The Education Department Wants to Hear From You!


At a White House event this past January, the Obama Administration released its Road Map for civic learning, “Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy.”  This Road Map, developed by the U.S. Department of Education (ED), is a call to action to reinvigorate civic learning and engagement for students, families, communities and leaders in education, business, labor, philanthropy and government. We envision a nationwide commitment to preparing all students for citizenship as informed, engaged and responsible members of our society.  The Road Map outlines nine steps ED is undertaking to increase civic learning and engagement across our country. You are invited to watch the release event and read ED’s Road Map to learn more.


Since the release of the Road Map, ED has been implementing a strategy to achieve its nine objectives.  As part of this process, ED is seeking the public’s input on how we understand “civic learning and engagement activities” and how we can best support these activities.  We encourage educators, practitioners, students, researchers, and any other interested parties to submit opinions, ideas, suggestions and comments pertaining to the outline below:

A.     How ED Defines “Civic Learning and Engagement”

Activities that help students become informed and engaged members of society by providing nonpartisan opportunities for development of civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions.  Civic learning and engagement activities include:

  1. Development, through the study of American history, civics and government, of students’ foundational civic knowledge, skills, attitudes and behaviors.
  2. Participation in interactive activities (e.g., service learning, community-based projects, simulations, media campaigns, advocacy, etc.) that provide students the opportunity to apply their learning to the needs of their community through action and reflection, thus broadening understanding of how to apply knowledge to improve societal outcomes. Activities should be selected and organized with input from faculty and students and can be developed in partnership with educational institutions, faith and/or community-based organizations, government agencies, philanthropies, businesses, and other stakeholders.

B.     How ED will Support Civic Learning

Of the nine objectives ED is implementing to support civic learning and engagement activities, we specifically request feedback on how to best:

  1. Convene and catalyze the education community to increase and enhance high-quality civic learning and engagement opportunities.
  2. Identify civic learning and engagement indicators to measure student outcomes and encouraging further research to learn more about appropriate and effective program design.
  3. Leverage federal investments and public-private partnerships to support civic learning and engagement activities where permitted and feasible.
  4. Highlight and promote civic learning and engagement opportunities for students, families and other stakeholders as collaborators and problem-solvers in education.

Please submit all comments to or post them on directly on this blog.

This is a moderated site. That means all comments will be reviewed before posting. We intend to post all responsive submissions on a timely basis. We reserve the right not to post comments that are unrelated to this request, are inconsistent with ED’s Web site policies, are advertisements or endorsements, or are otherwise inappropriate. To protect your own privacy and the privacy of others, please do not include personally identifiable information such as Social Security numbers, addresses, phone numbers or email addresses in the body of your comment. For more information, please be sure to read the “comments policy” tab at the top of the Web page.

The fine print: Please understand that posts must be related to Civic Learning Initiative, we encourage posts that are as specific as possible, and, as appropriate, supported by data and relevant research. Posts must be limited to 1,000 words. All opinions, ideas, suggestions and comments are considered informal input. If you include a link to additional information in your post, we urge you to ensure that the linked-to information is accessible to all individuals, including individuals with disabilities. Additionally, please do not include links to advertisements or endorsements; we will delete all such links before your comment is posted.

Again, thank you for your interest in this opportunity to support civic learning. We look forward to hearing from you.


  1. Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback. Education is a base to a great career.

  2. This is an incredibly exciting proposition. I would offer two comments:

    First, ED’s definition for “civic learning” is “Development, through the study of American history,” very constrained and constraining. Civics lessons can be taught, and should be taught, throughout all of the social studies and, indeed, across all disciplines.

    Second: I would like to see a lot more dollar signs in the document!!!

    I am hopeful that the project we are embarking upon can receive federal dollars some day. The Civics for All Initiative is a citizens’ proposal to teach civics across the K-12 curriculum. Please check it out if you like – all politics is local – so we encourage you to start your own CFA in your district and city.

  3. It is very heartening to see the Department of Education take leadership to advance civic learning and engagement in democracy with attention to younger generations. The document, A Crucible Moment, provides a compelling argument for integrating three national priorities: career preparation, educational access, and completion, and the fostering of informed, engaged, responsible citizens. The nine steps outlined by the Department reflected thoughtful consideration of building on the strengths of HBCUs and MSIs and of the synergies that develop when families, schools, and community based organizations collaborate on shared civic missions. In addition, the nine steps suggest that the Department of Education has considered ways it can use policy levers to accomplish goals outlined in the Road Map and Call to Action. In the past federal funds to study, assess, and disseminate best practices in civic learning and engagement have been scant.


    In the current document, the meaning of civic learning and engagement is a bit opaque. More clarity on the outcome (i.e., what do we mean by an informed, engaged, responsible citizen – and what would that look like for a fourth grader, 12th grader, or college student) would help with identifying the kinds of civic indicators to measure. Concerning students in K-12, the NAEP collects far more information about students’ knowledge than about their involvement. I think we ought to collect some information on the amount and quality of young people’s community involvement – the extent to which they work with fellow (and diverse) members of their communities to solve a problem or improve community life. Many studies have shown young people’s engagement in collective action with fellow members of their community is positively associated (in both cross sectional and longitudinal work) with a host of civic outcomes (social responsibility, commitment to the common good, self-transcending values, social trust, open-mindedness, tolerance, ability to grapple with complex civic issues and see different perspectives). Concerning other civic indicators, there are a number of measures with good psychometric properties that have been developed by scholars in the field of youth civic development. The main question is what are the outcomes of interest.

    Goal 4 – 6 and Community Colleges – Goal 6 – encouraging public service among college students and grads – was excellent. It appeals to the best motivations in the younger generation (which I happen to witness daily) – and had some specific policy recommendations to achieve the goal. In light of the growing gap in civic participation between those in 4 – year colleges and other, so called “opportunity” youth who are not in those colleges, I think it would behoove the Department of Education to specifically reach out to community colleges. Retention continues to be an issue in community colleges in part because students are balancing work, family, schooling with few social supports compared to their peers in 4-year colleges and universities. Most students in community colleges are rooted in their local communities and the administration, faculty, and staff at CCs tend to be well integrated into the local community. CCs are perfect sites for goals 4 – 6: public-private partnerships; community-based work-study placements; public service careers and loan forgiveness. In addition, CCs could be perfect sites for studies of how to integrate career preparation and civic engagement.

    Goal 7 – Support civic learning for a well-rounded K-12 curriculum. Here the critique of high-stakes testing in narrowing the curriculum is correct and i was glad to see that the Department of Education emphasizes a broader interpretation of education in the reauthorizing of the ESEA. However, I was concerned that the description of a well-rounded education seemed like a silo rather than integrating of subject matter approach. I would like to see the new competitive program (Effective Teaching and Learning for a Well-Rounded Education) encourage more creative integrative approaches. For example, there was no mention in the nine steps of the potential of exploring a science-civic nexus in environmental education – that could engage students in hands-on data collection about quality issues in local natural resource management and in school-community partnerships to take civic action to preserve those resources.

  4. I am an associate professor of elementary education at Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington. I am also a reading teacher and I spent my sabbatical working full-time, at no cost, in two of our local elementary schools. I spent my mornings as a Title One support teacher and my afternoons teaching fifth grade social studies. I will draw on that experience, as well as my work to increase service learning opportunities for my university students, as a basis for my remarks.

    First, in many states social studies has become the neglected component of elementary education. In part, this is due to the lack of accountability on most state achievement exams that tend to focus exclusively on reading, writing and mathematics with a more recent interest in including science. Social studies learning is not widely included in assessment measures until the high school level when it is course-by-course so as educators are struggling with an ever increasing set of standards and mandates they are choosing to eliminate elements of their programs that can be ignored with little immediate consequence and social studies education often falls into that category.

