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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Response to Recommendations from Working Group on Civic Learning and Engagement

To:
Members of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education
From:
Mitchell D. Chester, Ed.D., Commissioner
Date:
September 11, 2015

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At the June 23, 2015 meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, Vice-Chair David Roach and other members of the Board's Working Group on Civic Learning and Engagement presented their report, "Preparing Citizens: Report on Civic Learning and Engagement." The report includes six recommendations. The Board voted to accept the working group's report and endorse the recommendations, and directed the Commissioner to come back to the Board at its September 2015 meeting with a plan for implementing the recommendations. This memo presents my response. For the full text of the six recommendations and conclusion from the working group's report, please see Attachment 1.

  1. Revise the definition of college and career readiness to include readiness for civic life.

    The working group noted that in 2013 the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and the Board of Higher Education each voted to adopt a common definition of college and career readiness. While the common definition has great merit, the Board of Higher Education Policy on Civic Learning acknowledges that "the specific civic learning competencies which entering college students should demonstrate are not discussed in [this] definition. Addressing this gap should be part of our overall approach to civic learning and college readiness."

    I plan to discuss this recommendation with Higher Education Commissioner Carlos Santiago with the intent to designate representatives from each of our departments to work together on drafting a revised definition of college and career readiness that includes readiness for civic life. The goal would be to have both boards review and discuss the revised definition early in 2016 (we are planning a joint meeting with the Board of Higher Education in January), solicit comment from stakeholders, and then adopt the revised definition.

  2. Establish a statewide network of regional advisory councils that will provide the Board with advice and recommendations to improve and enrich civic learning in the Commonwealth.

    We are exploring different strategies for addressing the goal of this recommendation, which the working group described as enlisting "a wide range of K-16 educators, their partners in school committees, government, business, non-profits, and communities to provide concrete, specific recommendations to the Board regarding civic learning." The strategy that the working group recommended entails setting up and coordinating a statewide network of regional advisory councils on top of our current array of over 20 statewide advisory groups, including advisory councils established by statute, legislative commissions, the superintendents' advisory council, our teacher leadership cabinet and principal advisory groups, and so on - each of which requires staff support. The Department has reduced staff capacity as a result of the early retirements that took effect earlier this summer and I need to determine the most efficient and effective use of our resources in relation to the Board's priorities. I plan to report back to the Board on this later in the fall.

  3. Convene an annual conference sponsored by the Department and planned in partnership with the many professional organizations committed to effective instructional practice in history, social studies and civics. This conference should have as its goal the identification and promulgation of promising practices in civic learning across all disciplines.

    I have asked our staff to consider various ways to identify and publicize promising practices in civic learning across all disciplines, within the limits of our current resources. Among the strategies that we will explore is the incorporation of sessions promoting civic learning as a dimension of our existing fall and spring statewide conferences. The Department's FY2016 budget does not include funding or staff resources to convene a conference on history, social studies, and civics. If the Board views this as a priority, we may wish to include a request for funding in your FY2017 education budget request.

  4. Initiate the process to revise the 2003 History and Social Science Curriculum Framework and, in doing so, consider developments in the field that, if thoughtfully integrated into our existing frameworks, could enhance the effectiveness of civics instruction.

    The working group described the goal of this recommendation as integrating into the framework "skills and practices that prepare students for informed and engaged participation in civic life." By identifying and publicizing promising practices in civic learning (see #3), the Department can inform educators and school districts on ways they could strengthen their programs. In terms of revising curriculum frameworks, this year (FY2016), the Department and Board are focusing on possible revisions to the Science and Technology/Engineering standards. When we conclude that process, I will present a timetable for reviewing other curriculum frameworks.

  5. Establish funding to support district adoption and expansion of the six promising practices in civic learning.

    The Department's FY2016 budget does not include funding or staff resources for this grant program. If the Board views this as a priority, we may wish to include a request for funding in your FY2017 education budget request.

  6. Develop a strategy to assess each school and district's effectiveness in developing and delivering sound civic instruction, including ample opportunities for community engagement and varied practice in democratic processes to ensure every Massachusetts student graduates from high school prepared for active citizenship.

    The Department's FY2016 budget does not include funding or staff resources to assess each school and district to determine its effectiveness in civic instruction. If the Board views this as a priority, we may wish to include a request for funding in your FY2017 education budget request. In the meantime, we will explore opportunities (e.g., research projects that are collecting data on program offerings) to document school and district effectiveness in developing and delivering sound civic instruction.

Like the Board, I am grateful to the members of the Working Group on Civic Learning and Engagement for their thoughtful recommendations and for the time and energy they devoted to their task. I share the belief that effective civic education for all students is a core responsibility of public elementary and secondary education in the Commonwealth. The Department will move forward expeditiously with the initiative to revise the definition of college and career readiness as an initial step. We will seek to expand our capacity to address this important work, including through outreach to partners and professional organizations. I will keep the Board informed about our progress.

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Attachment 1: Recommendations and Next Steps Preparing Citizens Report on Civic Learning and Engagement, September 2015


Last Updated: September 17, 2015
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