan from every Local Education Agency (LEA) and aggregate LEA civic learning plans to allow comparisons and assessments of progress, permitting the reporting of results disaggregated by demographic subgroups. States should integrate civic learning plan data within school performance indicators and participate in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) in Civics and U.S. History.
  • Deepen and Honor Schoolwide and Community Commitments to Civic Learning: Each state should ensure that youth voice and participation are included in education and community decision-making by ensuring meaningful student representation on local boards, commissions, and other governmental bodies. Student representatives should be elected by, and accountable to, their peers. States should also verify that school and district practices related to school discipline, safety, and culture reflect the principles of constitutional democracy, with a commitment to ensuring that every student has an opportunity to be heard when they are in conflict or facing discipline. States should establish a recognition program to encourage excellence in civic learning for all, capacity building, practices of constitutional democracy, and student agency.
  • Equity in Civics: Access to high-quality civic learning opportunities must be universal and culturally responsive. The students who make up the United States’ increasingly racially and ethnically diverse student body must both see themselves in civics curriculum and instruction and experience “windows” to cultures beyond their own. States should actively recruit and work to retain teachers of color into the ranks of social studies educators, and disaggregate civics assessment and accountability data to ensure equitable access and address disparate outcomes. Equity should be among the major criteria for school recognition programs, and policy implementation must take equity into account through both design and investment.
  • Implementation: States should establish or empower an in-state entity to help schools and districts implement new policies equitably and create designated funds to attract public and private investment in civic education policy implementation.

America’s self-governing constitutional democracy requires better civic education. High-quality, school-based K–12 civic learning for all is necessary to produce an electorate better equipped to meet the significant internal threats from polarization and misinformation the United States faces today. Civic learning is foundational to our shared civic strength and enshrined in most state constitutions. While 43 states require at least one civics course, too few incorporate proven pedagogical principles. Moreover, some state social studies standards informing history and civics teaching are outdated, too general, devoid of content guidance, and fail to facilitate students’ civic development. And professional development opportunities to enhance pre- and in-service teachers’ content knowledge and pedagogical skills are too few, underfunded, and deprioritized.

State Policy

The CivXNow Coalition recommends that, as states revise and update their state social studies standards, they draw upon the College, Career and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards with its emphasis on deepening conceptual understanding by developing compelling questions for further investigation, pursuing other steps to engage in inquiry and encouraging students to take “informed action” that connects projects or other assignments to contemporary issues, in their standards revision process.

The C3 Framework is not a fully developed set of standards, it requires the addition of content to provide a balance of content and skills. However, it provides a guide to producing fewer, clearer and more rigorous state standards. According to CivXNow Coalition members, National Council for the Social Studies, C3’s objectives are to:

  • Enhance the rigor of the social studies disciplines.
  • Build critical thinking, problem solving, and participatory skills to become engaged citizens.
  • Align academic programs to the Common Core State Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History/Social Studies.

State Policy

Research shows that schools can help to develop competent and responsible civic participants when they:

  • Provide instruction in government, history, law, and democracy. Formal instruction in U.S. government, history, and democracy increases civic knowledge. This is a valuable goal in itself and may also contribute to young people’s tendency to engage in civic and political activities over the long term. However, schools should avoid teaching only rote facts about dry procedures, which is unlikely to benefit students and may actually alienate them from politics.
  • Incorporate discussion of current local, national, and international issues and events into the classroom, particularly those that young people view as important to their lives. When young people have opportunities to discuss current issues in a classroom setting, they tend to have greater interest in politics, improved critical thinking and communications skills, more civic knowledge, and more interest in discussing public affairs out of school. Conversations, however, should be carefully moderated so that students feel welcome to speak from a variety of perspectives. Teachers need support in broaching controversial issues in classrooms since they may risk criticism or sanctions if they do so.
  • Design and implement programs that provide students with the opportunity to apply what they learn through performing community service that is linked to the formal curriculum and classroom instruction. Service programs are now common in K-12 schools. The ones that best develop engaged citizens are linked to the curriculum; consciously pursue civic outcomes, rather than seek only to improve academic performance or to promote higher self-esteem; allow students to engage in meaningful work on serious public issues; give students a role in choosing and designing their projects; provide students with opportunities to reflect on the service work; allow students — especially older ones — to pursue political responses to problems consistent with laws that require public schools to be nonpartisan; and see service-learning as part of a broader philosophy toward education, not just a program that is adopted for a finite period in a particular course.
  • Offer extracurricular activities that provide opportunities for young people to get involved in their schools or communities. Long term studies of Americans show that those who participate in extracurricular activities in high school remain more civically engaged than their contemporaries even decades later. Thus, everyone should have opportunities to join high school groups, and such participation should be valued.
  • Encourage student participation in school governance. A long tradition of research suggests that giving students more opportunities to participate in the management of their own classrooms and schools builds their civic skills and attitudes. Thus, giving students a voice in school governance is a promising way to encourage all young people to engage civically.
  • Encourage students’ participation in simulations of democratic processes and procedures. Recent evidence indicates that simulations of voting, trials, legislative deliberation, and diplomacy in schools can lead to heightened political knowledge and interest.

