State Boards Revisit Civics Education and Social Studies Standards

By Joseph Hedger

Underscoring renewed national interest in how young people become informed, engaged citizens, at least 31 states proposed 115 bills or resolutions related to civics education in the 2018 legislative session alone. State boards of education are more broadly revisiting content taught in social studies classes. In the first half of 2019, nine state boards worked to adopt or revise new social studies standards, according to data in NASBE’s State Board Insight.

In 2018, the Arizona legislature approved House Bill 2561, which enabled creation of the Arizona Seal of Civic Literacy, wherein students can earn a seal upon graduation for attaining a high level of proficiency in civics through specified activities and grade-level qualifications. During the Arizona State Board of Education’s April 2019 meeting, board members approved a list of civic learning programs such as summer institutes/intensives, two-year participation in the JROTC, school-sponsored extracurricular activities, and community service opportunities.

In Oregon and Michigan, state boards sought to broaden the perspectives their social studies learning draws upon. The Michigan State Board of Education replaced standards approved just last year, adopting new grade 6–12 standards that seek a more inclusive perspective, including more references to women and minority organizations, as well as descriptions of roles Muslims and African Americans have played in history. The state board approved the standards in June 2019 following nine “listen and learn” sessions that department of education staff hosted around the state in April and May to collect public comment.

Following adoption of updated social sciences standards in May 2018, the Oregon State Board of Education voted this June to approve a revised Official Social Sciences Analysis Scoring Guide, which now aligns with the new standards. Oregon’s scoring guides are instruments educators may use to score how well students apply techniques like source analysis and reasoning. This update supports student analysis “beyond the dominant historical narrative and the process of analyzing social sciences from multiple perspectives.”

The North Carolina legislature spotted a chance to ensure that no secondary school student misses instruction on the Holocaust. The Gizella Abramson Holocaust Education Act mandates that the North Carolina State Board of Education incorporate curricula about the Holocaust and other genocides into English and social studies standards. The House Education Committee approved this bill in April with bipartisan support.

The Maryland State Board of Education has been working on revisions to the state’s environmental literacy standards since May. Part of the goal of these standards is to provide students an ability to advance their knowledge, confidence, skills, and motivation to act on environmental issues and protect the unique natural resources within Maryland, including the Chesapeake Bay and its watershed. The revisions include a focus on humanity’s impact on the earth’s resources and environmental changes.

There are reasons to believe that these state efforts may pay off as intended. In a recent report from the Center for American Progress, Sarah Shapiro and Catherine Brown find that states with the highest rates of youth civic engagement tend to be those that prioritize civics courses and AP U.S. government in their curricula.