Saturday, August 23, 2014

Crisis in Civic Education: Ohio's Lackluster High School Graduation Requirements

Having an informed and active citizenry is at the heart of a functional democracy- after all, this is supposed to be a government of the people, for the people, and the by the people. It was Abraham Lincoln that brought us these words in his Gettysburg Address (1863). In this memorable speech, he noted it was up to the People to ensure the Union would last and that if we fought hard enough a democratic form of government would not perish from this Earth. While the Union was victorious in this epic civic war, one could still argue that we’re still entrenched in a significant battle to preserve democratic governance in the U.S.

In the State of Ohio and around the U.S. there’s a crisis in civic participation, engagement, and trust. The facts and statistics reveal unequivocally that voters are as politically apathetic and discouraged at the quality of our government and its leaders than at any time before. In the May, 2014 primary, less than 17% of all registered Ohio voters went to the polls to vote. Even when voters did turn out to vote, a significant number of candidates ran unopposed. 56% (9/16) of all U.S. House of Representative races in Ohio had Republican candidates that ran unopposed in their districts during the 2014 midterm election (around 31% of Democratic contests). Thus, not only are citizens not going to the polls to vote but the very electoral campaigns meant to ensure the health and vibrancy of American democracy are in significant distress. Citizens’ mistrust of government only grows, as the approval rating for our U.S. Congress has reached historic lows. A recent Rasmussen Poll (August, 2014) indicates only 6% of U.S. citizens think Congress is doing a “Good” or “Excellent Job”.

Issues such as gerrymandering, corrupt election finance, and growing partisanship only inflicts more sickness on a frail U.S. democracy. Our nation and the State of Ohio are at a tipping point. A decision must be made, “Will we work to advance a citizenry willing and ready to strengthen and sustain the health of our democracy? Or, will we continue to the trend of disinvesting in citizenship education and in the curriculum most predicated on fostering informed democratic citizens- the social studies?”

Ohio lawmakers over the summer opted to continue its trend of disinvesting in civic education and the social studies. Recently, I reported that Ohio lawmakers decided to NOT require World History for high school graduation. Instead, they opted to only require American History and American Government. While I am extremely saddened that today’s high school graduates will not receive instruction on the bulk of the world’s people and institutions, I was somewhat comforted in that at least students would be required to complete American History and American Government coursework. Furthermore, word spread in spring 2014 that all high school students would be required to “pass” two end-of -course exams in social studies: One in American Government and the other in American History. Knowing that we live in an age of what is tested is taught, Ohio’s social studies teachers appreciated our state prioritizing the instruction of history and government.

However, it looks like we spoke too soon. Over the summer we learned that while students would be required to take the American History and American Government end-of-course exams, they could in fact graduate from high school without passing either! The State Board of Education Graduation Requirements Committee has proposed that Ohio’s students must earn a total of 18 quality points across seven end-of-course exams in order to graduate. The seven content areas that will have exams are:
  • English I and II 
  • Algebra I 
  • Geometry 
  • Integrated math I and II 
  • Physical science 
  • American history 
  • American government 
Based upon students’ performance, they will earn 1-5 quality points per exam. The scoring breakdown is:

5 – Advanced
4 – Accelerated
3 – Proficient
2 – Basic
1 – Limited

The issue comes in that while all students are required to earn 18 quality points, students can easily earn this minimum score by FAILING the American History and American Government exams. The State Board of Education does note that students must earn a minimum of:
  • four total points across the English end-of-course exams,
  • four total points across the math exams,
  • and, six total points across the science and social studies exams.
Thus, if a student scored 4s on both English Exams, 3 on the math exam, 3 on the science exam, and TWOs on the American History and American Government they would still earn 18. Students would have accumulated enough exam quality points to graduate. This means student that demonstrate a below proficient understanding of institutions, principles, and histories of American government and history will freely join the ranks of an already disengaged, apathetic, and broken democratic system. The civic mission of schools is being decimated by Ohio high school graduation requirements that fail to prepare the informed and active citizens our nation, state, and communities so desperately need.

Global and Social Studies Education

The website/blog allows educators in the social studies to reflect upon key issues in the social studies. It also allows teachers the opportunity to access resources that help infuse instructional media and technology, and global perspectives in their teaching.