Oregon aims to boost civic education with bill directed at Governor Brown
It’s a frequent criticism of public schools – kids don’t learn civics. With questions raised in recent years about voting rights and the powers of different branches of government, calls for better civic education have only grown. Oregon has now taken steps to ensure more civics and government education, with lawmakers in both houses approving a bill making these courses mandatory for graduation.
The Oregon House approved Senate Bill 513 on Monday 60-0, legislating a half-credit civic education course in order to earn a degree. The bill was passed by the state Senate in April, with three “no” votes, and it now goes to Governor Kate Brown for his signature.
Students’ limited knowledge of government was recently documented in civic assessment results published by the National Assessment of Education Progress, or NAEP test. In 2018, only 24% of eighth grade students in the country obtained a “competent” mark on the civic assessment. Four years earlier, it was essentially the same with only 23% of students achieving proficient results. Etc.
“There has been no significant change in the percentage of students performing at this level from 1998, the first year of assessment,” said a statement on the NAEP website discussing the test results. .
It’s a problem that is also not resolved in high school, judging by the data that Oregon lawmakers cited in their civic education measure.
The text of Senate Bill 513 mentioned that the last time high school students took the NAEP civics exam for that class – in 2010 – only 24% were considered “competent” in civics. It also revealed that more than a third of seniors who took that 2010 exam were in the lowest category, with “below-the-base” knowledge of government.
Consensus among lawmakers, however, should not be confused with unanimity in the state on why the bill is needed and what it might lead to. Support for the bill came from progressives and conservatives; with both sides noting the polarized political backdrop that the civic demand will enter.
“Recently we have witnessed the actions of many people who have been convinced of whack-a-doodle theories and untruths,” said Gayle Clason, Elector of Medford, in testimony presented in support of SB 513. “The attack on the Capitol in Washington DC (and state capitol buildings) is proof that some do not value democracy. Repression of voters and violence against minorities is another case where the lack of awareness of civil rights is a symptom of a lack of education in this area. “
Others cautioned that the civic education requirement should not be an opening to push progressive curriculum in public schools.
“This is a common sense bill as long as our Liberal leaders don’t grab it and put race, class and gender in it!” Josie Alexander wrote in the testimony presented in March.
But the national problem that dates back at least two decades will take another half a decade to fully implement in Oregon.
The civic education course will be a graduation requirement from class of 2026 students – these students are entering eighth year next fall. In other words, civics education will not be required of current high school or first year students.