At 1:25 on the afternoon of Nov. 8, 2018, Massachusetts State Senator Harriette Chandler sent out a simple tweet, “It’s been signed into law,” announcing that Governor Charlie Baker had just put his signature on one of the country’s most sweeping pieces of legislation on civic education.
An Act to promote and enhance civic engagement
calls for all schools in the Commonwealth Massachusetts to support the teaching of civics, to provide middle school and high school students with the opportunity to participate in civics-based projects, and for the state to provide professional development to support the effective teaching of civics - and it established a trust fund to support these initiatives.
An Act to promote and enhance civic engagement
itself passed from bill to law in under a year, the achievement was actually the culmination of a decades long effort to create legislation - one that involved the work of dozens of nonprofits, legislators, academics, and educators.
CivXNow has just released an in-depth case study,
The Massachusetts Model: What states can learn from the passage of An Act to promote and enhance civic engagement
that details the history of how the law came into being. The case study walks through how dozens of disparate efforts and players coalesced into a coalition that pushed the legislation from bill to law. It describes how that effort was carried out in concert with the Commonwealth’s simultaneous initiative to revamp its history and social studies framework, and it gives an inside look at some of the tricky politics that those behind the law had to navigate.
Told in a narrative form that captures both the machinations of what goes into passing a law on civics and the human side of the effort, the case study is meant to act as a guidebook for other states contemplating similar legislation - complete with helpful takeaways and tips.
It’s available to read online or to download at
Inside this newsletter
- Website Redesign!
- Mark Your Calendar - SXSWedu CivXNow Panels
- Funders' Views on Civic Education - CivXNow Webinar
- Tennessee ‘Seals the Deal’
- The Need for Civic Education Starts Early - The Rendell Center's Take
- New Coalition Member
Something exciting to look forward to in early 2020 is the relaunch of the CivXNow website.
Make sure your organization's description is included on the new website by
completing this brief survey
by February 7th!
Part of the redesign will involve an overhaul of the Coalition page to include more information about all of our fabulous Coalition partners. Please let us know more about your organization and any thoughts you have about CivXNow.
Mark Your Calendar - SXSWedu CivXNow Panels
CivXNow will be leading two panels at SXSWedu in Austin, Texas on March 9th and 11th! Join us to hear about
Civics on the Legislative Slate
Pass the Mic: Students Discuss Equity in Civics
Wednesday, March 11th at 3:30pm CT
Civic education is on the verge of a major revival. Led by a growing movement for legislation that requires civic education and makes it relevant to today’s youth, more than 80 bills pushing for better civics were brought before state legislatures this past year. Federal legislation may soon follow. This panel with CivXNow featuring Louise Dube of
, Shawn Healy of the
McCormick Foundation’s Democracy Program
, Emma Vedehra of
, and Andrew Wilkes of
will look at what’s happened so far, what’s next, and what we can learn from states that have already passed new laws.
Monday, March 9th at 5pm CT
Are students getting what they need from their civic education? This session will pass the mic to the students, allowing them to share their insights and experiences working with adults to bring equitable change to their civic learning environments. If students are our primary stakeholders, why aren’t we asking them what they think? This session,with Amber Coleman-Mortley of iCivics,
student voice advocate Jaden Deal
from Iowa, and two of our Youth Fellows A’Niya Bakston of California and Alexandra Henderson of Louisiana, will focus on the impact of the
Equity in Civics Youth Fellowship
, highlighting student voice as central to the discussion on equity in civic education.
Funders’ Views on Civic Education - CivXNow Webinar
Thank you for joining us on last month’s CivXNow webinar to hear from Raj Vinnakota, President of the Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation, on his
that is the culmination of a year-long research initiative to map out the civic education landscape, identify what’s in practice, and hopefully attract a broader funding base to support work that produces young people who are well-informed, productively engaged, and hopeful about our democracy.
