This week the Final Report of the K-12 Task Force on California Civic Learning was released.
The purpose of the California Task Force on K-12 Civic Learning, co-chaired by Justice Judith McConnell and Sacramento County Superintendent of Schools David Gordon, was to ensure that Californians have the skills to participate in work, community, and civic life in the 21st century.
I was struck by the title: "Revitalizing K-12 Civic Learning in California: A Blueprint for Action."
In so many ways, K-12 Adult Schools, in both form and function, are just such a blueprint.
Hit the "read more" link to learn why.
K-12 Adults Schools are rooted in community. They see and serve their students as part of a larger community - parents of school-age children, employees at a workplace, members of families, extended families, and neighborhoods. Many classes are held "off-site" on K-12 campuses, job sites, church basements, and senior centers. Students are encouraged to be active participants in their communities, to broaden their connections and increase their involvement in larger circles, to deepen their understanding of the larger world in which communities intersect, and to become leaders who forge connections between communities and build new and inclusive ones.
In response to the cuts and closures of the last five years, K-12 Adult Schools responded just as you would expect them to, given this orientation. They educated themselves, each other, and the larger community, using the skills they developed as a school community to bring their message to the world. Leaders emerged and coalitions formed. K-12 Adult School Students held rallies and press conferences, gathered signatures on petitions, wrote Legislators and Governor Brown, attended School Board Meetings, visited elected officials, wrote Letters to the Editor, invited the press and local officials to their classrooms, held workshops, attended conferences, and spread the message that Adult Education matters on t-shirts, buttons, bumper stickers, and social media. The K-12 Adult School response to the devastation of flexibility is a blueprint for action that should be shared around the world. That's how good it is.
Here is the Executive Summary of the Report, along with my highlights and comments in italics.
A Blueprint For Action
The success of our nation and state depends on educated, informed and active citizens and residents. However, we are not preparing our diverse residents with the civic knowledge, skills and values they need to succeed in college, career and civic life. A few sobering facts tell the story. The United States recently ranked 139th in voter participation of 172 democracies around the world, and less than half of eligible young people ages 18-24 voted in the 2012 elections. Just 13 percent of high school seniors showed a solid understanding of U.S. History in the same year, and nearly half of Americans who participated in a 2011 Pew study said states’ rights, rather than slavery, was the main cause of the Civil War. In California, less than 50 percent of high school seniors surveyed viewed being actively involved in state and local issues as their responsibility.
Adult Schools serve the immigrant parents of K-12 students, parents who may not be familiar with US civics. EL-Civics - English Learner Civics - helps immigrants learn not only English but the skills needed to be active community members and citizens.
Adult Schools also serve young adults seeking GEDs, high school diplomas, and job skills. This second group has a low history of low-voter turnout. Adult Schools educate young adults and support them in engaging in civic life.
This AEM post provides more data on education level and voter turnout.
The education system has a central role in equitably cultivating the qualities that will enable our youth to mature and participate in our society. Indeed, states across the nation have long held the view that schools have a strong civic mission. And yet, in recent years this mission has been neglected. This neglect is due to a variety of factors, including decades of shifting federal and state education policies that have sought to improve education quality overall but have generally left civic learning by the wayside in the process. In spite of these factors, there are examples of high quality, balanced civic learning in California schools, but they are the exception, not the rule. To change this, all of us can and must do our part.
Adult Schools are leading the way! Adult Schools have never forgotten their mission as described by the California Department of Education:
"The Adult Education programs address the unique and evolving needs of individuals and communities by providing adults with the knowledge and skills necessary to participate effectively as productive citizens, workers, and family members."
We have much to gain by revitalizing civic learning. The chief benefits of civic learning are a vibrant and informed civic life and democracy and a healthy society. High-quality civic learning also helps teach children skills they need for the 21st century workplace, such as critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration, creativity, initiative and innovation. In addition, civic learning done right engages students by making what they learn at school more relevant to real life. It promotes academic achievement, as well, and prevents some students from dropping out.
Civic learning is vital for our increasingly diverse California society. In 2012-2013, our 6.2 million K-12 students were 53 percent Latino, 26 percent white, 9 percent Asian and 6 percent African American, with the remaining 6 percent comprised of other ethnicities. In addition, an increasing number of our students are not native speakers of English. Almost 4 in 10 kindergarteners are English language learners. This diversity, and the attention it requires, is now acknowledged in our school funding model. The Local Control Funding Formula (LCFF) recognizes the necessity of investing in the reduction and ultimate removal of inequitable outcomes in California public schools. Revitalizing civic learning opportunities, in an equitable manner, can contribute to meeting these goals.
K-12 Adult Schools are uniquely suited to support those children by offering the families ESL, EL-Civics (English Learner Civics), Citizenship, Parent Education, and Family Literacy classes, often on the actual school site of the children, sometimes with childcare.
There has never been a better—or a more crucial—time to revitalize civic learning in California.
As a nation, we already know how to do civic learning well. Research has demonstrated that six core activities—known as the Six Proven Practices in Civic Learning—directly improve the quality and effectiveness of civic learning in schools. These practices are: classroom instruction in government, history, law and economics; service learning projects tied to the curriculum; simulations of democratic processes; extracurricular activities that have a strong civic dimension; student participation in school governance, and discussions of current events and controversial topics.
K-12 Adult Education has long prided itself on using just such methods.
The San Mateo Adult School ESL program, for example, encourages vital classroom discussion, community involvement, student advocacy, and self-governance through the ESL Student Council.
There has never been a better—or a more crucial—time to revitalize civic learning in California. Our state is in the midst of several major public education reforms, including implementing the Common Core State Standards in mathematics and English language arts. We are also undergoing a profound shift in the way that K-12 education is funded, via the new LCFF. As we in California implement these sweeping systemic changes, it is critical that we not leave civic learning behind. To this end, the Task Force makes the following system-wide recommendations to improve civic learning in every district, in every school, for every child.
• Revise the California History-Social Science Content Standards and accompanying curriculum frameworks to incorporate an emphasis on civic learning, starting in kindergarten, so all students acquire the civic knowledge, skills and values they need to succeed in college, career and civic life.
• Integrate civic learning into state assessment and accountability systems for students, schools and districts. Civic knowledge, skills, values and whether students are receiving learning opportunities that promote these outcomes must be assessed and linked to revised California History-Social Science Content Standards and relevant Common Core State Standards. This will enable periodic reporting to the legislature and the public on the state of students’ civic learning.
• Improve professional learning experiences for teachers and administrators to help them implement civic learning in schools. Connect professional learning in civics to Common Core State Standards professional learning experiences.
• Develop an articulated sequence of instruction in civic learning across all of K-12, pegged to revised standards. At each grade level, civic learning should draw on the research-based Six Proven Practices listed above and include work that is action-oriented and project-based and that develops digital literacy.
Digital literacy is yet another focus of K-12 Adult Education. Digital literacy classes specifically for ESL parents are one example. Online and Distance Learning is another.
• Establish a communication mechanism so community stakeholders can easily connect with teachers and students on civic education and engagement. Students need to get out of the school building to practice civic engagement, and civic leaders need to come into schools to engage students.
Sounds like the advocacy work so many K-12 Adult Schools are engaged in!
• Provide incentives for local school districts to fund civic learning in Local Control Accountability Plans under the new LCFF.
These recommendations constitute a comprehensive plan. The report that follows describes the context and rationale in more detail, elaborates on the recommendations, shares civic learning success stories from around the state and provides suggestions for actions we all can take immediately to dramatically improve the quality of civic learning in our schools.
Learn more about the need for civic engagement and education here.