California Schools Have a Civic Education Problem
California schools are failing to impart the fundamental elements of citizenship and the importance of democratic participation on their students. That’s the conclusion from a recent study of civic learning across the state conducted by the Leveraging Equity and Access in Democratic Education (LEADE) initiative at UCLA & UC Riverside.
The researchers surveyed school district officials, examined Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs), and analyzed mission statements during the first half of the year.
KEY FINDING #1: Civic and democratic goals are marginal to districts’ missions. 41% of districts were silent on the social purpose of education. They did not mention anything about preparing young people to participate in their community or society. 44% of the districts marginally addressed civics–they spoke of developing young people for social roles, but did not talk about civic or political development.
Only 15% of districts substantially addressed civics in their mission or vision statements. This analysis suggests that more than five million of California’s six million students attend schools in districts that do not articulate a substantial focus on civic education.
KEY FINDING #2: Civic and democratic commitments are absent from districts’ accountability plans.
87% of all districts in the state did not mention any of the following terms in their 2017-18 LCAP: civic(s), citizen(s), citizenship, or democracy.
A district’s LCAP lays out priorities as well as plans for discretionary funding. Thus the avoidance of the terms civics, citizen, citizenship, and democracy by the vast majority of the state’s districts signals widespread disinterest in the democratic purposes of schooling.
KEY FINDING #3: There is little staffing and infrastructure that supports this civic agenda.
Of the 31 districts in our sample who posted information on their website regarding instructional staff, 71% had at least one dedicated staff person in English Language Arts, 55% had at least one in math, and 58% had at least one in science. Many of these districts had more than one staff member dedicated to these subject areas. In contrast, only 29% of districts had a staff member dedicated to history and social sciences and no districts employed more than one person in this area.
This analysis makes clear that fewer districts have staff tasked with supporting civics, history, and social science compared with staff supporting other academic areas.
LEADE issued a series of recommendations to boost civic learning and engagement in schools. These include formally designating civic education as a priority and outlining plans to boost democratic education in schools’ Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs); adoption of new indicators of civic learning by the State Board of Education (SBE) and the California Department of Education (CDE); robust implementation of the new State Seal of Civic Engagement; and a task force that would develop a master plan for civic learning in California.
“2020 has been an incredibly difficult year for all Californians,” the report says. “Public schools must support youth as they navigate these precarious times. State actors, county leaders, school districts, educators, youth, families, and communities all have an important role to play in promoting high-quality civic education. Such work is essential if we want California youth to develop the knowledge, skills, and capacities needed to participate fully and effectively in democracy. Our collective future depends upon it.”