    I have taught social studies methods for my university and I spent a lot of time explaining to my own pre-service students that the strands of social studies include American and World History, as they expected, but that they also include geography, economics and civics. Their own educational experiences have been very limited in these areas and this is the discipline that most often challenges them as they practice instructional planning and as they study for their state content exams. We talk about why all of these strands are important in the development of a global citizen who can live and work anywhere in the world and why having a sense of place and the role that geography plays in political, economic and social systems is important. We talk about what it means to be able to play an active role as a citizen of the world, of a country, a state and a community. We ask important questions such as what would you need to know or what skills would you need to participate in an informed manner on questions of local and national policy? The unfortunate thing is that for many of them, this is the first time they’ve engaged in these conversations.

    Our university has a service learning office and our students all engage in ongoing service learning opportunities beginning in their freshmen year when they have a mandatory Community Building Day that requires them to provide a day of service to a local, non-profit group that focuses on community engagement and improvement. They learn about their host agency and they complete tasks that vary from sorting items for local clothing and food banks to cleaning rooms or apartments for local women’s and children’s shelters. They talk about the privilege their education provides them and the responsibilities that come with that privilege.

    As they continue in their education, they take part in class-specific service learning and they also can choose from a variety of extra curricular projects that include things like after-school tutoring at a low-income Title One school or working in a crisis center for infants and young children whose parents drop them off to keep them safe during a domestic crisis. Through all of these experiences, the central questions continue to be asked and answered: What is your responsibility as an educated member of the citizenry? How can you use your education to improve your community? Can you develop a vision for your future that has you taking on leadership roles in service of others? What would that look like and how are you taking steps to prepare for that future? What is your obligation to yourself, your family, your community, your country and your world? I have consistently found that students want to be engaged in those questions at all levels of their education. They are important questions that engage the mind and the heart.

    While teaching fifth grade social studies, we looked at the Revolutionary War and we talked about the freedoms that all American citizens continue to be entitled to as a result. We didn’t just talk about this as past history. We talked about our constitution in light of current issues such as gun control and funding priorities. We asked the question, is liberty an absolute right or should it be limited when it comes in conflict with the common good? These children are ten and eleven and they had meaningful debates about how history informs their understanding of current events and how the outcomes of these current debates will shape their future and the future of their children. These conversations were as meaningful, thoughtful and impassioned as those I have with my university students and with my peers. Again, they happen rarely in the elementary and middle school classroom.

    So, to your question. If the Road Map for Civic Learning has as its goals to:

    1. Convene and catalyze the education community to increase and enhance high-quality civic learning and engagement opportunities.

    Then it must provide time by considering how to streamline what is already a very overloaded set of standards and curricular mandates. It must provide relevance for teachers and students by having this learning assessed, achievement acknowledged in some public, identifiable manner and by connecting this learning to the realization of future personal and professional goals. The education community will always do what is required first and with the time that is left what is valuable for the future of the children. Civic learning has to be both required and valuable in order to increase learning opportunities at all levels of education.

    2. Identify civic learning and engagement indicators to measure student outcomes and encouraging further research to learn more about appropriate and effective program design.

    There are so many existing programs that already do civic learning well. There are national programs like AmeriCorps and Volunteers of America, there are school-based programs as well. It makes sense to use an approach similar to the one used in the design of the Common Core State Standards. Convene a group that is already doing this well both from within and outside of the school system. Take the best of their program designs and outcomes and use those as a starting point. Engage the entire educational system from Kindergarten through universities to talk together about how to create a continuum of learning. If a student graduates from high school with credits in civic learning and community engagement, how can this increase their chances of acceptance to a university or increase the funding for which that student is eligible? These kinds of questions will assist in the design of a program that has both altruistic and pragmatic appeal for students. In my experience, all of my students at all levels want to make a difference. They want to be empowered to affect change but they also want to be able to achieve their personal goals and support themselves. Find ways to blend these dual concerns into the design of a sustainable program.

    The best civic engagement, in my experience, is informed from local concerns. As I said earlier, I completed a half-year sabbatical in two of my local elementary schools. The Title One school has a large number of children who are over a year behind in meeting their reading benchmarks. This impacts their achievement in all aspects of their education. The school is working hard to harness its human and material resources to meet these needs but the number of children who need focused intervention is too great. One result of spending four months there was I was able to go back to my university and design a pilot program that will be initiated in the fall of 2013. This program will see my literacy classes move off-campus to be housed at the Title One school. All students in our elementary education program will complete at least one semester assigned to a teacher team to do pull-out small group and individual instruction using targeted intervention methods under the direct supervision of both the classroom teacher and me as their university instructor. The teachers will also have time with me each week to brainstorm ideas for how to help their most struggling students and those ideas will immediately become part of the training program for my pre-service candidates so they, in turn, can immediately implement that training with their intervention children.

    At the same time, our university has received several grants in the last few years to provide twice weekly after school support for special education students, English Language Learners and at-risk learners using Reading Mastery, a sequential, explicit phonics program. Because of my time in the schools, I came to realize that the children who most need the service can’t get it because their parents have no way to transport them to our campus. We have limited public transportation and the parents are often working from 4-6 p.m. each day when our clinic is open. Upon return to my campus, I again initiated a conversation about this and we are going to add an on-site clinic at the Title One school so those children do not have to travel to access the program. All the funding is being provided by the university grants.

    Students of all ages need modeling and direction on how to identify, analyze and prioritize the competing needs of their communities so their efforts at promoting change are focused and intentional. By responding to local needs as educators, we provide pathways and examples for students to do the same.

    3. Leverage federal investments and public-private partnerships to support civic learning and engagement activities where permitted and feasible.

    I have addressed some examples of this above but I also believe that there is room for scholarship programs that can make up the financial gap for college candidates who are active in service learning. The Pell and Stafford programs are wonderful and they do a lot but not enough. Academic achievement and financial need are good indicators that someone should get financial assistance but they are not the only indicators. If a high school student has dedicated considerable time to civic engagement, there should be a way to recognize that.

    I am currently tutoring a high school senior who is facing a $10,000 gap to pay for school next year after receiving his financial aid package. He has also spent over 20 hours a week, on average, volunteering for our Adult Extended Learning Institute in their English Language Program for recent refugees. These are adults newly arrived to our country with such limited English that their financial independence is precarious. The Institute offers free classes for them and this high school student devotes his time to working with the clients. That experience has also led to his goal of getting a degree in Secondary Education and Spanish with an English Language Learner endorsement and a Teaching of English as a Second Language (TESOL) certificate. When a young person voluntarily gives substantial time to address a very real need in his community and that experience in volunteering, in turn, informs his career decision so his future education will be very focused and goal-oriented, there should be a way to reward that by supporting his education efforts.

    This same student spent three hours establishing a fastweb profile and doing independent research into private scholarships with no success. We sat down together and I showed him how large corporations, utilities and service organizations often have scholarships that are not widely published. We found a Kohl’s program that awards $10,000 scholarships, one from Kiwanis International and so on. These groups could be solicited for partnerships to provide mentoring and financial support for local children who are working hard in their communities to make a difference. They could partner with a local high school or middle school and provide adult mentoring. Eventually, that student could be supported with a scholarship if his/her grades and continuing commitment to civic engagement is evident.

    4. Highlight and promote civic learning and engagement opportunities for students, families and other stakeholders as collaborators and problem-solvers in education.

