Arne Duncan’s nine commitments on civic education

Here are the nine steps that the US Department of Education recently pledged to take to advance civic education in America. Each of these is spelled out in somewhat more detail in this PDF.

1. “Convene and catalyze schools and postsecondary institutions to increase and enhance high-quality civic learning and engagement.”

2. “Identify additional civic indicators.” [For example, the Department commits to put some civic measures on national longitudinal youth surveys and make the data available.]

3. “Identify promising practices in civic learning and democratic engagement—and encourage further research to learn what works.” [This is a pledge that will mean real money, because civic outcomes will be treated as priorities in the Department’s regular research funding competitions, for the first time in my memory.]

4. “Leverage federal investments and public-private partnerships.” [This basically means allowing federal grantees in the education field to promote civic engagement as a fundable objective–which, like #3, could in principle provide substantial funding to the field.]

5. “Encourage community-based work-study placements.” [This means encouraging colleges to use some of the Federal Work Study money for jobs in community organizations, which would be good civic education for the student workers. I have been advocating that for years.]

6. “Encourage public service careers among college students and graduates.” [This basically means advertising the availability of the federal Public Service Loan Forgiveness Program, which is underutilized.]

7. “Support civic learning for a well-rounded K–12 curriculum.” [The Administration proposes a bucket of funds for disciplines left out of No Child Left Behind, including civics as well as arts, foreign languages, physical education, etc.  But they need Congressional authorization for that.]

8. “Engage Historically Black Colleges and Universities and other Minority-Serving Institutions … and Tribal Colleges and Universities—in a national dialogue to identify best practices.” [I am not sure what this means concretely for those institutions, but it is true that they are historic leaders and have much to contribute to the whole field.]

9. “Highlight and promote student and family participation in education programs and policies at the federal and local levels.” [This is the Department’s pledge to involve citizens in education policy, pursuant to the President’s very first Executive Order, which was about transparency, participation, and collaboration. It could be the biggest step of all, but everything depends on whether it is truly a priority.]

I think these are good and important ideas. We should help them turn out well, and we should hold the Department accountable for them.