Read the full guide to the Six Proven Practices in The Civic Mission of Schools and Guardian of Democracy.

State Policy

School recognition programs are an effective means to encourage educational excellence, continuous improvement and peer replication. The Illinois Civic Mission Coalition established such a program, known as the Illinois Democracy Schools, that has gained national recognition for supporting schools in establishing high quality civic education programs and helping schools already recognized to build on their success.

The Democracy Schools program also has played a significant role in initiating policy changes at the state level. Arizona, California, Connecticut, and Kansas have adopted similar school recognition programs in civics.

To learn more about California’s Democracy School Civic Learning Initiative, see their Blueprint for Institutionalizing Civic Learning to Prepare All Students for Civic Life in the 21st Century.

State Policy

In 31 states, students only have to learn about our democracy for one semester. That’s about three and a half months of instruction to learn about something as important as our democracy. This is inadequate to meet the essential and historic civic mission of our nation’s schools.

To advocate for quality civic education in your community, talk to your state and district leaders using the CivXNow Policy Menu Brief for Advocates, Educators, and Policymakers, and see more information about your state’s social studies standards below:

To learn more about civic education is your state or territory, read our white paper The Republic is Still at Risk and the 2018 Brown Center Report on American Education: An inventory of state civics requirements.

State Policy

The CivXNow Coalition has united the civic learning community in a bipartisan, nationwide movement to improve and strengthen state level policies and practice in civic education. The Coalition has established a Policy Taskforce that will work with state level advocates in each state to bring about needed improvements in policy and practice.

To advocate for quality civic education in your community, talk to your state and district leaders using the CivXNow Policy Menu Brief for Advocates, Educators, and Policymakers, and see sample state legislation below that can be used as a template for new bills:

ArizonaAmerican Civics Act Enacted 2018

  • Established civic education competency as a graduation requirement and a high school pilot program for civic education.

CaliforniaState Seal of Civic Engagement Enacted 2019

  • Established student recognition program for excellence in civic education.

FloridaJustice Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act Enacted 2010

  • Established a one semester middle school civic class with content requirements and assessment.

Illinois An Act Concerning Education Enacted 2015

  • Established a high school course requirement for civics.

Illinois An Act Concerning Education Enacted 2019

  • Established a middle school course requirement for civics.

MarylandAn Act Concerning Task Force to Evaluate Existing School Civic Literacy Programs Enacted 2018

  • Established a state Task Force to evaluate current civic learning, determine a strategy to enhance it, and make recommendations on implementation.

MassachusettsAn Act to promote and enhance civic engagement Enacted 2018

  • Established a Civics Trust Fund, high school voter challenge, and project-based learning opportunities.

MassachusettsSpecial Commission on Civic Education Enacted 2008

MinnesotaA bill for an act relating to education; ensuring students are adequately prepared to be capable citizens able to fully participate in the political process

  • Would establish a high school civics graduation requirement in civics with experiential civic learning as a component.

New JerseyAn Act concerning civics education in public middle schools and supplementing chapter 35 of Title 18A of the New Jersey Statutes

  • Would establish a middle school civics course and provide funding for educator professional development.

Rhode IslandCivic Education Commission Enacted 2007, Renewed 2017

  • Established the Rhode Island Permanent Commission on Civic Education.