    I think I’ve addressed this in earlier questions. Again, I appreciate that this is a focus at the national level and I believe the steps you are taking can provide a blueprint for state and local efforts. I think this is an important issue because our children are being short-changed in their social studies, and specifically their civics education and one result is that our country is failing to harness the passion and energy of our young people to make a difference.

    Thank you for your time.

  5. Is it possible that “non-partisan programs” is non-starter for developing serious civic engagement? It is one thing to ask students to try to understand all perspectives on various sides of political issues. It is something less to have them divest themselves of their own stances so as to be non-partisan. Putting one’s political views aside is akin to approaching the 1950s-60s civil rights era, while ignoring matters of race and justice. A sure way to have students adopt “bookish”
    knowledge but not to become engaged, is to start them off with denial that politics is sided and having them put their own views on hold. We are placing quite a burden on students and missing a learning opportunity by asking them to be non-partisan at school, but allowing them to be partsian at the family dinner table, in their peer group discussions, at membership clubs, and at the various community-based places where they do service for defined purposes. If engagement is the desired outcome, them let students engage through real interaction with one another and their multisided communities. The empirical literature I know says that adults who are politically engaged got their start earlier by questioning, getting angry, wanting to change, or becoming involved in issues they cared about.

  6. The support of the Department of Education is essential for the needed work in civic learning to take root across higher education. I direct one of the nation’s leading service learning programs at California State University, Monterey Bay (CSUMB). Since it opened in 2005, all CSUMB undergraduate students have had to complete two “service learning courses” that address issues of social responsibility and cultivate students’ commitment to civic engagement and service. During the first 10 years of our university’s existence, we conducted pre- and post- assessment of students in the service learning courses. Results showed that students: 1) had a more positive attitude toward service and civic responsibility; 2) were more comfortable participating in the community; and 3) were more confident in their ability to “make a difference.”

    Over the past 17 years, our work has been supported by grants from the Corporation for National and Community Service, by the Dept. of Housing and Urban Development’s Office of University Partnerships, and by the Department of Agriculture. Ironically, ALL THREE OF THE PROGRAMS THAT HAVE SUPPORTED OUR WORK HAVE BEEN “ZEROED-OUT.” I find this quite disturbing, given the new focus on civic learning.

    Here are some recommendations:

    1. Make funding available to support programs that integrate concrete civic learning outcomes into the core of the majors. This is where true curricular transformation needs to occur in order for civic learning to become embraced by higher education.

    2. Before trying to measure student outcomes, measure the presence or absence of civic learning/literacy outcomes in degree programs. We should not expect to see student change when curricula have not changed. We need to prioritize the development of civic learning outcomes in the majors and degree programs.

    3. Offer national Civic Merit Scholars recognition to students who prepare a portfolio of their civic learning/literacy. Make this matter! Have it be grounded in the knowledge and skills of the disciplines and academic programs. Have financial incentives attached. For example, partial forgiveness of student loans.

    4. Work with the Professional Associations to have them emphasize civic learning and literacy as a fundamental component of accreditation for universities.

    5. Substantially increase Federal Community Service Work Study opportunities that are linked to the majors and degree programs. Have these provide job/internship opportunities organized with local employers. Federal Work Study should again emphasize community work, and that community work should be linked to the core knowledge, skills and attitudes that are being developed by the majors and degree programs.

    If my post seems to be redundant, and seems to focus largely on the role of the departments and disciplines, that is a correct observation. Civic learning has grown in higher education, but, in the margins. As such, it is still seen as a marginal practice, of less merit that the rigorous and important learning that goes on in the majors and degree programs. Until this changes, civic learning will remain a dry, irrelevant topic: a disconnected topic learned in some required civics course. We need to make this meaningful and connected to the core mission of higher education.


  7. Comments on Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy

    In approaching the role of higher education as a guardian and exemplar of democracy, it is helpful to study the report issued by the Council for the Civic Mission of Schools as a starting place. The report, Guardian of Democracy, frames the problem in terms of a lack of knowledge about our system of government but then goes on to frame a call for civic learning in broader terms to include knowledge of the processes and structures that support our form of governance (civic knowledge), the ability to understand public issues and to view political engagement as a viable route for responding to those issues (skills and dispositions) and an inclination to participate in civic activities and community life. These patterns of understanding and participation can strengthen our democracy, promote equity and equality in our communities and in our national debates and policies and, not surprisingly pay off in a more informed and able workforce with 21st century competencies for collaboration, problem-solving and creative and innovative solution-finders for large and complex social, environmental and technical challenges. The report does offer one recommendation for colleges and universities—require all students, regardless of their field of study, to take at least one engaging civic learning course in order to become informed and engaged citizens. This advice falls far short of what is needed to ensure that all college graduates, both two and four year, have the knowledge, skills and dispositions to be active and informed participants in their communities and active citizens.

    Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy seeks to offer guidance for the role that the Federal Government can play in promoting civic learning and the practice of democracy. It starts with the premise that civic learning is too narrowly defined in the curriculum as content—namely the ability to describe our democratic form of government—and too often viewed as an add-on rather than as an integral component of the way that colleges and universities approach the student experience, the design of the , including the use of high impact practices that link learning with issues in the community, and campus governance.

    To address the question of how to position civic learning, defined as knowledge, skills and dispositions for action, as an integral component of preparing students to compete in a knowledge-based, global economy and to strengthen our democratic way of life, the report offers nine steps that the US Department of Education can take “to advance civic learning and democratic engagement.” This set of comments will address the first four of those steps.

    1. Convene and catalyze schools and secondary institutions to increase and enhance high-quality civic learning and engagement. This step draws upon the convening power and voice of the Secretary of Education and the Department to direct attention of educators to the importance of civic learning and identity. It fails to consider several issues. First, it assumes stability in both the instructional workforce and in student participation in both the schools and at the postsecondary level. In fact, the complexity and volatility of participation in higher education make it imperative that we first design and then offer clear pathways to advanced education beyond high school that have civic learning as an integral component that guides how courses are developed and how we define and frame our expectations of graduates and how students can demonstrate their knowledge, skills and dispositions. A promising model for this is the Degree Qualifications Profile now being tested in a variety of projects sponsored by the Lumina Foundation. The DQP includes a component on civic learning. To develop this aspect of learning, some attention also should be given to what we mean by a civic identity. An especially useful way to talk about civic identity has been contributed by Lee Knefelkamp in her work with the Association of American Colleges and Universities.
    It is unlikely that encouragement to conduct civic audits or to place plans for civic learning on their websites will do much to encourage colleges and universities to emphasize the acquisition of the knowledge, habits and expectations that can prepare our students for a life of active citizenship and community participation unless we first both embrace the concept, as both Liberal Education and America’s Promise and its derivative the DQP have done and then develop ways to enact those goals in the complex world of today’s postsecondary education. While it will surely be important to exercise the powers of the “bully pulpit” to draw attention to this issue, very little will be achieved unless the Federal government considers restoring programs like FIPSE and invests more meaningfully in the Corporation for National and Community Service and its programs that encourage both programmatic and individual experiences in contributing to community life.

    2. Identify additional civic indicators. The indicators in this section focus primarily, if not exclusively, on knowledge of our democratic structures and processes and self-reports of attitudes and involvement and captures those data from students enrolled in high school or making a transition to college-level work. While it is helpful to gauge the level of knowledge about and interest in life in the community and in the processes of democracy, such civic indicators cannot, by themselves, capture whether students actually do contribute to public life either while enrolled or after graduation. The American Democracy Project is undertaking a civic inventory process using a Delphi approach to focus in on measures of the strength of democratic life in communities. This may offer a better approach to moving beyond content knowledge to data on actual understanding of public issues and participation in community life.

