ERIC Identifier: ED479235
Publication Date: 2003-07-00
Author: Patrick, John J.
Source: ERIC Clearinghouse for
Social Studies/Social Science Education Bloomington IN.
State Standards for Civic Education. ERIC Digest.
A significant new report, Educating Democracy: State Standards to Ensure A
Civic Core, has been issued by the Albert Shanker Institute of the American
Federation of Teachers. This document comparatively analyzes and evaluates the
standards for the teaching and learning of civics which state-level departments
of education in the United States have developed. This Digest addresses (1) the
purposes and rationale for this inquiry about state standards for civic
education, (2) the criteria that guided the inquiry, (3) the findings of the
inquiry, and (4) suggestions for improving civic education.
PURPOSES AND RATIONALE.
Forty-eight states and the District
of Columbia have developed standards for civic education (Iowa and Rhode Island
do not have statewide standards). These standards represent priorities in
teaching and learning. They indicate what each state department of education
wants students to know and be able to do in civics. Are these state standards
likely to enhance the civic education of students? The purpose of the
state-by-state analysis of standards in civic education was to answer this
The main reason for undertaking this comparative study of state standards is
the fundamental importance of civic education in a constitutional democratic
republic, such as the United States of America. From the founding of the
republic until today, a primary purpose of education in schools has been to
teach knowledge, skills, and dispositions needed by citizens to maintain and
improve government of, by, and for the people. Do the state standards seem
likely to contribute positively to education for competent citizenship in a
democracy? If not, how can they be improved?
CRITERIA FOR EVALUATING STANDARDS.
This inquiry about the
quality of state standards was conducted systematically in terms of five
The first criterion refers to a common core of learning anchored in the
content of U.S. history, world history, civics/government, and economics, which
is necessary for the achievement of competent citizenship in a constitutional
democracy. The key question is, "Are the essentials of a civic core specified
The second criterion is about the practical implementation of the core
content. The key question is, "Are the required topics teachable in flexible and
imaginative ways across the secondary grades, including a selected number in
depth, within the limits of time that teachers actually have?"
The third criterion pertains to the coherence and connectedness of the core
content within and across grades or levels of schooling. The key question is,
"Do the standards mandate or suggest an orderly sequence of courses that
articulate the essential content across the grades, avoiding needless repetition
but also making time for review of vital learning from earlier grades?"
The fourth criterion concerns the inclusiveness of the civic education
specified in the standards, which requires all students to achieve them. The key
question is, "Are the courses that carry the essential content of
civic/political education actually required of all students regardless of school
The fifth criterion is about links between different subjects in the core
curriculum, such as history, civics/government, geography, and economics. This
criterion points to the pitfall of teaching subjects or strands of content in
isolation. And it emphasizes the importance of historical context in civic
education. The key question is, "Are the vital ideas, insights, and topics of
civics, economics, and geography presented, whenever appropriate, in the context
of the historical narrative of people in real times and places?"
The report lauds the state-level education
departments for their attempts to develop content standards that students should
achieve in history, civics/government, and other subjects related to education
for citizenship in a democracy. The report is very critical, however, of the
standards developed by most of the states. In general, the report commends less
than one-third of the states for the overall quality of their standards.
In regard to the important first criterion, only 13 states have standards
that "carry all or nearly all critical topics, mostly in clear English and
presented as essential to be touched upon, not merely as examples or
suggestions." (Gagnon 2003, 23). States with commendable standards are Alabama,
Arizona, California, Indiana, Kansas, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New
Mexico, New York, Oklahoma, Texas, and Virginia. Other states' standards are
more or less "content-light" in their treatment of history, civics/government,
and other core subjects.
Not even one state, however, satisfies the second criterion, which pertains
to the teachability of the standards within the time available to teachers. Not
even the best state standards, deemed so based on the first criterion, meet this
second criterion. The report equally criticizes two types of standards as
deficient: standards overstuffed with details and those that are sweepingly
vague and vacuous. Neither type of standard is "teachable in any but hurried,
superficial ways in the time available" (Gagnon 2003, 25).
Only 14 states fully meet the third criterion, which is about specifications
of a systematic scope and sequence. And the states generally have performed
unevenly in regard to the fourth criterion, about common requirements. Finally,
the important fifth criterion, about coherence and connections across topics and
subjects, is met fully by only eight states (Alabama, California, Indiana,
Massachusetts, Mississippi, Nebraska, New York, and Texas).
According to the report, the state standards based on the National Council
for the Social Studies (NCSS) model "are the weakest on specifics and tend not
to offer a common core of learning." Contrary to the social studies announced
aim -- competent citizenship -- they have very little political history and are
weak . . . on the political, economic, social, and cultural ideas of all world
civilizations, including Western" (Gagnon 2003, 23).
