Implementing Civic Learning in Every County

September 13, 2016

By Peter Birdsall, Executive Director, California Superintendents Educational Services Association (CCSESA)

peter-birdsallAt its meeting in July, the State Board of Education approved an updated History-Social Science framework. This was an important step in re-affirming the importance of history-social science as a key part of a quality, comprehensive curriculum for all children in California and a critical step in ensuring that today’s students gain the knowledge and skills for college, career and participation in our democratic society.

Thanks in great part to the important work of Power of Democracy/California K-12 Civic Learning initiative led by Chief Justice Tani G. Cantil-Sakauye, it is gratifying to note that high quality civic learning and engagement is highlighted in the framework.  In fact, the introduction to the document frames the topic as follows:

“In a constitutional democracy, productive civic engagement requires knowledge of the history, principles, and foundations of our American democracy, and the ability to participate in civic and democratic processes.”

Democracy is particularly meaningful to county superintendents.  Of the 58 county superintendents in California, 53 are elected by the voters in their counties.  In their roles as elected officials, county superintendents are expected to work as a key link between the policies and priorities adopted at the state level and the implementation of education policies and practices in the school districts throughout their counties.

In this context, we now shift to the important and challenging work of implementing the new framework in a state as large and diverse as California.  County superintendents are leaders in making such implementation a success.  To advance this work, we have partnered with the California Department of Education and State Board of Education to form a Standards Implementation Steering Committee designed to make sure the state’s efforts are aligned and that the available resources are leveraged as much as possible.

County superintendents are partnering with the Department of Education, State Board, and other organizations in an aligned effort to support continued improvement.  Such improvement will be measured across eight state priorities, including standards implementation and access for all students to a comprehensive curriculum.

There are many challenging questions ahead.  How will performance in history-social science be assessed?   What role will it play in the school accountability system?  How will we work together to make sure school-level administrators have the information, resources and training they need to help their teachers with successful implementation?

As we approach those challenges, we have the advantage of a collaborative commitment that has not always existed in California education policy.  The State Board of Education, the California Department of Education and the range of educational professional organizations, including CCSESA, support the new History-Social Science framework and the strong emphasis on guided practice in civic discourse, analysis and engagement outlined in the Six Proven Practices in Civic Learning.  Now we get the opportunity to move forward to action to make these commitments real for all students in all schools throughout our state.