Listen to the webinar here
Tennessee ‘Seals the Deal’ for High Quality Civic Education
On March 4, 2019, Tennessee Governor Bill Lee announced the establishment of the “
Governor’s Civics Seal
” program, during his State of the State address. The Governor’s Civics Seal recognizes schools and districts that prioritize teaching our nation’s history and civic values. Along with the announcement of this program, Governor Lee allocated $500,000 to support public schools and districts in implementing high-quality civic education programs that result in readiness for college, career, and civic life. The Tennessee General Assembly supported the Governor’s action through passage of legislation (HB0944 and SBO800) which officially established and funded the new ‘Governor’s Civics Seal’ recognition program.
With this action, Tennessee joins, Arizona, California, Connecticut, Illinois and Kansas, as states with officially established school recognition programs for schools providing exceptional civic education to their students.
Each school that qualifies for the ‘Governor’s Seal’ will have that designation noted on their state school ‘report card.’ Each school district in which at least 80% of their schools earn the Seal will earn designation as a ‘Tennessee Excellence in Civics Education District.’
The criteria for a school to earn a Tennessee Governor’s Civics Seal are:
- Incorporate civic learning across a broad range of grades and academic subjects that builds on the Tennessee academic standards, such as the civics lesson plans and the blue book lesson plans provided by the Tennessee secretary of state
- Provide instruction regarding our nation's democratic principles and practices, the significant events and individuals responsible for the creation of our foundational documents, and the formation of the governments of the United States and the state of Tennessee using the federal and state foundational documents
- Provide professional development opportunities or student resources that support civics education, such as civics education workshops offered by the Tennessee secretary of state
- Provide opportunities for students to engage in real-world learning activities, including the Tennessee secretary of state's student mock election and civics essay contest
- Have fully implemented a high-quality, project-based assessment in accordance with state law
- Be recognized as a civics all-star school in accordance with state law.
In addition to the recognition as a ‘Governor’s Civics Seal’ school or ‘Excellence in Civics Education’ school district, all Tennessee schools and districts can apply for ‘Mini-Grants’ to support their civic education work.
The purpose of the Governor’s Civics Seal Mini-Grants is to fund school and district-level initiatives that provide programs, resources, and professional learning opportunities that emphasize life-long civic learning and prepare schools and districts to earn the Governor’s Civics Seal in the 2020-21 school year. Using a competitive application process, applications will be reviewed and scored by a panel using a rubric to evaluate qualifications and identify needs, impact strategies, and capacity.
Grants will be awarded in the following amounts:
- School-level: $5,000 to $10,000 will be awarded to 20 rural and urban schools across Tennessee.
- District-level: $15,000 will be awarded to 10 rural and urban school districts across Tennessee.
Establishment of the ‘Governor’s Civics Seal’ follows two other recent moves to improve civic education in Tennessee.
In 2012, the Tennessee Legislature
passed a requirement
that all schools and all districts implement a project-based civics assessment at least once in grades 4-8 and once in grades 9-12. The project-based civics assessments are developed by the district to ensure students demonstrate an understanding of civics and achieve the learning objectives contained within the social studies standards. All districts must complete the project-based assessment and report the results to the State annually. Implementation of the performance-based assessment is a qualification for the new ‘Governor’s Civics Seal’ recognition.
Earlier this year, the Tennessee Legislature passed a requirement that all students must take and pass (70 percent or higher) the US Citizenship and Immigration Service’s ‘New Citizens’ test during the student’s high school career (i.e., grades 9-12). Schools in which all seniors earning a regular diploma score 85 percent or higher on the U.S. civics test will be recognized by the Tennessee Department of Education as a
U.S. Civics All-Star School
. Designation as a US Civics All Star School is also required for qualification for the new ‘Governor’s Civics Seal’ recognition.
Long-time Tennessee civic educator and Executive Director of the
Tennessee Center for Civic Learning and Engagement
, Janis Kyser, calls the new ‘Governor’s Civics Seal’ program, “A welcome way to encourage and motivate every Tennessee school and school district to step up their civic education game;” Ms. Kyser added, “The new ‘mini-grant’ program will provide desperately needed funding for schools to do essential professional development for civics teachers.”