The report also criticizes the NCSS standards for social studies (Schneider
1994) for their "sweeping topics" and "vague, imprecise understandings" that are
"contrary to preparing citizens of sound judgment" (Gagnon 2003, 24).
Based on comparative analysis and
appraisal of the state standards, the report of the Albert Shanker Institute
makes four key recommendations for improving civic education for democracy in
the United States:
1. All state standards should be revised to comply with the five criteria
that guided the comparative analysis and evaluations. If so, there would be
recognition in all the states of the teachable content, organized coherently and
connectedly, that constitutes a common core of civic learning to prepare
students for competent citizenship in a democracy.
2. The state education departments should involve master teachers and
scholars in the ongoing revision and improvement of the state standards.
3. The states should require renewal and reform of teacher preparation
programs to provide prospective teachers with "deep knowledge of content and
effective teaching methods" (Gagnon 2003, 30).
4. States should encourage provision of content-rich programs of professional
development for employed teachers.
WEB SITES AND RESOURCES FOR CIVIC EDUCATION.
You can find
information about the Albert Shanker Institute of the American Federation of
Teachers and about education for democracy in the United States and abroad at
this World Wide Web site: <http://www.ashankerinst.org>.
Information about content state standards for core subjects such as history,
civics, geography, mathematics, and so forth can be found at the World Wide Web
site of the American Federation of Teachers:
Copies of the report on state standards in civic education, Educating
Democracy: State Standards to Ensure a Civic Core, can be obtained from: Albert
Shanker Institute; 555 New Jersey Avenue, NW; Washington, D.C. 20001. The price
of a single copy is $15 ($10 each for orders of five or more).
REFERENCES AND ERIC RESOURCES.
The following list of
resources includes references used to prepare this Digest. The items followed by
an ED number are available in microfiche, paper, or electronic full text from
the ERIC Document Reproduction Service (EDRS). For information about prices,
contact EDRS, 7420 Fullerton Road, Suite 110, Springfield, Virginia 22153-2852;
World Wide Web <edrs.com>; telephone numbers are (703) 440-1400 and (800)
443-3742. Entries followed by an EJ number, annotated monthly in CURRENT INDEX
TO JOURNALS IN EDUCATION (CIJE), are not available through EDRS. However, they
can be located in the journal section of most larger libraries by using the
bibliographic information provided, requested through Interlibrary Loan, or
ordered from commercial reprint services.
Bahmueller, Charles F., Ed. CIVITAS: A FRAMEWORK FOR CIVIC EDUCATION.
Calabasas, CA: Center for Civic Education, 1991. ED 340 654.
Brooks, Diane L. "Civics Standards in the California Schools: A Rich
Resource, A View from the State Department of Education." SOCIAL STUDIES REVIEW
35 (Fall 1995): 46-57. EJ 522 207.
Center for Civic Education. NATIONAL STANDARDS FOR CIVICS AND GOVERNMENT.
Calabasas, CA: Center for Civic Education, 1994. ED 375 074.
Delli Carpini, Michael X., and Scott Keeter. WHAT AMERICANS KNOW ABOUT
POLITICS AND WHY IT MATTERS. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1996.
Gagnon, Paul. EDUCATING DEMOCRACY: STATE STANDARDS TO ENSURE A CIVIC CORE.
Washington, DC: Albert Shanker Institute, 2003.
Lutkus, Anthony, and Others. NAEP 1998 CIVICS REPORT CARD FOR THE NATION.
Washington, DC: National Center for Education Statistics, 1999. ED 435 583.
National Center for History in the Schools. NATIONAL STANDARDS FOR HISTORY.
Los Angeles, CA: Center for History in the Schools, 1996. ED 399 213.
Nie, Norman H., Jane Junn, and Kenneth Stehlik-Barry. EDUCATION AND
DEMOCRATIC CITIZENSHIP IN AMERICA. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996.
ED 416 171.
Niemi, Richard G., and Jane Junn. CIVIC EDUCATION: WHAT MAKES STUDENTS LEARN.
New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 1998. ED 431 658.
Patrick, John J. "Concepts at the Core of Education for Democratic
Citizenship." In Charles F. Bahmueller and John J. Patrick, Eds. PRINCIPLES AND
PRACTICES OF EDUCATION FOR DEMOCRATIC CITIZENSHIP: INTERNATIONAL PERSPECTIVES
AND PROJECTS. Bloomington, IN: ERIC Clearinghouse for Social Studies/Social
Science Education, 1999. ED 434 866.
Schneider, Donald, and Others. EXPECTATIONS OF EXCELLENCE: CURRICULUM
STANDARDS FOR SOCIAL STUDIES. Washington, DC: National Council for the Social
Studies, 1994. ED 378 131.
Stotsky, Sandra. "The National Standards for Civics: A Backbone for School
Curricula?" JOURNAL OF EDUCATION 176 (1994): 29-38. EJ 525 460.