TennesseePublic school courses and content to educate children in the United States and Tennessee governments Enacted 2012

  • Established project-based civic assessments in middle and high school.

VirginiaCommission on Civic Education Enacted 2006

  • Established the Virginia Commission on Civic Education.

WashingtonEnhanced civic education demonstration sites Enacted 2017

  • Established a pilot project to evaluate civic learning in two school districts.

WashingtonExpanding civics education in public schools Enacted 2017

  • Established a one semester, stand-alone high school civics course and professional development opportunities for educators.

WashingtonEssential academic learning requirements and assessments Enacted 2011

  • Established middle school and high school classroom-based assessments for civic education.

State legislatures, governors, school boards and school administrators have all worked together to fashion solutions – often unique – to local conditions and challenges. That principle will assuredly govern the ways in which states and communities come together to restore the civic mission of their own schools. With that understanding, the CivXNow Coalition proposes that, drawing on research and best-practices, states work to improve civic learning across a set of critical areas that comprise a menu of policy options for use in each state.

For additional information, please see:

State Policy

California:

The ‘Golden State’ of California is taking advantage of golden opportunities to strengthen and improve civic learning for all California students.

Two complementary efforts are underway to bring civic education to the forefront in the state.

California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning and the Power of Democracy:

In 2012, California Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, in partnership with then-State Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson, established the California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning. Members of the Task Force included leaders from law, education, parents, business, labor, and civic groups. The Task Force drafted Revitalizing K-12 Civic Learning in California: A Blueprint for Action. The Task Force held seven public hearings across the state on the draft Blueprint, resulting in over 600 public comments on the document. The Task Force unanimously adopted the final Blueprint and released it to the public and policymakers in the summer of 2014.

The key findings from the ‘Blueprint’ included:

  • Only some California K-12 students have access to effective civic education.
  • The California education system has a central role in preparing all K-12 students for participation in our democracy, starting in elementary school and continuing through high school.
  • The following areas need updating to achieve equity and access to quality civic education in California: Teacher Professional Development; State Content Standards; Curriculum Frameworks; Curriculum Resources; Assessment & Accountability; Rewards and Incentives.

To encourage public recognition and support for revitalizing civic learning, the Task Force held two state summits on civic learning, one featuring Justice Sandra Day O’Connor and the other featuring Justice Anthony Kennedy. After the release of the Blueprint, the Power of Democracy Steering Committee, a group also established by Chief Justice Cantil-Sakauye, that includes representatives from all three levels of the California courts as well as state and local education organizations, took up the work of implementing the recommendations.

The Civic Learning Award, co-sponsored by Chief Justice and California State Superintendent of Public Instruction celebrates public schools’ efforts to engage students in civic learning. The award program also identifies models that can be replicated in other schools.

This year, the Award of Excellence was presented to:

  • Flora Vista Elementary School (San Diego County)
  • Lexington Junior High School (Orange County)
  • Cypress High School (Orange County)

Six California schools received the Award of Distinction and 83 schools were recognized with the Award of Merit.

California policymakers have acted on several of the Blueprint’s recommendations, including:

  • The revision of the History-Social Science Framework for California Public Schools (2016), which emphasizes a pedagogical focus on inquiry, content, literacy, and citizenship.
  • Use of “Local Control Funding and Local Control Accountability Plans” by the California Department of Education which enable school districts to promote better civic learning and greater equity in civic learning opportunities;
  • Legislative adoption of a “State Seal of Civic Engagement” for high school diplomas, for students who meet certain civic learning benchmarks.

Californians for Civic Learning:

Californians for Civic Learning (CCL) was formed to advocate for policy reform at the state and local levels to require all schools to provide high quality civic learning for all students at elementary, middle, and high school levels. This entity is Chaired by Sacramento County Superintendent Dr. David Gordon. Directors include Leslie (Les) Francis Chair of the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools and Deputy Assistant and Deputy White House Chief of Staff to President Jimmy Carter; Marshall Croddy, President of Constitutional Rights Foundation; Elaine Ikeda, Executive Director, California Campus Compact; and Bill Honig, former State Superintendent of Public Instruction. Other officers include Secretary/Treasurer Michelle Herczog, past president of National Council for the Social Studies; Legislative Advocate Fred Jones, and Policy Director Hueling Lee. Governing Board members include include Michael Matsuda, Superintendent of the Anaheim Union High School District, Bob Nelson, Superintendent of Fresno Unified School District, and Harold Boyd, Legislative Analyst/Advocate.

