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The Massachusetts Board of Elementary and Secondary Education

Updated 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:
October 9, 2015

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At the September 22, 2015 meeting of the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, I presented my plan for implementing the recommendations of the Board's Working Group on Civic Learning and Engagement. In that memo and in our discussion at the September meeting, I stated that I would be coming back to you with further details. I am pleased to present this updated response to the Board. For easy reference, this memo includes the text of my September 11, 2015 initial memo, with the updates in each section highlighted. 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.

Update: We are proceeding as set forth above. Department staff from the Office of College and Career Readiness and staff who participated with the Working Group on Civic Learning and Engagement are collaborating with staff from the Department of Higher Education on this initiative.

  1. 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.

Update: The Board endorsed the working group's proposal to set up an advisory council structure on civic learning and engagement and is also mindful that we need to manage this initiative well within our staffing constraints and the multitude of existing advisory groups. I believe we can address these needs by repurposing two current advisory councils — the Community Service Learning Advisory Council and the Global Education Advisory Council — and creating a newly formed Civic Learning and Engagement Advisory Council, with members from the education and civic sectors.

The charge to the council will be to enlist partners, such as the Department of Higher Education, the State Student Advisory Council, the Edward M. Kennedy Institute, and social studies professional organizations; identify existing initiatives, data, and best practices to inform recommendations; and make recommendations for a strategic plan to strengthen civic learning and engagement for students. To address the interest in having regional outreach, the group will hold regional meetings to solicit input from across the Commonwealth.

  1. 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.

Update: While the Department does not have funding or staff resources to convene a stand-alone conference on history, social studies, and civics, two sessions at our upcoming Fall Convening (October 27-28, 2015) are devoted to civics and service learning. Additionally, we are in the initial planning stages of a statewide spring conference which will afford the opportunity to host sessions devoted to civic learning and engagement as well as connections to literacy development. Department staff from the Office of Literacy and Humanities will lead this work.

  1. 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.

Update: I intend to present to the Board in January 2016 a proposed timeline for review and revision of the Massachusetts History and Social Science curriculum framework as well as a proposed timeline for statewide assessment in history/social science. Department staff from the Office of Literacy and Humanities will take the lead on this work.

  1. 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.

Update: The Board's Budget Committee will be meeting in October and November and will make recommendations to you on the FY2017 education budget request at the Board's November 17 regular meeting.

  1. 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.

Update: The Board's Budget Committee will be meeting in October and November and will make recommendations to you on the FY2017 education budget request at the Board's November 17 regular meeting.

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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, as outlined above, and we will seek to expand our capacity to address this important work through outreach to partners and professional organizations. I will keep the Board informed about our progress.

Attachment:

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Attachment 1: Recommendations from Working Group on Civic Learning and Engagement


Last Updated: October 13, 2015
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