Social Studies

Civics Education Bills Are on Legislative Agendas in Seven States

By Sasha Jones — March 05, 2019 3 min read
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While most states require students to study civics in some sort of capacity, just eight mandate a yearlong civics or government class as a graduation requirement, according to a 2018 50-state survey by Education Week.

But that number may soon grow as a flurry of civics education bills inch through state legislatures this year and other states move to expand or implement civic education requirements already in place. Education Week‘s survey last year found three states—Washington, Nevada and Pennsylvania—that are already on board to begin expanding their civics requirements as soon as this year.

Seven other states are set to consider civics education bills introduced since the new year began.

Although the way that civics is covered in schools—and what is included—varies from state to state, the most common approach is the Joe Foss Institute’s Civics Education Initiative, which calls for high school students to pass the 100-question test required to acquire U.S. citizenship.

With a 38 to 31 vote, the South Dakota House of Representatives passed a bill in that would require high school students to take that test, and score at least a 70 percent, to graduate. Although the Senate has since deferred the bill, if it passes, testing would start in the 2019-20 school year.

Indiana lawmakers have introduced a similar bill in their Senate, which would make the civics exam a requirement starting in the 2020-21 school year if it’s approved.

Although Tennessee already requires that students take a civics exam, a new bill is calling for the exam to be expanded from 25-50 questions to 100. Additionally, students would have to answer 75 percent—instead of 70 percent—of the questions correctly to graduate.

Some states are going beyond the citizenship test to implement legislation that could potentially affect more specific curriculum changes.

In Minnesota, state representatives have drafted legislation that would require juniors or seniors to take a for-credit civics class as part of the three-and-a-half social studies credits they are currently required to earn in high schools.

Although the state already requires that students take a 50-question civics test, the exam is not currently a graduation requirement. The Minnesota Department of Education will, however, use data from the current exam to assess students’ civics knowledge.

A bill that would add civic responsibility to middle and high school curricula in North Carolina is currently working through the state’s House of Representatives. While it is uncertain what the final requirements would consist of, the bill says that instruction would focus on respect for school personnel, responsibility for school safety, service to others, and good citizenship.

In Nebraska, a bill to change the name and provisions related to the Committee on Americanism to the Committee on American Civics would also shape education as the new committee would review and approve social studies curricula to stress civics and government. The current proposed bill also states that the curriculum would incorporate “multicultural education.”

Additionally, California has stated its intent to enact future legislation related to civics education in a February assembly bill. (The state already requires students to take a one-semester civics and government class in order to graduate from high school.)

On the federal level, Senators Jim Inhofe (R-Okla.), Angus King (I-Maine), and Chris Coons (D-Del.) introduced the Constitution Education Is Valuable in Community Schools (CIVICS) Act of 2019 to Congress, which would aim to “improve the quality of student achievement in, and teaching of, American history, civics, government, or geography in elementary and secondary schools,” as well as educate students about the history and principles of the Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Photo courtesy of Getty.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.