Florida is, without a doubt, a trendsetter in civics education. Thanks in large part to the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act passed almost a decade ago, civics has been a huge priority in this state, as the #CivXNow/iCivics video below illustrates:
The Sunshine state is often lauded for its cohesive push for civics education, thanks to a 2010 law bearing the name of the legendary Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor. The law required a new middle school course and an aligned test to measure civics knowledge that makes up nearly a third of each student’s grade in that subject. It covers four main prongs, including the origins and purposes of law and governments; citizens’ rights and responsibilities, the political process, and the organization and function of government.
The state remains one of the few to emphasize civics at the middle school level. In most states, formal civics education begins at high school. Whatever students get before that is taught within a generic social studies or history class—often in a nuts-and-bolts or overly sentimentalized, patriotic way.
In a sense, Florida’s traditional standards-and-assessment approach to civics owes something to the same reform movement that culminated in the federal No Child Left Behind Act—the test-heavy law that many civics experts now blame for reducing time spent on the subject. But there is some truth to the adage that what’s tested gets taught, and scores on the middle school test have risen on the exam across the state since its introduction in 2013-14, and just over 70 percent of students earn passing scores.
A lesser known factor in Florida’s work is the central role played by the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida. Although not formally part of the state’s K-12 education bureaucracy, the center has become the de facto clearinghouse for materials and teacher training for the course.
Even before the law had been signed, the institute was laying the groundwork. In 2009, it began developing model civics lessons for teachers. In 2010, the state legislature began appropriating funds to support those efforts, and in 2011, the state education department gave the institute a grant to run teacher professional development.
“I will tell you that building the kind of support system we have been for Florida is crucial to success,” said L. Doug Dobson, the Lou Frey Institute’s executive director. “Otherwise you just pass a law and clap your hands and say you’re done, and whatever happens, happens.”
Districts initially struggled to unlearn some of their former practices to cover the much more extensive content requirements: “The pacing was really a hurdle for us,” said Robert Brazofsky, the executive director for social sciences for Miami-Dade county. But now, the district has two staff members devoted to civics who provide in-school supports to teachers, and thanks to the testing data, they’ve been able to target schools with lower passing rates for extra help.
Now that the law is nearly a decade old, some in Florida are trying to get their arms around its impact. The Lou Frey Institute has worked with interested counties to informally survey students at the end of the middle school course on their civic beliefs and attitudes.
In Miami-Dade, Brazofsky said, most students surveyed agree with broad civic notions, like the importance of helping others in need, but there is still work to be done translating knowledge into lifelong behaviors and beliefs. For example, only about half of students surveyed said they thought it was OK for newspapers to publish freely without government approval.
“To really support and improve the civic attitudes of young people in my opinion, a test is a good thing to have, but it doesn’t always lead to the attitudes, beliefs, and dispositions you would want as an engaged citizen,” he said.
Earlier this year, Governor DeSantis signed Florida House Bill 807, which mandates a comprehensive review of the textbooks and the benchmarks for civics in the state. This process has now begun, and you are invited, as stakeholders in civic education, to contribute your feedback. This is a dual track process. The benchmarks are being reviewed simultaneously with the curricular materials, but the process uses two separate reviews within the EdCredible for your input. You are invited to review the benchmarks, the texts (provided online), or both. On 22 August, there will be a webinar to learn more about this review process. See the memo from FLDOE below for more details and for how to register for the webinar!
Public input is encouraged through the online EdCredible® platform accessible at www.floridacivicsreview.org. EdCredible® provides all stakeholders with open access to participate in the review process. Stakeholders are required to open an account using their valid email address before providing input. The review will close on October 15, 2019.
To offer further insight into this opportunity, the department will offer a public webinar to discuss the review on August 22, 2019, at 4:00 pm EDT. This optional public webinar is
intended to provide background on the Civics instructional materials state adoption process and the history of the Civics EOC Assessment, including stakeholder involvement
in determining its content, development and setting of achievement level expectations.
Neither attending the live webinar nor viewing the recorded webinar are required in order for stakeholders to participate in the public review of the Civics instructional materials and EOC assessment test item specifications.
If you are interested in attending, please register for the webinar at
https://attendee.gotowebinar.com/register/3357539475902628619. After registering, a
confirmation email will be sent containing information about joining the webinar. A
recording of the webinar, as well as the presentation and a transcript, will be posted to
http://www.fldoe.org/civicsreview for those who are unable to attend.
We encourage you to share this information with local stakeholders to help maximize the number of Floridians contributing to this critical process.
I encourage you to join the process and make your voice heard!