The Need for Civic Education Starts Early - The Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement's Take
Interview with Founder Judge Marjorie Rendell and Executive Director Beth Specker
The mission of
The Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement
- housed at the
Annenberg Public Policy Center
at the University of Pennsylvania - is to promote civic education and engagement. To do this, The Rendell Center offers opportunities for educators, students, and the broader community to develop the knowledge, practices, and dispositions of engaged citizenship. Judge Marjorie O. Rendell is a Senior United States Circuit Judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit. She was First Lady of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania from 2003-2011. Judge Rendell and former Pennsylvania Governor Ed Rendell founded the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement in 2014. Beth Specker served as Chief of Staff to the First Lady of Pennsylvania 2003-2011 and has served as the Executive Director of the Rendell Center since its inception.
You have served our nation with distinction as a Judge on the Third Circuit US Court of Appeals and the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania as First Lady from 2003-2011. Certainly, you could have picked any worthy cause to devote your time and ‘bully pulpit’ to, why did you select civic education as a cause?
In the Judiciary, I see the consequences of a lack of civic education every day. The lack of understanding of and at times lack of respect for the rule of law and independence of the judiciary makes me doubly concerned about the state of civic education. Civic education is important not only for the substantive content-based knowledge about our country and democracy, but also for the development of the skills necessary for adult citizenship-critical thinking, problem solving and informed participation. Such skills transfer to all subjects but more importantly they transfer to life, to be productive/active citizens and workers.
Let me give you some background about my personal journey with the civic education movement and why Ed Rendell and I started the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement. Our passion for civics education goes back several years. When Ed became governor of Pennsylvania, I decided to focus my efforts as First Lady on promoting civics education. I needed an initiative but as a working federal judge I could not do the usual initiatives that involve fundraising. The thought came to me as a result of my experience presiding over a naturalization ceremony. Looking out over the crowd of joyful new citizens, I realized that they knew how special our citizenship is. They realized that our democratic way of life, our respect for the rule of law, our fundamental belief in equal opportunity, mutual respect, individual liberty and freedom for all – these things make us different. These things cause people from other countries to leave their homelands, sometimes risking everything, to come to America. This does not happen anywhere else. We are indeed blessed. Perhaps the only thing our natural born citizens lack is an appreciation of how very special our country is, and an understanding of the responsibility we have to insure its continued vitality by being knowledgeable about it and participating in it to the fullest.
This need for civics education is reinforced in the civic surveys of the lack of civic knowledge. In 2019, the Annenberg Public Policy Center
found that only 2 in 5 American’s (39%) can correctly name the three branches of government and that is the highest score it has been in 5 years.
So much of the programming of the Rendell Center is directed at the elementary grades. Why do you focus so much at the elementary level?
Elementary School is the perfect age. The students are like sponges at that age and they are looking to understand laws and rules, the difference between right and wrong. Our programs
provide curriculum on civics and targeted activities that help students not only learn the basics, but also help them acquire the skills necessary for citizenship. We believe that if we teach our children the importance of our democracy when they are young, we will not have to convince them later of the importance of participating in their government, voting and jury service. Our hallmark activities are our
We The Civics Kids Curriculum
Literature-Based Mock Trial
, and an essay contest called the
. I would encourage you to visit our website to find out more about our programs. They are being well received in our schools in the Delaware Valley and Pittsburgh as well. We also conduct a
Summer Teacher Institute
each year at the
National Constitution Center
Much of the programming of the Rendell Center focuses on using civic learning to promote literacy. Why is this and what value do you find in using civics topics to promote literacy?
Since its inception, The Rendell Center has embraced and promoted the notion that reading is our first freedom. As classes of K to 8 students learn through our
We The Civics Kids Curriculum
Literature-Based Mock Trial Experience
, knowing how to read – that is, to decode and to comprehend – gives each student the ability to be free to have his/her own opinion, and to share that opinion in a responsible and respectful way. This approach supports even our youngest citizens to develop the art and skill of active citizenship. Furthermore, educational research confirms that students comprehend what they are reading better once they are guided to understand the conflict in their classroom and/or classic literature. We focus on a conflict in the literature as we develop, in partnership with the classroom teacher, the mock trial - whether it’s a 1st grade class listening to a read aloud of
Goldilocks and the Three Bears
or an 8th grade class reading
To Kill a Mockingbird
. The Rendell Center’s programming uses the literature to not only build basic civic knowledge, promote engagement, and provide practice in democratic deliberation, it also strengthens skills in reading, writing, listening, speaking, problem solving and thinking. Our pilot school principal reports an increase in reading scores on state and standardized tests in part as a result of our on-going work in her school. It also makes the study of civics part of the core of the academic program if it is tied to literacy.