    3. Identify promising practices in civic learning and democratic engagement—and encourage further research to learn what works. The plan to focus on research on civic learning and engagement in the programs sponsored by the National Center for Education Research and the plan to include a focus on civic learning and engagement in the context of the civic health (which needs to be defined) and economic health of the school or campus and the community it serves are worthwhile. In the case of higher education, care should be taken in defining community since the mission of institutions may or may not encompass a global community or regional and state interactions as well as local neighborhoods. Assessing impact is still an emerging practice and some efforts should be made to support research on ways to evaluate social impact as well as economic impact and an approach to Social Return on Investment that offer useful information on the quality and impact of approaches that educational institutions take to promoting community-based learning and involvement in the life of a community, either on campus or beyond. The question of “what works” needs to be clarified. This could be a study of knowledge about civics or it could be a long-term study of civic engagement and understanding and informed responses to public issues.

    4. Leverage federal investments and public-private partnerships. This component is especially weak. Another way to think about this is to consider the second merit criterion that has been in place in solicitations designed by the National Science Foundation for many years. The focus of the second merit criterion on broadening participation and a concern for national priorities that can drive research provides a better way to draw attention to an issue of great national importance. Simple encouragement will not suffice. The US Department of Education might benefit from learning more about the use of the second merit criterion, both its strengths and its weaknesses and the path by which it became a meaningful component of proposal submissions as well as a repertoire for review committees, and how to adapt this concept to the goal of encouraging grantees to pursue collaborations as well as civic learning and engagement. While it will be helpful to include these elements in program criteria and reporting guidelines, a specific merit component and support for the development of centers or programs that can offer assistance in implementing ways to promote civic learning and active citizenship might leverage Federal dollars most effectively.

  8. First, thank you for this opportunity to contribute to the Road Map for civic learning. I have spent the last 25 years thinking, writing, and studying this topic, so I am grateful for this opportunity.

    My advice would be to focus on “policy service-learning”, particularly when working with college and high school students. Policy service-learning is where students in small groups take an idea that they would like to change on campus, in the local community, or in the nation, and work on that policy.

    I am a Sociologist, so the students connect what they are learning in the community with social theory, ideas about community change, and sociological concepts. However, this same idea of integrating praxis and classroom ideas could be used in whatever discipline is being taught.

    Over the past 10 years, my policy service-learning students have worked on a variety ideas, including:

    • increasing the minimum wage in San Jose. Two years ago, my students launched a campaign to increase the minimum wage to $10. This past November, our campaign was successful when San Jose passed our minimum wage proposition with 60% of the vote. We accomplished two of the President’s goal at once: civic education and increasing the minimum wage! If interested, take a look at The Nation’s recent article:;

    • the rebuilding of the Gulf Coast after Hurricane Katrina. The students developed two federal bills (i.e., Gulf Coast Civic Works Act) and had them introduced into Congress in 2007 and 2008. Then, the students helped lead a coalition of 200 organization to enact the bills (;

    • the re-instatement of the Education Opportunity Program (EOP) at SJSU in 2008. This program, whcih had all been abandoned by the University, was brought back by my students after a three-month campaign, and it is now staffed with a director and assistant director and has over 50 students in the program;

    • a campaign to get the University President to sign an executive order creating a sweatshop-free campus, which my students’ achieved in 2007;

    • the creation of Poverty Under the Stars–an annual campus sleep out that brings 150 students and community members together to highlight poverty and homelessness in our community and nation.

  9. Thanks for asking for my input. My general reaction is that the report is terrific as an aspirational statement, in its identification of the problem/shortcomings, in its provision of concrete examples of success, and in its nine specific action steps/goals.

    I should note that the National Academy of Sciences has at this moment am advisory committee underway to make recommendations for the systematic collection of public opinion data on the civic engagement/social cohesion of American citizens (through such possible avenues as the CPS survey). This seems directly related to “Step Two” of the action plan and I would encourage the Department of Education to enter into conversations with the Census Bureau/Department of Labor and others to possibly coordinate these efforts. I also think that, despite the good examples mentioned in the report there are countless other efforts taking place around the country and anything that could be done to create some kind of central repository of evidence-based “best practices” would be a great contribution of this initiative. Lastly a number of private foundations are deeply engaged in supporting efforts relevant to this initiative, and I encourage you to include these important sources of both ideas and resources as a key partner in future work.

  10. Good morning,

    Since 1995, Kapi’olani CC in Honolulu has sustained a nationally recognized service-learning and civic engagement program, which I oversee. More than 10,000 students have completed service-learning assignments since 1995.

    I was involved in the dialog that resulted in AAC&U’s “Crucible Moment” publication and have worked with AAC&U since 2002 and their publication “Greater Expectations.”
    in which Kapiolani service-learning was featured. (see

    There are two suggestions I would like to make regarding Road Map Items #4 and #7;

    4. Leverage federal investments and public-private partnerships: Kapi’olani’s ability to sustain its service-learning and civic engagement program is founded on “leveraging institutional and external resources.” For example we have leveraged grants from the Center for Disease Control to the American Association of Community Colleges “Building Healthy Communities” program to support service-learning in microbiology and nursing; and we used HUD Office of University Partnerships funds, as a Native Hawaiian-serving institution, to improve reading and math literacy in a public housing community. At the same time as external funds sharpened the civic problem-solving function of service-learning, we were also convincing college decision-makers to invest in service-learning with ongoing and systematic assessment and evaluation. Internal and external fund leveraging has enabled the program to thrive.

    7. Civic learning for a well-rounded K-12 curriculum: In the late 1990s we received a subgrant from the Community College National Center for Community Engagement called “2+4=Service on Common Ground.” These funds opened our eyes to the potential of service-learning “transfer pathways” from community colleges to universities in the same geographic “service area.” Community college and university faculty and students serve together on issues such as homelessness, early literacy, and creating K-16 STM pipelines (with HUD and NSF funding). We have refined our service-learning to work across “issue pathways” comprised of multiple semesters of service-learning aligned with general education learning outcomes assessment. Service-Learning in general ed can then prepare students for service-learning in majors and interdisciplinary study.

    So two suggestions: 1) more emphasis on leveraging institutional and external funding; 2) more emphasis on service-learning on common ground partnerships between community colleges and universities (building on the K-12 curriculum).

  11. I was a participant in the Dept of Ed roundtable that produced A Crucible Moment. The gathering made me hopeful about the administration’s commitment to civic education, but then the Learn and Serve funds that got so many students engaged were cut in a budget deal. This was a huge step backwards, removing students from powerful engagement opportunities and making it harder for schools to pursue engagement as a priority. I hope you’ll consider the restoration of this critically important program.

  12. How ED Defines Civic Learning and Engagement

    On January 10th, Secretary of Education Arne Duncan announced that policy will include preparing young people for “citizenship” as well as “college” and “career.” Adding a third “C,” for “citizenship,” has been a long-time goal of many higher education groups.

    A next step is to integrate the “three C’s,” understanding that citizenship can be expressed through work with public purposes and collaborative qualities – as a citizen teacher, citizen business owner, citizen hair dresser, citizen engineer, citizen computer operator and many other positions.

    Education needs to prepare students through college for citizen careers, work that “pays and matters,” in the phrase of the civic engagement leader Julie Ellison.

    For much of American history, democracy and citizenship were understood in these ways. When Alexis de Tocqueville, the French observer who toured the nation in the 1830s, wrote his classic study, Democracy in America he meant democracy as a society, not simply a system of government. Citizens were seen as foundational agents of democracy, not simply voters or volunteers.