Acting as an “umbrella” coalition for civic learning providers and organizations across California, CCL is currently organizing a Governing Board and Advisory Council to support their mission and vision statements.

Californians for Civic Learning (CCL) has developed an ambitious agenda for advocacy including calling for the state to:

  • Dedicate funding for professional development and development of local performance-based assessment items.
  • Include civic learning in the state accountability system.
  • Require the California Board of Education to expand the state’s focus on preparation for college and career to also include preparation for civic life.
  • Update state history-social science standards.

These efforts in California are a prime example of actions taken through all three branches of government, the Judiciary, the Legislative, and the Executive (via the Department of Education), to modernize, strengthen, and improve civic learning for all K-12 students.

Florida:

The state of Florida has long ranked very low on measures of adult civic engagement. Partly in response to that situation, the state passed the Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Education Act in 2010. The Act mandated a middle school course and high-stakes test in civics (the test determines 30% of students’ course grades and affects teachers’ evaluations and school assessments), and requires introducing civic content in the elementary grades. Importantly, the state has appropriated funds in each subsequent year for a mix of curriculum-development, analysis of the test data, and professional development, most of it conducted by the Florida Joint Center on Citizenship. The below outlines results from the Florida experiment:

Test scores are rising. The proportion of 7th-graders who pass the demanding state exam has risen steadily from 61% when it was first required in 2014 to 70% in 2017. The proportion who score in the lowest category has fallen from 19% to just 13%. At first, scores could be predicted quite accurately on the basis of students’ English/language arts scores and demographics. By 2015-16, however, the students in a substantial proportion of civics classrooms were pulling ahead of their predicted scores.

Professional development works. Many Florida teachers get online professional development and instructional materials support from the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, a unit of the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida, and usually also from iCivics. Those who access those materials see higher pass rates on the 7th grade state exam than those who do not. Teachers who have had accounts with the Lou Frey Institute for four years have pass rates 14 points higher than those who have never registered.

Some schools shine. A Research-Practice Partnership (RPP) comprised of practitioners, researchers, and policymakers called the Partnership for Civic Learning, has identified schools where students’ success on the 7th grade End of Course Exam substantially exceeds the scores that would be predicted based on demographics (“positive outliers”). Site visits, interviews, observations, and review of materials reveal that these schools share the following characteristics:

  • High expectations for all.
  • Positive, respectful relationships among students, teachers, and administrators.
  • Strong school leadership.

The Partnership has also identified specific schools where scores have fallen by unusual amounts, as well as geographical clusters of underperforming schools. The Partnership is able to target resources at those needs. This is an example of using data for continuous improvement, not just as a carrot-and-stick.

The Florida policy directly supports the first of six proven practices. Because civic skills and dispositions are not easily assessed through testing, there is variation in whether Florida students also experience other recommended practices even though they are explicitly included in state-mandated instructional benchmarks. Data from a 2016 survey of Florida civics teachers show that over 90% of teachers report that they discuss current events–three-quarters said that they did so weekly–and 84% say that they incorporate debate or discussion of controversial issues in class. Similarly, the use of simulations is widespread in Florida civics classes. Over 75% report that their students experience civics computer games at least once or twice per month, and over 60% of teachers report having students participate in mock trials once or twice a year. Implementing service learning projects is not as widespread as other practices, with about 30% of teachers reporting that they had their students participate in a project. Teacher reports of classroom practices are consistent with student reports of their classroom experiences.

Florida students who experience recommended practices score better on measures of knowledge and dispositions. In a large sample of Florida 7th graders surveyed after the full implementation of the O’Connor Act, substantial majorities say that they are involved in civic life and plan to be in the future. Two-thirds of these 7th graders volunteer in their communities, 89% say that they discuss what they study in civics at home, and three-quarters want to help make their city or state a better place to live. The more of the six proven practices students report experiencing, the more engaged they are in their communities. Playing civics games, discussing current events, experiencing debates, mock trials, or visits from community members, and participating in community service are each significantly associated with higher levels of civic engagement among Florida’s 7th graders. If every state enacted a policy like Florida’s–and consistently supported that legislation with funds for professional development, materials, assessment, and other interventions– America’s young people would be on course for more active and informed civic engagement throughout their adulthood as well.

