Social Studies

Is There a Link Between Civics Requirements and Teacher Working Conditions?

By Stephen Sawchuk — June 27, 2018 3 min read
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States with policies that support rigorous civics education also tend to have better working conditions for social studies teachers, says a report released Wednesday by the Brookings Institution, a Washington think tank.

The expansive report is the latest in what has been a wave of recent publications all reaching the same conclusion: Civics education needs a lot more attention, despite increased interest in practices like action civics.

Many of the Brookings report’s findings draw on other common data sources. Civics scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, or NAEP, have been flat or increased slightly since 1998, but race- and income-based gaps remain wide, it notes.

And to tally what states require on civics, the report draws on analyses that the National Association of State Boards of Education and the Education Commission of the States have published on high school graduation requirements and on what state standards and curriculum frameworks depict with regards to civics. Here are some of the most interesting tidbits:

  • States, by and large, focus on classroom instruction, current events, and news media literacy over other segments of civics education. Every state mentions in their standards current events, 40 mention news media literacy, and 41 states require at least one course on civics in order to graduate.
  • But fewer have included participatory elements or community engagement in their standards and curricula. Only 26 states and the District of Columbia mention civics simulations, and only 11 mention service learning. That’s a problem because the consensus among civics educators is that the subject requires not just book learning and discussion, but also the opportunity to practice civics in real-world ways.
  • 23 states have used the C3 framework published by the National Council for the Social Studies to update or modify their standards, which also puts an emphasis on active civics participation, but it’s unclear how this affects day-to-day classroom practice.
  • It’s very hard to know how widespread extracurricular opportunities and activities are or how often students participate in student governance.

Do Civics Teachers Resemble Their Colleagues?

Finally, the report uses federal data to look at the social studies teacher workforce and how it differs from other subjects. Interestingly, the workforce tends to be much more heavily male than other fields; 58 percent of such teachers are men, compared to 41 percent of science teachers and 20 percent of English/language arts teachers.

Social studies teachers also tend to be more involved in extracurricular activities, to take on extra school duties like coaching, and to teach outside their area of expertise—possibly affecting their ability to deliver a powerful instructional program. On the other hand, they make slightly more money on average, though the authors couldn’t explain definitively why. They also tend to enter the classroom through traditional teacher-preparation programs rather than through alternative programs like Teach For America.

The analysis also finds teachers in states that use more “proven practices” for civics education—probably the closest thing that the civics field has to a consensus on teaching—on average teach fewer courses outside of their main area, and are less involved in other school duties. Put another way, state policy in alignment with the practices seems to yield better conditions for teaching to them.

Now, for my money, we’ve done quite a lot of looking at the various levers of policy that could be pulled to improve civics. It’s time to find the solutions.

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