    Tocqueville was amazed that Americans citizens engaged in self-directed action to accomplish multiple tasks undertaken by governments in Europe. A strong sense of agency also animated democratic movements in America. As the sociologist Robert Bellah has observed, “political parties [in America] often come in on the coattails of successful popular movements rather than leading them.”

    Such a democracy involved the down to earth public work of solving problems and building communities. Kettering Foundation president David Mathews conveys this citizenship in his book, Reclaiming Public Education by Reclaiming Our Democracy:

    Nineteenth-century self-rule grew out of barn raisings and town meetings; it was a sweaty, hands-on, problem-solving politics. The democracy of self-rule was rooted in collective decision making and acting— especially acting. Settlers on the frontier had to be producers, not just consumers. They had to join forces to build forts, roads, and libraries. They formed associations to combat alcoholism and care for the poor as well as to elect representatives. They also established the first public schools. Their efforts were examples of “public work,” meaning work done by not just for the public.

    In the early decades of the 20th century, such views of democracy as a society and citizenship as centered in people’s work informed land grant colleges, with their curriculum combining “practical studies” and “liberal arts.” Graduates saw themselves as working as citizens through their jobs not mainly off-hours.

    As John Hannah, President of Michigan State put it in 1944 in an address to the Association of Land Grant Colleges and Universities, “Our colleges should not be content with only the training of outstanding agriculturalists, or engineers, or home economists, or teachers, or scientists, or lawyers, or doctors, or veterinarians…the first and never forgotten objective must be that every human product of our educational system must be given the training that will enable him to be an effective citizen….”

    But by the 1950s, the tie between citizenship and work had largely disappeared. The National Conference on Citizenship, which assesses the civic health of communities, includes no indicators connected to work or the workplace. The assumption is that citizenship is off-hours service or voluntary activity. Today, most colleges and universities distinguish between professional and workforce preparation, on the one hand, and liberal arts, sciences and civic learning, on the other.

    Yet in a time when “jobs” are widely discussed, work-related ideas like “citizen professionalism” are beginning to appear again. David Scobey, dean of the New School of Public Engagement, has recently called for a new emphasis on work and its civic impacts throughout higher education:

    We need to think about work as a key arena of reflective preparation, doing for work what we did for service learning. We should enable all students to reflect on their work experience and be intentional about it. We need a totally new mode of where work fits into students’ growth, bringing together civic learning, work, and student courses of study.

    One place to begin is discussions with faculty and staff about how they understand their own work and their broader public contributions through teaching and research, beyond the specific research projects they conduct in their disciplines or the particular classes they teach.

    It is a big task. Putting work back at the center of citizenship and civic learning will take a movement throughout all of higher education.

    It can also move citizenship from a poor cousin to the center of the family.

  13. As John Dewey wrote, democracy is based on education. Without adequate opportunities to learn how to think, analyze, and decide important civic matters, an individual in a democracy is not prepared to fully participate as a citizen. If too many students fail to acquire this knowledge and skill, the democracy might fail.
    We know that many youth do not learn to be civically engaged. One group, in particular, does not participate in society as much as others. That group is high school dropouts. Data reveal important information about their behavior. In fact, they are less likely to par¬ticipate in most areas of community and civic life. According to America’s Civic Health Index: Broken Engagement, which measures 40 indicators of civic health over the past 30 years, high school dropouts are (when compared to col¬lege students),

    • only half as likely to vote,
    • one-quarter as likely to volunteer in their community,
    • only one-third as likely to attend club meetings,
    • and only one-half as likely to engage in public work in commu¬nities.

    These figures indicate that dropout prevention is a serious issue for both education and the maintenance of our democracy. It’s time we pay atten¬tion to both concerns and implement more efforts that involve students in programs that effectively target these populations for improved graduation and improved civic engagement.

    We have evidence that programs exist that help this population to remain in school . The Silent Epidemic (2006), a study commissioned by the Gates Foundation, found that more than 80% of high school dropouts might have stayed in school if they had active learning programs that connected them with community for service and meaning¬ful work (service-learning, internships, and career education). Students enjoy the hands-on learning associated with these learning programs and find special mean¬ing in the opportunity to contribute something of value to their society—and themselves. Service-learning and career education both make education meaningful and relevant.

    The Civic Call to Action and the Crucible Moment reinforce and reenergize this perspective on democracy. They, collectively, suggest we must re-commit to the fundamental role of education as a foundation for democratic citizenry. If citizenship is one of the primary goals of education in a society, then we must focus on strategies designed to be effective dropout prevention programs because their ultimate goals include civic participation and full political and economic participation in society. Those two strategies, of course, are service-learning and career/technical education.

    Given this background, addressing the civic needs of the nation are of paramount importance. Anyone concerned with civic participation and social justice must focus attention on doing things that will promote student engagement. Research from the career and technical education world (Shumer and Digby, 2010; 2011), as well as other fields, suggest active, community-based learning in any form is important for achieving effective civic outcomes.

    In fact, education needs to be structured around one primary focus: civic education as the overall umbrella for education at all levels. Preparing youth for service, for work, and civic outcomes and knowledge are the quintessential goals for education in a democracy.

    Fulfilling the goals and agenda for the nation’s civic agenda, as spelled out in the US Department of Education’s Roadmap and Call to Action, is a suitable and appropriate outline of activities and programs necessary to move the country forward. Specific recommendations that define the action steps required should include the following elements.

    • The key to effective programming involves collaboration. Collaboration at every level, between elementary school, secondary school, college, and community are necessary to increase the civic mission of our society. Using models, such as the Corporation for National and Community Service’s Community, School, Higher Education, Partnership (CHESP) engages all three segments of society in cooperative ventures that focus on educational growth in all sectors, enhanced by program components that support and supplement the work of each other.

    • Legislate time for individuals from various civic sectors (schools, community organizations, government, business, and higher education) to discuss collaborative approaches and to build relationships with one another to produce the programs, processes, and products that will yield increased personal, civic, and societal outcomes. Research in the career and technical education field (Shumer and Digby, 2010; Shumer, Stringfield, et al 2011) suggest relationships matter between various educational systems and people and that focus on relationship development produces rigorous academic and community-based programs.

    • Engage higher education institutions in the evaluation and professional development of programs at all levels of community work. Following the model evaluation of AmeriCorps in Minnesota from 1994-1999, evaluation courses at the University of Minnesota, supported by students and faculty, produced high quality assessments of program activities, program outcomes, and program processes in a variety of areas. Such studies included cost-benefit analysis, case studies, longitudinal survey data, and policy analyses. Engaging land-grant, Research I institutions in the promotion, assessment, and development of civic programming is essential to documentation of the growth and impact of a civic call to action.

    • Engage all stakeholders (schools, colleges, community organizations, and businesses) in the development of longitudinal assessment structures, such as the use of electronic portfolios and portfolio systems that can be used to document learning, growth, and impact of such efforts on a continuous basis. The development of portfolios that measure civic growth, career and technical knowledge, personal development, and social change are necessary to create authentic systems that must be used to assess the overall value of such a call to action. The Minnesota Career Information System is a suitable model that includes a comprehensive portfolio that documents personal growth, civic growth, civic engagement, and career and technical education development.

    • Commit the civic actions to addressing the most serious issues of inequality in the country: the division between rich and poor, the unequal occurrence of obesity/diabetes between economic classes and races, the unequal opportunity for schooling success among economic classes and racial groups, and the unequal access and opportunity to obtain and receive health coverage and service.

  14. Regarding your request for comments on the Civic Learning and Engagement Initiative, the Student Support Services Program of the Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (USC), gathered opinions and ideas through meetings with the USC’s President, faculty, and students, among others.