Maryland:

Maryland has quietly taken notable steps in designing and implementing comprehensive civic education throughout its school system.

The Code of Maryland Regulations (COMAR) requires that every high school student in the state earn three credits, including one credit in United States history, one credit in world history, and one credit in local, state, and national government and pass the Maryland High School Assessment for American Government in order to graduate. As of the beginning of this school year, Maryland was one of only 10 states that require students to earn a full credit in government as a graduation requirement.

Over time, the pass rate for the assessment has increased from 57.3 percent in 2002 to 69.3 percent in 2017, reaching a high of 77 percent in 2015. The number of students who successfully pass the exam the first time they take it has increased from 67% in 2004, to a high of 80% in 2015. Maryland faces some of the same challenges as other states in assessments across the disciplines: results for certain demographic groups continue to lag behind the pass rates for the general population.

In addition to the required year-long government course, Maryland and the District of Columbia are the only state/district nationally that include community service learning as a requirement for high school graduation, as students are required to do 75 hours of community service according to Leah Renzi, the Coordinator of Social Studies for the Maryland State Department of Education (MSDE). Measuring the impact of these programs in terms of civic engagement and dispositions is difficult. However, the state’s rankings, 7th in national voting rate among 18-24 year olds, and 11th in volunteerism rates among 16-24 year olds, according to the latest data from the Center for American Progress, may serve as evidence of its success.

Maryland has taken a proactive approach to improving civics statewide. Through the combined efforts of the state legislature, Board of Education, and teachers, the state has repeatedly reviewed and augmented its learning standards and assessments.

Beginning in 1988, the Maryland state legislature mandated a citizenship skills test for all high school students, a test that focused heavily on content knowledge. As the state’s understanding of civic literacy evolved over time, the state’s assessments evolved as well. In 2006, the state’s General Assembly called for a review of Maryland’s civic literacy program which led to the establishment of the government requirement.

Maryland is a locally controlled state. Each of the state’s 24 districts work independently to develop their own curriculum and formative assessments with guidance from the MSDE. The required summative assessment is produced by the state.

In 2015, the state revised the statewide standards and assessment for the American Government course to reflect the focus on civics and student inquiry in the College, Career, and Civic Life (C3) Framework for Social Studies State Standards.

The new standards set expectations for students to:

  • Engage with compelling questions.
  • Use disciplinary literacy tools to plan inquiries.
  • Be able to evaluate source materials.
  • Establish the origin and credibility of sources.
  • Gather evidence to support claims.
  • Develop and communicate claims using evidence from collected sources.

Assessment items that reflect the new standards will be field tested in January of 2019.

In addition, the state’s legislature recently also mandated a grade 8 assessment in US history which will prepare students for the American Government requirement in high school. The new assessment for this grade is in the early stages of development, but is slated for release in 2020.

Students in Maryland may demonstrate mastery and meet the graduation requirement for American Government in either of two ways. All students must take the High School Assessment upon completion of the course. Students who fail to demonstrate mastery on that assessment after two attempts may complete the Bridge Project for Academic Validation. This alternative pathway for the graduation requirement allows students to demonstrate their knowledge of American Government in a project-based format. These projects are designed for students to demonstrate their grasp of the content and skills through inquiry as outlined in Maryland’s social studies standards. The two pathways to demonstrate mastery support student achievement for the range of learners represented in classrooms across the state.

Maryland’s ongoing attention to statewide policy and the regular review of standards, assessments and related resources has supported the state in remaining current with some of the latest research and practices in teaching and learning in social studies and civics.

Massachusetts:

Massachusetts has made significant strides in new policy initiatives over the last few years. In 2018, Massachusetts enacted a new law that would bring significant new support to civic education in the Bay State. For many years, although legislators filed many bills each year, turning that legislation into law remained elusive.

The new law includes:

  • Support for the revised history and social science learning standards.
  • A new Civics Project Trust Fund to provide a means to combine both public and private funds for civic education.
  • A requirement that students participate in student-led civics projects in grade 8 and high school.
  • A requirement that districts offer a “high school voter challenge” to encourage students of voting age to vote and to engage in outreach to encourage others to vote.

