CIVICS FOR ALL AT CROSSROADS
CIVICS FOR ALL AT CROSSROADS
On Februry 8, 2016, the Seattle School Board rejected a recommendation by the school district’s social studies coordinator to implement much of the Civics for All Initiative. Instead, they proposed to increase support for optional, annual mock elections, even though mock elections are already optional. Sadly, this decision rejected the Civics for All centerpiece – required universal K-12 mock elections at all schools – as well as the Initiative’s widely vetted civics-based, voter education curriculum and media literacy component.
While the board’s optional approach will likely increase overall student voting, it fails to provide ALL children equal access to learning about the electoral process in our democracy. In fact, under the district optional plan just 4000 SPS kids voted in the most controversial election of our time. If Civics for All had been instituted with K-12 required elections for all, 54,000 students would have voted.
Optional is Never Equitable
The board’s “optional voter education” decision was and is a huge disappointment for Civics for All supporters across Seattle, where equity is the byword of democracy and education. Indeed, EQUITY IS THE CORE VALUE AND OBJECTIVE of our district’s Strategic Plan and over 20 other plans, priorities, and policies!!!
Before February’s developments, 6 out of 7 board member had gone on record as supporting Civics for All (Dr. Stefan Blanford refuses to take a position on the topic). Which made sense – Seattle’s current school board exudes a passion for kids, education, and justice. Their obvious faith in the unbreakable bonds between education and democracy is reassuring, yet it also makes inexplicable their unwillingness to formally and gladly adopt a strong voter-education program like Civics for All.
Equity Counts, Especially When It Comes to Civics
Still, we remain steadfastly commmited in our idealistic, achievable vision for civics education in the Seattle Public Schools and in our city . At this point we are not clear why the school board rejected the Initiative’s centerpiece – required mock elections at all schools for all students. There is no reason why mock elections cannot be adopted under the district’s curriculum adoption policy.
Equally unclear is how or why the board and the district could ignore the incredible support the Initiative has from local teachers, civic leaders, education experts, 7 former school board members, parent leaders, as well as untold hundreds/thousands of Seattlites and their political leaders, including the unanimous support of the Seattle City Council, King County Council, and 21 of 21 Seattle state legislators. See Supporters pages.
Do students have equal rights or not?
The bad news? Too many students under this plan will lose out. Children who happen to be in one of those schools that decide not to take the option will completely miss out for many crucial years. When it comes to learning how to participate in the electoral process, the foundation of our democracy, optional is not equitable, especially if we are sincere about eradicating the civics gap that is crippling our democracy and disenfranchising our youth, especially students of color.
CFA proposes that ALL schools, All communities, and ALL students should and would gain by participating annually in district wide mock elections, It takes a formal district policy adoption to institutionalize and guarantee that policies are instituted with fidelity over the long haul as administrators and teachers cycle through our system.
Optional is Never Equitable
When it comes to learning how to participate in the electoral process, the foundation of our democracy, optional is not equitable. It is ironic but true, that by attempting to empower the next generation of new voters with these modest supports, we are actually going to increase the opportunity gap and civics gap between students who receive and those who do not get voter training.
Why the School Board, which had openly voiced support for Civics for All Civics last fall, opted for such a scaled back approach is a mystery.
CFA proposes that ALL schools, All communities, and ALL students should and would gain by participating annually in district wide mock elections, funded by a $250,000, 5 year county grant from King County Elections. Just picture it!
Educating young people to grow up to become active voters, especially youth of color and/or low income backgrounds, requires a vertically integrated curriculum that keeps attuned to democratic processes year round. Our school board’s “compromise” of optional elections absolutely fails the standards and spirit of SPS’s strategic goals, especially regarding equity. Civics for ALL aligns directly with each of the District’s goals regarding equity and ending the opportunity gap. See below.
1) Ensure Educational Excellence and Equity for Every Student
- Impossible to achieve w/ the optional program produces new inequities – click here
2) Improve Systems District-wide to Support Academic Outcomes & Meet Students’ Needs
- CFA provides a clear, recursive academic experience which kids love – click here
3) Strengthen School, Family and Community Engagement
Civics Builds Meaningful School to Family/Community Connections – click here
Equity and the struggle to end voter disenfranchisement among our students of color and low income populations demands that ALL students receive the same civics education – that was the goal of Civics for All. As of now, that is not happening.
Please contact your school board members and let them know you want universal Civics for All, not Civics for Some.
Note: the board also authorized an optional day long civics education workshop last spring where approximately 35 teachers created civics lessons plans to be available online via the district and the creation of civics essential questions for K-5 students.
Civics for All’s centerpiece program, district-wide annual K-12 mock elections – funded with a $250,000, 5 year county grant from King County Elections – would have enlivened democratic practices & principles across schools and communities district-wide. Once implemented universally, at all schools, Seattle can still become a model civics education city for the nation!
This streamlined, non-partisan policy proposal is essentially a voter education program. It calls for increased media literacy and civics instruction in each grade of the social studies, district-wide voting in mock elections each November, and K-12 civics instructional awareness “across the curriculum” when efficacious.