    Civic Learning is the educational process by which a university develops leadership skills and social commitment in its students.

    According to the President of the Universidad Del Sagrado Corazón (USC), Dr. José Jaime Rivera, an involved citizen participates systematically in the development of society.

    The Universidad del Sagrado Corazón (USC) created, in 1994, the concept of service learning by which the students applied the concepts acquire in class to impact the surrounding communities with projects related to their courses. Throughout the years, the USC has been developing more than 10 programs focused on service to the community. Among these are the USC Women Business Institute, the Community Linking Center, the Center for the Freedom of the Press and the Institute for Humans Rights, and the Center for the Development of Volunteers. All of these programs integrate the participation of the students from diverse disciplines to accomplish their civic integration in the sectors they impact. Community linkage comprises learning through activities or the development of projects that have a social benefit.

    All of these initiatives are linked to several USC objectives including:

    . Promoting the critical analysis of the social reality and the construction of solutions to transform their problems into benefits to mankind.
    . Increasing the awareness and attitudes necessary to eliminate all types of discrimination so harmful to our society.
    . Doing activities that promote the welfare of the community, its environment and its commitment to justice, equality and peace.
    . Promoting a broad view of business management that incorporates values of solidarity and social justice.
    . Nurting collaborative attitudes and developing skills to work in groups.

    Also, adjusted to the concept of service learning, the institutional mission emphasizes the education of people on intellectual freedom and moral conscience, willing to participate in building a Puerto Rican society more Christian authentic: a caring community in justice and peace.

    Among the ideas to implement the process of civic learning are workshops that promote the development of leadership, teamwork and conflict solutions skills, and the importance of volunteering. It is also important to integrate the academy with the community through the service learning concept. An example of this are the Communications courses that offer consulting strategies to non-profit organizations on how to promote their services, Business Administration courses that collaborate with community enterprises in the creation of business plans, and Social Science and Humanities courses that perform service projects in needy communities.

    Through this process of civic learning and engagement, students develop and strengthen their academic skills reaching to the community, providing services and promoting in-field experiences focusing on social responsibility to collaborate in the empowerment and social justice of margined groups and communities in our society.

  15. University of Illinois at Chicago
    Response to U.S. Department of Education document
    “Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy: A Road Map and Call to Action”

    The Question of Definition

    In footnote 1, page 1, the Department defines the term “civic learning and democratic
    engagement” as follows:

    By “civic learning and democratic engagement” we mean educational experiences that intentionally prepare students for informed, engaged participation in civic and democratic life by providing opportunities to develop civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions through learning and practice. These include civics and government as subjects unto themselves but also service-learning and other approaches for integrating a civic and democratic dimension into other disciplines, such as science,
    technology, engineering, and math (STEM).

    While it is indisputable that U.S. education, at all levels, needs to place renewed emphasis on preparation for active citizenship in a democracy, a few comments seem warranted:

    1. “Civics” pertains to ideas and activities related to citizenship, itself a concept that is
    meaningful only in relation to a political division of territory (nation, state, municipality). One’s “civic duty” indicates obligations thought to be entailed by citizenship; “civic pride” refers to a citizen’s positive feelings about her hometown; and so on. A certain strain of U.S. thinkers and educators, reaching all the way back to Thomas Jefferson and through John Dewey and Ernest Boyer, traditionally have been concerned about education for citizenship and for life in a democratic society. These, of course, are legitimate concerns. However, it must be perfectly clear that “civic learning” aims to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that support participation in civic life—but that it always remains up to the individual citizen to choose which civic goals to pursue. One cannot overemphasize the importance of preserving a sharp distinction between education and propagandizing or proselytizing.

    2. Perhaps the Department might consider broadening the concept of “democratic
    engagement” to reach beyond the strictly civic. Here at UIC, we talk about and practice “community engagement” as much as, if not more than “civic engagement.” While the knowledge, skills, and dispositions that support successful “community engagement” overlap with those required for successful “civic engagement,” the former involves students and faculty in the domains of health care, education, environmentalism, minority group and immigration issues, and many others. “Community engagement” programs prepare students for both community and civic life and for success in a highly diverse culture and society. Indeed, divorced from the richness of “community,” “civics” would be both sterile and pointless.

    3. The literature on civic and/or community engagement and service-learning has not
    produced a hard-and-fast definition of any of those terms, although many have been
    suggested. Some have argued that the absence of a universally accepted definition is an advantage, giving educators much leeway to bring many different types of programs, projects, and practices under a very large umbrella. One can understand, though, that government-supported programs must depend on clear and concise definitions in order to conduct a coherent dialogue with Congressional funders and the public. Therefore, we 2 applaud the Department’s efforts to formulate a definition, but urge some rethinking in the direction of inclusiveness.

    Thoughts on the “Nine Steps”

    Steps 1, 2, and 3 all support the development of data that may lead to new and/or improved programs. The Department’s role in this crucial effort should be two-fold: (1) major communicator— in fact, a clearinghouse—of research efforts, findings, and implications, and (2) a major funder of both research and the implementation and evaluation of experimental or “pilot” programs. Data-based decision-making, a hallmark of the current ED, is the key to advancing education in all areas and particularly in an area as fraught as civic/community engagement.

    Here at UIC, the only existing undergraduate academic program of engaged learning has conducted small-scale research into both short- and long-term effects of oommunity-engaged learning on student achievement and attitude. Such studies should be replicated on a much larger scale, but they are expensive and time consuming. Sufficient funding support is needed to enable qualified faculty and other researchers to undertake similar studies.

    Not incidentally, our local research strongly supports the Department’s position that “civic learning and democratic engagement” approaches are appropriate targets of intervention for improving learning outcomes” (p. 23). Support for developing and testing, then widely sharing information about such interventions would be a sound investment in increasing the rate of college degree completion in the U.S.

    Step 4, in part, encourages public-private partnerships in pursuit of “civic learning and
    democratic engagement.” In UIC’s experience, such partnerships are both achievable and sustainable; it is not difficult to identify private funders who are interested in broadening participation in democracy and/or in supporting community-oriented higher education programs. Our undergraduate community engagement program for a number of years has been generously supported by external grants and gifts, with the major funder being the McCormick Foundation, which is headquartered here in Chicago. The key to successful external fund development is a clear understanding of the congruence between the goals of the funder and the goals of a “civic learning and democratic engagement” education program. Another example of private effort
    making a difference is the Carnegie Foundation’s institution of a voluntary designation that recognizes colleges and universities that engage with their communities in exemplary ways.

    Step 5 is a sound idea. The Department should consider formally recognizing model FWS programs that meet the stated goals. In addition, given the current needs of so many in our diverse population, it seems that the Department might consider increasing the 7 percent requirement to as much as 10 or 15 percent.
    Step 6 is, of course, a good and important goal. However, the Department must recognize that attacks on public employees, launched mostly at the state level, will present something of an obstacle to recruitment. Some in higher education are deeply concerned about the tremendous student loan debt incurred by many of our students and their families, so liberalizing of the federal student loan programs and debt forgiveness for borrowers who work in public service are very welcome moves.

    Step 7 faces the obstacle of high-stakes testing. As the Department knows, rewarding and/or punishing K-12 schools and teachers solely on the basis of standardized test scores has led to unintended consequences: teachers feel driven to “teach to the test” and schools have felt impelled to narrow the curriculum to tested areas. In addition, state and local school governance systems have followed the trend by introducing additional testing programs of their own. Thus, new programs that push for a “well-rounded curriculum” in this era of high-stakes testing in “the basics” may not succeed as planned.

