Steinberg bill would promote civics, citizenship education

Steinberg bill would promote civics, citizenship education

(Calif.) Civics education, often overlooked in classrooms crowded with more mainstream instruction, would receive a big boost under legislation moving forward in the Legislature.

SB 897 from Senate Leader Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, requires adult education courses aimed at new immigrants and dropouts returning to get a high school diploma to include basic information on American government and civics and instruction that covers all three levels of government and well as voting privileges.

“This bill would bolster the state’s commitment to providing civic education in our schools,” Dave Gordon, superintendent of the Sacramento County Office of Education, told a state Senate committee Wednesday.

“There really is a crisis in the lack of civic knowledge in the state,” said Gordon, also co-chair of a state task force on civic education. He noted that less than half of eligible young adults voted in 2012 and said the state’s history and social science curriculum standards are more than 15 years old.

The issue is one of concern nationally. A survey last year led by researchers from Tufts University found that just eight states had standardized testing for high school students specifically on civics, and just two states – Ohio and Virginia – had requirements that students pass that section to graduate.

Steinberg’s office found even more worrisome facts:

  • U.S. ranked 139th in voter participation of 172 world democracies in 2007.
  • 24 percent of graduating high school seniors scored at the proficient or advanced level in civics in 2010.
  • Fewer than 70 percent of high school seniors reported learning about important parts of civic curriculum in 2010, including the U.S. Constitution, Congress and the court system.

Senate staff noted that currently, high school graduates must have completed three courses in social studies, which, among other things, must include a one-semester course in American government and civics.

SB 897 would also clarify that the state’s new Career Pathways Trust – a $250 million investment in school-to-work education – is also open to public sector entities for participation.

A highlight in last summer’s budget agreement, the Legislature’s financial commitment to the trust is the largest such investment of any state in the nation and is two-and-a-half times the recent federal appropriation of $100 million for the entire nation to fund career and technical education.

Earlier this month, the California Department of Education reported an overwhelming number of community colleges, charter schools, K-12 districts and county offices intended to compete for a share of the funding.

As proposed the grants are intended to help foster partnerships between schools, community colleges and businesses to create learning programs that merge real-world experiences with strong academics.

Steinberg, who also authored the legislation last year creating the Pathways Trust, added the clarifying language offered by SB 897 to ensure that public agencies – NASA, for instance – would be eligible to partner with schools on work-based learning projects, according to the senator’s office.

The bill moved out of the Senate Education Committee late Wednesday.

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