I see promising signs. H.R.3464, the Sandra Day O’Connor Civic Learning Act of 2011, would authorize the federal government to collect better data on students’ civic knowledge and would create a grant competition for innovative programs that focus on disadvantaged kids. It would require and fund evaluation, so this would be an innovation fund:
Meanwhile, Hawaii has required a new Participating in Democracy course for all its high school students. That is exactly the kind of experiential course that was common in the mid-1900s but that was cut almost everywhere after 1970 because it seemed too controversial and it didn’t imitate any particular college course. High school students still take social studies, but now most of their courses are in college disciplines like history, economics, and geography. (American Government is really political science). Hawaii’s new course revives the idea that actually experiencing citizenship should be part of the curriculum.
There are also stirrings of improvement in testing and evaluation–shifts away from pencil-and-paper tests (which poorly measure civic skills) toward group activities. And there is talk of better standards: not lists of concrete facts that people should know, but broader and deeper topics and skills that they should master.