    Step 8 is a wonderful idea. In 2010, UIC won an AANAPISI grant that has enabled a number of initiatives enabling students to engage with both the on-campus and off-campus community in ways the develop a sense of personal agency. However, more research should be conducted into the consequences for low-income students and/or students from under-represented groups who, during the course of their college educations, engage in projects involving communities similar to their home communities. This is a sensitive area that has received some, but not enough attention in the literature.

    Step 9 models democratic engagement and, fully and robustly implemented, may help citizens come to feel “the government” is not a foreign power, but an extension of themselves.

  16. From “Nice” to “Necessary:” the case for Service, Service Learning and Philanthropy Education as the foundations for successful civic education.

    As an every-single-day practitioner of connecting young people to their communities, and themselves through service, I applaud the ED’s Road Map for Civic Learning. And it is my greatest hope that my colleagues in the service learning and philanthropy education community will be able to play an integral part in this national effort.

    Whether we as a field failed to make the case for service learning or not, it is clear that in recent years the value of service as a core component in education has been called to question. And yet consider the following:

    • Service learning provides an unparalleled opportunity to employ differentiated teaching methods to reach your students. Research suggests the population of learners in general and male learners in particular classified as “kinesthetic learners” is extremely large. Most, if not all, service-learning has a component that necessitates students get up and move their bodies through space; therefore the service actually becomes the vehicle for advancing knowledge, skills and abilities.

    • generationOn Schools- the service learning and philanthropy education platform of generationOn, the youth division of Points of Light- has at the ready a repository of over 1,600 service learning and philanthropy education lesson plans that are tied to the education standards of all 50 states and aligned with the US Common Core standards. This means that a teacher in Florida who must get students ready for the FCAT can do so using a service learning curriculum. By intentionally leading with academic preparedness and aligning with testing standards, service learning is transformed from potentially being perceived as an added burden to being recognized as a sort of academic “one stop shopping.”
    To reiterate- employing the generationOn Schools model affords educators with the tools and resources to meet academic standards, to be aligned with state and national curricula, and to do so through the prism of service learning and community engagement which intrinsically provide differentiated learning opportunities for non-traditional learners.

    While it is true that service learning can be positioned to enhance and facilitate the overall academic environment, it is equally true that it is a powerful tool for civic engagement and education. The simple truth is service positions young people as problem solvers as opposed to problems that need to be solved. As the activator of service and engagement- and not merely the recipient- students must drive the conversation, the plan and the execution of each opportunity. With adult scaffolding to reflect and evaluate the outcomes, young people are launched on a path that is a hallmark of engaged citizenry- it is open-ended, tends to increase in complexity as understanding deepens and usually entails coalition building, consensus and compromise. And, perhaps most compelling of all the emergence of a higher level of civility need not wait until adulthood. There is overwhelming anecdotal evidence that engaging students in service learning not only increases students’ civic comprehension, it also increases civility in schools.

    More focus must be given to our ability to rigorously measure the service learning offerings and academic outcomes associated with this platform. To that end, generationOn has commissioned an evaluation of our Indiana statewide initiative in conjunction with IUPUI. We look forward to sharing our findings with ED and other interested parties.

    In conclusion, humans are hard-wired to help, and as the saying goes… “kids are people too.” By tapping into this intrinsic human nature, by providing academically rigorous opportunities to learn, to share, to help and to grow, and by acknowledging the powerful contributions young people can make in their communities; service learning and philanthropy education can lead the way in civic education and provide the necessary foundation for tomorrow’s civic leaders.

  17. Close Up appreciates ED’s interest in reinvigorating civic learning and engagement among our nation’s young people, especially those in secondary grades.

    We, like many in the civic education community, continue to be concerned that only about twenty-five percent of students perform at proficient levels in Civics according to the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP).

    Additionally, and perhaps more troubling, significant gaps in civic knowledge and opportunities to engage in effective civic learning opportunities persist for students from low-income and minority communities. NAEP and International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement based analyses have long identified the civic knowledge and achievement gap and addressing the gap should be a priority. More recent studies indicate that students from low-income and minority communities have limited access to the type of effective civic learning opportunities most associated with sustained civic engagement ( .

    We are also concerned that the tone and tenor of current political ‘discourse’ may be exacerbating young people’s generally low sense of political efficacy (both external and internal) and that robust civic education curricula, practices, and programs must work to awaken and restore students’ confidence that the involvement of ordinary citizens can meaningfully influence and shape government policies.

    Close Up has long believed that students’ knowledge, commitment, and sense of efficacy about the institutions and processes of democracy is best advanced through experiential civic learning programs, and we are encouraged to see that the ideas and methods of what Peter Levine has called “Action Civics” are being embraced by a growing number of civic educators and schools. However, the teachers, schools, and providers of high quality civic education programming that engages students in this type of civic learning need sustained support, training, and resources.

    Sadly, recent government action, including the elimination of virtually all ED funding for civic education, has moved in the wrong direction. These cuts serve as a disincentive to the creation of innovative and potent civic education curriculum in schools, reduce the range of proven civic learning opportunities available to students, and thus discourage students’ preparation to responsibly exercise the rights and accept the responsibilities of democratic citizenship.
    Close Up believes that the first step for ED to ignite a nationwide commitment to prepare students for citizenship is to make civic learning and engagement a priority by restoring and elevating these activities within the department. We believe that ED should create a high-level Office of Civic Learning that will promote the development and implementation of high quality civic learning opportunities in all communities, and support state of the art civic learning curriculum and teaching practices in the nation’s public schools.

    The Office of Civic Learning should:

    • Ensure that high quality civic learning and engagement activities are infused into all ED grant competitions, including Race to the Top, and especially those specifically aimed at turning around the lowest performing schools;

    • Develop a civic learning grant competition that promotes civic learning programs with a demonstrated effectiveness and a focus on providing access to underserved populations, including students from military families;

    • Build capacity by supporting professional development programs for teachers to learn and share best practices for action civics and other high quality civic education methodologies.

    • Encourage and provide resources for federal agencies to improve outreach to young people and infuse civic learning into their programs;

    • Promote the study of primary source materials and public understanding of our nation’s founding documents;

    • Create an ED Civic Learning Advisory Board of leaders in education, business, labor, philanthropy and government.

    • Encourage adding seats for youth on various federal boards, commissions and task forces, especially youth representing underserved areas,

    • Encourage and provide resources to state and local education departments and school districts to establish their own Office of Civic Learning.

    Close Up is encouraged by ED’s leadership on this issue and looks forward to working with ED on empowering our next generation of citizens.

  18. As requested, please find our feedback on how ED should implement four of the nine steps in your Advancing Civil Learning and Engagement in Democracy report. If you have any questions or need additional clarification, please let me know.

    The report suggests that universities conduct civic audits and develop indicators and outcomes for educating students for informed engagement, I wonder if the Volunteer and Service Learning Center (VSLC) or Academic Service Learning (ASL) do this? The report also recommends identifying promising practices in civic learning and democratic engagement, as well as to encourage further research to learn what works. We could probably list the VSLC and ASL as two best practices. The report also suggests strengthening school- and campus-community connections, so we could recommend UTES as a best practice there.

    Step 1: To encourage postsecondary institutions to increase and enhance high-quality civic learning and engagement, the Department could reach out to existing university partnerships and/or organizations to enlist their assistance in sharing the report and recommendations. For instance, the American Educational Research Association, the Association for the Study of Higher Education, the University Council for Educational Administration, and other appropriate entities.

    Step 2: To help identify additional civic indicators, the Department mentioned that they will be adding additional questions to large national surveys at the K-12 levels and one at the postsecondary level. The Department could also reach out to and pursue adding questions to other large postsecondary surveys conducted at the national level, or ask individual universities and colleges for their participation.

