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.
- 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
- In short, there are few consistent organizational approaches across the nation. Different states and different organizations use different models, and at this point there is no clear cut ‘best structure’.
- There is, happily, no lack of experience in most organizations when it comes to civic professional development.
- Cost is often an issue in determining who attends PD. Because in many cases this PD requires both a financial and time commitment that teachers and/or districts may not be able to provide, it can be difficult to target PD towards those most in need.
- The PD offered by the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship has been and always will be 100% free to teachers and districts, and will always be based on the needs and desires of those who ask for us. We are funded by the state legislature (and whatever generous donors we can connect with!), and ALL of our resources, tools, and PD are free available to anyone who asks.
- Funding for civic education PD has suffered as states and the federal government emphasize STEM, and organizations have not always been able to fulfill their missions as a result.
- This, without a doubt, remains a problem both for us and for other organizations across the country. We need only look at the consequence of cutting the budget of the Center for Civic Education to see what this means.
- Building relationships and maintaining contact with participants is an issue, and makes program evaluation difficult. At the same time, these organizations need resources to properly evaluate effectiveness!
- This is a long term goal of the FJCC. Going into the new school year, we would, as an organization, like to maintain the relationships that we establish with our participants and find an opportunity to provide follow up to every PD that we provide, to see how it is being used in the classroom. We HAVE started doing this, happily. One of the issues to be aware of, of course, is teacher turnover, and I fear that this will always be an issue.
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?