The American Enterprise Institute’s Program on American Citizenship has just released a new report discussing the state of professional development regarding civics education. It is an engaging, critical, and, in some ways, hopeful look at both the strengths and weaknesses of civics PD, but for many of us, it may not be all that surprising. They had one essential question:

…what is the nature and range of PD for secondary civics teachers in the United States? Our aim is to reveal a portrait of current practice through a combination of interviewing and surveying current civics PD providers and through reviewing the current literature on high-quality PD.

So what were the findings? They focused on two large areas: 1. mission and purpose and 2. organizational structure, funding, and evaluation. Below, I have pulled from the executive summary the highlights of the report, along with some comments that connect it to our work here at the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship. Click below the cut to read more.

Mission and Purpose

  • PD organizations are often unclear on their vision of civic education and what sort of understanding of citizenship they are working toward with teachers.
    • We here at the FJCC do believe that we have a clear and effective vision of civic education, dedicated to ensuring that students are becoming active and engaged citizens connected with each other as citizens of the United States and citizens of the world. There is a vision of citizenship that involves clear engagement with issues, active involvement towards resolving problems (no matter the political perspective), and civic and media literacy.  One of our long term goals is to better articulate this shared vision and to ensure that it infuses everything that we do. 
  • Content knowledge, in many cases, takes a backseat to pedagogy, and organizations often neglect increasing teacher knowledge of events, dates, issues, etc.
    • Thanks to the work of folks like Dr. Terri Fine, we have been able to focus a great deal on providing professional development opportunities that allow teachers to gain a deeper understanding of content relating to both civics and history, and this remains an area where we are committed to providing. You need to UNDERSTAND the content deeply in order to TEACH it effectively! 
  • Traditional conceptions of civics, involving such things as representative government, human rights, the market economy, and the civil society, do remain prominent with civics PD.
    • Obviously, this holds true for the professional development provided by the FJCC as well. A review of the lessons and resources that we offer, whether at the elementary level (log in required) or within a secondary framework, illustrates that these conceptions are still significant. 
  • PD programs are often directed toward skill building and cultivating in students the ability to deliberate over and defend arguments and perspectives.
    • Indeed, this is a big part of the professional developments and resources offered by the FJCC. Our connection with iCivics, whose games in many ways guide students towards these skills, as well as the work of our own Dr. Elizabeth Washington, help focus our organization on cultivating the skills needed for collaborative democracy.
  • Civic dispositions are a key element of this PD, but many organizations do not clearly explore how these dispositions “coalesce into a broader sense of attachment to the American polity.”
    • This is, perhaps, an area of need for us as well. How do the dispositions we seek to cultivate connect us all as Americans and engage us with the broader nation? 

Organizational Structure, Function, and Evaluation

We encourage you to read the study for yourself. We here at the FJCC will continue to think upon this report, and consider other ways in which we might address the issues brought out in the study. How does it reflect your own experiences with civics-oriented PD organizations?