    Step 3: In addition to requesting information through the National Center for Education Research, the Department could partner with leading peer reviewed journals or research organizations to create special issues or conference themes around civic learning and democratic engagement to encourage additional rigorous research. Examples include the journals and conferences associated with the American Educational Research Association, the Association for the Study of Higher Education, the University Council for Educational Administration, and other appropriate entities. The Department may also want to reach out to individual educational institutions to identify best practices. For instance at The University of Texas at Austin through the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement:

    • The VSLC has many best practices in community engagement, community resource development, and academic service learning. Each year, the Volunteer and Service Learning Center recruits over 6,000 student volunteers and partners with over 150 non-profits to develop ongoing volunteer learning opportunities for UT students.

    • The ASL program provides resources and support for faculty who are currently teaching or would like to teach an academic service-learning course, for students who are interested or enrolled in a service-learning course, and for community partners who are interested in collaborating with UT faculty and students.

    • The UT Outreach Centers are located across the state in Austin, Dallas, Houston, Rio Grande Valley, and San Antonio. The Centers are designed to assist and encourage top 8% students, potential first generation, and free and reduced lunch students to attend the university after high school graduation. The Centers offer academic enrichment and college readiness services to students including college prep workshops, financial aid workshops, community service opportunities, future leader conferences, mentors, among many other services.

    • Now in its tenth year of operation, The University of Texas Elementary School is firmly established as a research-based demonstration school in the heart of East Austin. The school holds a track record of success in serving urban children. Founded in 2003 as part of The UT System’s Every Child, Every Advantage initiative to support P-16 education, UT Elementary is operated by UT Austin as an open-enrollment campus, free to students, with a lottery-based admission system. The school enrolls children in grade levels pre-kindergarten through fifth. UT Elementary offers a full, TEKS-aligned curriculum, employs scientifically-based research and best teaching practices, and draws upon a variety of intellectual resources available at the university. Besides providing an educational alternative for East Austin children, UT Elementary also represents an effort to apply new knowledge produced in the academic setting directly to classrooms in urban schools, and it serves as a training and development site for future teachers, social workers, psychologists, speech therapists, and nurses currently enrolled in the University of Texas at Austin. They extend their best practices to the broader community through books, blogs, outreach training and mentoring programs, and national education conferences.
    Steps 8/9: For Minority-Serving Institutions, especially the institutions serving students who speak more than one language, a suggestion would be to offer more orientations and opportunities for participation (for students, as well as parents) in other languages so that they can understand the process as they are navigating the college process. This may also assist with Step 9, which seeks to highlight and promote student and family participation.

  19. Re: Response to Request for Comments – Open Letter

    Dear Secretary Duncan and Department of Education Officials Working on Advancing Civic Learning and Engagement in Democracy – A Road Map and Call to Action:


    Your efforts to implement a road map for advancing civic learning and engagement throughout America’s education system are to be applauded. Integration of the presented ideas into the education plan for America’s students will be a substantive part of the solution to our nation’s pressing challenges and hopeful opportunities.

    It is especially exciting to see the Department of Education embrace service-learning. I have seen, firsthand, the power of service-learning to transform the lives and accomplishments of both students and communities. Service-learning needs to be an integral part of any strategy to:

    • Increase academic achievement
    • Close the achievement gap
    • Reduce school drop-out rates
    • Elevate engagement in learning
    • Advance the civic mission of schools, and
    • Strengthen communities by building a vibrant volunteer and civically engaged community into the future.

    At the same time, it is critically important to point out the serious near omission and lack of emphasis on “volunteerism” in your efforts. My elaboration on this topic is in hopes to stimulate your widespread inclusion of grass roots volunteerism leaders in the approach and further development of your efforts. They need to be “at the table.” They will offer valuable insights as equal partners in the development and implementation process of this initiative.

    More Specific Comments

    Road Map Page 8:
    The implication of the language with a “passing reference” to volunteerism, in context, is stereotypical. Its tone diminishes what actually transpires through volunteerism when best practices are implemented. Volunteers are partners in and with education systems, whether through mentoring and tutoring programs or by developing authentic partnerships with youth engaged in service-learning or through other forms of engagement. Youth voice and youth leadership have been important aspects of many volunteer initiatives with which I am familiar or have been a part over the years. The use of technology is more and more pervasive in the volunteer community and as a tool for deepening or expanding experiences. Yet, there is much more to do to reach benchmarks in education and in communities. Resources are scarce and often nonexistent to accomplish what needs to be accomplished and what is possible through volunteer engagement.

    The goal is to lift up and not inadvertently discourage our precious American volunteer community and tradition of volunteerism. Myths about volunteers and volunteer programs must be dispelled.

    Little attention is paid in the Department of Education materials to the $62.8 million adult volunteers who served in 2010. Many of these volunteers are dedicated, innovative volunteers in the area of education or as “partners with education.”

    While I am a supporter of AmeriCorps who greatly values the transformative role AmeriCorps can play for people and communities, we need to paint a much more complete picture of the roles volunteers play and can play when they are invited, included and well received when they show up with an idea or to help. Keep in mind the narrow definition now used for volunteers in recent Volunteering in America reports. Many more volunteers than are depicted in the above figure are engaged.

    AmeriCorps members can augment the capacity building process for volunteers or service-learning — they can’t take the place of seasoned, professional volunteer resources and service-learning leaders, practitioners and programs. It is necessary to keep an eye on continuity of relationships, as well as the sustainability and efficacy of efforts for long-term success.

    Learn & Serve America, the Volunteer Generation Fund and the Nonprofit Capacity Building program are not in the proposed Corporation for National and Community Service (Corporation) budget for FY13. Rethink this plan within the overall recommended budget for the Corporation. A balanced approach to implementation of the Serve America Act is a critical need and is essential to thriving, civically engaged communities. Funding is stressed in all sectors of the community and levels of government. Volunteers are not a luxury — they can often provide the best solutions to our challenges and can provide a great return on investment.

    The Corporation budget should be preserved. And, for the programs described in the paragraph found immediately above, it should be fully funded as authorized through the Serve America Act. This is a small proportion of the Corporation’s overall proposed budget.

    At the same time, integrated infrastructure through Department of Education strategies will leverage Corporation investments and provide specific education-related investments that have the potential to greatly further the results of all involved. For example, we can’t let infrastructure for service-learning through state level departments of education and local school districts continue to topple as they have since the loss of Learn & Serve America. More than a million students were engaged in service-learning through Learn & Serve America in 2010.

    Competitive Grant Program:
    Support a competitive Department of Education grant program for civic engagement that includes service-learning, volunteerism and more as outlined.

    There is deep, ongoing discussion about definitions of various forms of what is described in the Road Map as civic engagement. If you have not yet done so, study the book, By the People: A History of Americans as Volunteers. [Ellis, S. J. & Campbell, K. H. (2005). By the people: A history of Americans as volunteers. Philadelphia: Energize Inc.] It tells an amazing story about the many roles and accomplishments of volunteers throughout American history, including many social movements.

    The more recently changed definition of volunteering as included in past Volunteering in America reports has drastically contracted this definition to include only volunteering through organizations. I am unaware of grass roots volunteer community leaders being involved in that decision. This contributes to what I have observed to be increased stereotyping of volunteers. Volunteers deserve our recognition and support and not to be diminished or “redefined.”

    Thank you for the opportunity to present these comments for your consideration. Please call upon me if I can be of assistance as you pursue our shared goals. Your admirable attention to the role of civic engagement in the success of students, communities and our country is appreciated and commendable.

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