You have served as Executive Director of the Rendell Center since its inception. What interested you about this work?
I have spent most of my adult life in the field of civic education. Growing up, history and social studies were always my favorite subjects and my passion. Now seeing a young student’s eyes light up as they walk into the courtroom to do their mock trial or to see a 5th grader excited about debating an issue illustrates that we must pass on this knowledge and passion. We need to get the next generation excited about their role as a citizen.
The Rendell Center has teamed up with the National Constitution Center and a group of former members of Congress to help improve civic education in Pennsylvania. Please describe that effort?
We have joined together to form a statewide, bipartisan coalition of former and current public officials and organizations interested in the promotion and expansion of civics education in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. The Coalition’s name is PA Civics. The coalition’s lead non-governmental organizations are:
Former and current public officials participating in the group include Former Members Chris Carney, Jim Coyne, Phil English, Jim Gerlach, Melissa Hart, Joe Hoeffel, and Tim Holden. Current public officials include US District Court Judge John E. Jones, III and York County Common Pleas Judge Todd Platts. Our mission is to help lead statewide efforts to promote civics education in our schools and communities.
The coalition’s initial work encompasses a support role for the PA Department of Education (PDE) as it begins to implement a new state law,
’s mandate to test the civic knowledge of PA students in grades 8-12 beginning in the 2020-21 school year. PA Civics is focused on assisting PDE in assembling curriculum resources for civics teachers, establishing an ongoing teacher professional development program, and creating a recognition program for exemplary civics achievements by schools and educators. The group collectively agrees that the need for a renewed commitment to educate the next generation of Pennsylvanians on their civic rights and responsibilities has never been more urgent.
For Constitution Day the Coalition kicked off its work with Constitution Day activities at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia and at the Senator John Heinz History Center in Pittsburgh.
What do you see as the most pressing need in civic education?
Just a return to civic education. To understanding how our government and constitution work. Ensuring that the next generation has the knowledge, skills and dispositions of effective citizens. Students also need to understand how to communicate and work together. They need the ability to have an effective dialogue.
Share insights from The Rendell Center on social media
"Civic education is important not only for the substantive content-based knowledge...but also for the development of the skills necessary for adult citizenship...they transfer to life, to be productive/active citizens and workers."
"our democratic way of life, our respect for the rule of law, our fundamental belief in equal opportunity, mutual respect, individual liberty and freedom for all – these things make [America] different...This does not happen anywhere else."
"In 2019 the @APPCPenn poll found that only 2 in 5 American’s (39%) can correctly name the three branches of government and that is the highest score it has been in 5 years."
"We believe that if we teach our children the importance of our democracy when they are young, we will not have to convince them later of the importance of participating in their government, voting and jury service."
New Coalition Member
Working in concert with one another, we believe that we can ensure every school fulfills its vital civic mission that all students have access to quality civic education and are prepared with the knowledge and skills necessary for authentic, informed, and effective civic engagement. The
now stands strong at 117 member organizations! We remain deeply appreciative of all of your efforts and what we have already accomplished together.
The latest addition to the Coalition includes:
These organizations will be added to the full list of members on the
. Please join us in welcoming them to the Coalition! Several other organizations are also in the process of joining. We urge you to recruit new members that share our goals. We are especially interested in recruiting more national organizations with large, scaled networks, state civic learning coalitions, youth voice organizations, organizations that represent rural or urban communities, and organizations that are active in K-12 after-school activities.
Your CivXNow Team
facilitates the publication of this newsletter.
In addition, we are supported by (and very grateful to) several members of the Coalition who - very generously - contribute their energy, time and guidance including:
Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics
Ronald Reagan Foundation
JFK Library Foundation
National Conference on Citizenship
, and many many others who support individual projects.
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