civics in the Harkin education bill

(Washington, DC) Since President Bush signed “No Child Left Behind” (NCLB) in 2002, that has been the name of the comprehensive federal education statute. The name will be dropped, but the law will sooner or later be amended and reauthorized under its original title: the “Elementary and Secondary Education Act” (ESEA).

NCLB had basically nothing to say about civic education, except that some vestigial provisions were left over from earlier legislation. The law’s neglect was not benign: 2002-2011 has been a bad decade for civics, culminating with the termination of all federal funding last spring.

An important ingredient of the actual ESEA reauthorization law will be the bill offered by Senator Harkin, because he chairs the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. This week, Sen. Harkin is releasing his bill. According to the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, under “Programs of National Significance” Harkin would authorize:

Developing, implementing, evaluating and disseminating innovative, research-based approaches to civic learning, which may include hands-on civic engagement activities for low-income elementary school and secondary school students that demonstrate innovation, scalability, accountability and a focus on under-served populations.

For what it’s worth, this is exactly what I would write if someone asked me to draft a law. We should thank Senator Harkin and work to make sure his proposed provision survives on the long road to ESEA re-authorization.