Civics for All was “born” on June 15, 2011, when a dozen students of Web Hutchins, the initiative’s founder, presented this student-centered, teacher-friendly proposal to the Seattle Public Schools’ Board of Directors. Since then we have worked to convince the board and, especially, the Seattle School District administration to formally adopt and implement the Civics for All curricular frameworks.
School board support has grown tremendously over the years, pioneered by SB President Sharon Peaslee, Marty McClaren, and Sue Peters.
Current School Board Directors Supporting CFA (Feb. 2015)
- Sue Peters, Seattle School Board Director, District 4
- Leslie Harris, Seattle School Board Dir., District 6
- Jill Geary, Seattle School Board Dir., District 3
- Rick Burke, Seattle School Board Dir., District 2
- Scott Pinkham, Seattle School Board Dir., District 1
- Betty Patu, Seattle School Board Dir., District 5
- Stefan Blanford, Seattle School Board Dir., District 7
Also, many of the other leading candidates in the 2015 fall school board race declared their support for Civics for All, including Lauren McGuire and Michael Christophersen.
This is great news because since 2011, district leadership (Superintendents Enfield/Banda/Nyland) has shown uneven interest in adopting the Civics for All proposal, despite the overwhelming support across the city, in all of our legislative bodies (both city and state level delegations), from civics experts around the country, and elsewhere. The school board, ideally with unanimous support including the votes of directors Patu and Blanford, is best situated to convince district staff to adopt the proposal so that all of SPS’s 53,000 students learn the levers of democracy. As Diana Hess, a former UW Husky and now preeminent national civics voice and dean of the U. of Wisconsin College of Education writes: Should Schools Teach Students to Vote? YES!
We need your help in convincing them that providing our students a quality civics-based program is the right thing to do! Please Get Involved and help convince all of our school board members, Superintendent Nyland and JSCEE staff to support Civics for All adoption in time for the 2016 election.
If Seattle Public Schools does not adopt the proposal it risks losing our year and a half old $250,000 grant from King County Elections via the King County Council , which endorsed Civics for All in tandem, unanimous “Resolutions of Support for the Civics for All Initiative” with the the Seattle City Council on March 17, 2014.
Civics for All is “Civics in the Core” because civics studies align so smoothly with the coming Common Core State Standards‘ emphasis on distilling argumentative claims from non-fiction texts. Civics for All aligns directly with and will facilitate student success on the “New SAT,” which emphasizes America’s founding documents and current events analysis for the first time in the history of the test. Civics for All, featured in the April 2012 edition of Educational Leadership magazine, proposes that citizenship education is a fundamental student right that is central to our schools’ purpose. To restore this neglected right is a civic imperative that is being proudly embraced across Seattle!
Civics for All emphasis on equity for ALL students dovetails with the civic spirit of so many developments around Seattle, including the Pre-K education initiative as well as Mayor Ed Murray’s recently penned Executive Order reaffirming the City’s commitment to the Race and Social Justice Initiative.
Support has been tremendous! Peter Levine, a Tufts University professor who is the nation’s preeminent civics educator , the author of six books on civics and the executive director of CIRCLE, The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement, has written endorsement letters to Superintendent Banda and Mayor Murray. See our complete list of Supporters here.
Citizens seem most excited by the Initiative’s proposed city-wide mock elections in which 50,000 scholar citizens will annually participate in democracy’s most sacred act: VOTING! Research by CIRCLE “shows emphasizing elections in civics classes has a (long-term) positive impact on political knowledge and voting.” If Superintendent Banda endorses the Initiative, King County Elections and the Secretary of State’s office have both committed to helping facilitate a student-friendly experience, with KCE providing customized, age-appropriate voter’s pamphlets, ballots,and voter registration materials and SOS providing on-line voting and detailed statistical voting analysis. Abundant research proves that when we teach youth the civic values, habits, and skills of citizenship they vote at much higher rates and tend to become voters for life.
The Plano Texas School District began doing doing mock elections across their city in 2008. Check out the Plano student voting experience here.
Just picture it: Seattle’s civic life will POP each fall as 50,000 students from 97 schools select candidates and choose sides within their families on the issues, ideas, and initiatives of the day! Doing so will help ALL Seattle 18 year olds respond with a resounding “YES” to the the New York Times recent query: “When You Are Old Enough to Vote, Will You?”
Amazing Legislative Supporters and Others
On March 17, 2014, the Seattle City Council and King County Council both unanimously voted to adopt and issue co-Resolutions of Support for the Civics for All Initiative. KCC Chair Larry Phillips and SCC members Bruce Harrell and Nick Licata sponsored the resolutions. Also supporting the proposal: numerous Washington State Legislators, including Eric Pettigrew, Sharon Tomiko-Santos, Reuven Carlyle, Adam Kline, Bob Hasegawa, Jeanne Kohl-Welles, and Eileen Cody; numerous Secretary of State staff, including Sec. Kim Wyman and former Sec. Sam Reed; leading education professors from Seattle U., the UW, UVA, and Stanford; organizations like CityClub; and teachers and citizens from all around the district and city.