The revised standards were adopted by the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education in June 2018 after a two year process led by David Buchanan, who has since joined iCivics. They include a new grade 8 civics course that will greatly expand civic learning in the state.

Much of the progress made on civic education policy in Massachusetts is due to the formation of a state coalition of organizations with that shared goal. The MA Civic Learning Coalition was co-founded by members of the CivXNow Coalition: iCivics, the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation, and Generation Citizen. The Massachusetts story is a testament to the power of collaboration and the power of the Coalition that we now have as the CivXNow Coalition.

Pennsylvania:

Over the summer of 2018, the Keystone State became one of the latest states to establish a coalition dedicated to strengthening and improving civic learning for all its students. The National Constitution Center joined the Rendell Center for Civics and a cadre of Former Members of Congress, led by former Rep. Jim Gerlach (R-PA), to form the Pennsylvania Coalition for the Civic Mission of Schools.

The Pennsylvania Coalition has held two organizational meetings and is in the process of expanding its membership. The Coalition is working closely with the Commonwealth’s Department of Education to help Pennsylvania school districts meet the requirements of a new law (Act 35, passed in 2018) requiring the districts to administer a locally developed assessment in civics, including “the nature, purpose, principles and structure of United States Constitutional democracy.” The locally developed tests will be administered at least once to students in grades 7-12. Students who achieve a ‘perfect score’ will be awarded a Certificate from the state Department of Education.

The work of the Pennsylvania Coalition is coordinated by Congressman Gerlach, Kerry Sautner, Chief Learning Officer at the National Constitution Center and Beth Specker, Executive Director of the Rendell Center (founded by former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell and US Federal Court of Appeals Judge Marjorie Rendell).

Nine former members of Congress have joined the Pennsylvania Coalition, lending their expertise, stature and contacts to the cause. The engagement of the former members results from a partnership between the US Association of Former Members of Congress, the Lou Frey Institute for Civics (Florida) and the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, all CivXNow Coalition members. Among the goals of this partnership is the recruitment of bipartisan pairs (or teams) of former members of Congress to join existing or emerging state efforts, similar to the Pennsylvania Coalition.

Washington:

On March 21st, 2018, Washington Governor Jay Inslee signed into law HB 1896, a measure to improve civic education in the Evergreen State. This was the culmination of a hard-fought campaign by the Washington Council on Public Legal Education and its allies to pass legislation to strengthen and improve civic education for all Washington students.

The new law requires that, beginning with the 2020-21 school year, every Washington high school must provide a one semester civics course, and that the new course include at least:

  • Federal, state, tribal, and local government organization and procedures.
  • Rights and responsibilities of citizens addressed in the Washington and United States Constitutions.
  • Current issues addressed at each level of government.
  • Electoral issues, including elections, ballot measures, initiatives, and referenda.

In addition, the new law establishes a civics teacher training program through the Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction that will engage master civic teachers and civic education specialists to design and deliver professional development to civics teachers throughout the state.

The law also establishes a demonstration program for enhanced civic education in two school districts in Washington. The demonstration sites will make use of the six proven practices in civic education, as specified in the law. The demonstration sites will develop evaluation standards and a procedure for endorsing civic education curriculum that can be recommended for use in other school districts and out of school programs. In addition, the program will provide an annual report on the demonstration sites to the Governor and the committees of the Legislature with oversight over K-12 education.

To secure passage of this important legislation, the Washington Council on Public Legal Education held two state summits – the first designed to educate legislators and other policymakers on the issues surrounding effective civic education, and the second designed to build momentum for the legislation and to educate the public about the vital importance of civic education. The Council engaged in an effective advocacy effort, securing important allies in their quest to pass the new law.

The Council is co-chaired by Washington Appeals Court Judge Marlin Appelwick and former state Superintendent of Public Instruction Dr. Judith Billings. Dr. Margaret Fisher, long-time national advocate for civic and law-related education and state iCivics Coordinator, masterfully coordinates the Civic Learning Initiative of the Council. This type of engaged coalition is what is needed in each state to pass meaningful legislation to restore the essential civic mission of our schools.