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Report: The State of Civic Education in Rhode Island

A new CIRCLE report based on a survey of students and educators in the state offers major findings and recommendations for more effective and equitable civic learning.

Lead Author: Kelly Siegel-StechlerSenior Researcher


 

As part of our efforts to inform and improve K-12 civic education in the United States, CIRCLE frequently partners with schools and practitioners in states across the country to study their classroom civics policies and implementation. Most recently we worked with the Rhode Island Civic Learning Coalition (RICLC) to conduct the 2022 Survey on Civic Learning in Rhode Island, which asked students, teachers, and administrators about their experiences with civics in the state. 

The purpose of the study was to better understand the current landscape of civic education in Rhode Island following several significant developments. In 2021, the state passed the Civic Literacy Act, which requires that all students achieve civics proficiency and engage in one student-led civics project before graduation. In addition, the Rhode Island Department of Education (RIDE) is currently undergoing a process to revise the History and Social Studies Standards and Framework.  Finally, as part of the resolution of the federal lawsuit Cook v. McKee, in which Rhode Island students sued the state for failing to provide them with an adequate civic education, RIDE announced the creation of a Civic Readiness Task Force.

The final report, released this week, includes findings and recommendations to inform these efforts:

Findings

  • Civics Not a Priority: 15% teachers and 10% administrators say civics is not a priority for their district/school, and 23% of both teachers and administrators say it is only a little bit of a priority.
  • Lack of Courses: Less than half (46%) of teachers and only 21% of administrators said their district has standalone civics courses, and only 12% of teachers and 10% of administrators said there is an attempt to integrate civic learning across multiple disciplines.
  • Teachers Feel Ready: Almost all (95%) of the responding teachers believed they can teach civics content effectively, and 87% said they have a sufficient knowledge base to provide direct civics instruction in line with state standards
  • Students Want Civics: More than half (54%) of students agreed that learning about civics and/or United States government topics will be important for their future, and 53% said that civics and/or United States government schoolwork helps them understand what is happening in the world around them.
  • Civics Courses Work: Students who indicated that they had taken a civics course in the past were more likely to respond that they felt confident they could explain various basic civics concepts compared to students who indicated they had not taken a civics course before
  • Persistent Inequities: On nearly all measures of access to a quality civic education and civic readiness, students in low-socioeconomic status districts, students whose parents don’t have a college degree, and non-white students were less likely to report positive opportunities and outcomes.

Recommendations

  • The state should ensure that districts make civic learning a priority by providing funding, support, and clear guidance to districts
  • Teachers need quality training and resources to help students meet new requirements. There also needs to be a better understanding of teachers’ needs and concerns, as well as improved communication about available resources, materials, and professional development opportunities.
  • Inequities in access to high-quality civic education must be addressed through equitable, state-level support that doesn’t leave opportunities for high-quality civics up to individual teachers and districts that benefit only the most advantaged students.
  • Students deserve the opportunity to develop civic knowledge, skills, and character in safe and affirming environments. Civic education is most effective when students have space to explore their own ideas and opinions and to feel that their identities are affirmed and validated.
  • We must ensure young people are prepared to take their place as participants in American democracy. Making civics a priority in K-12 education in Rhode Island will help ensure that the next generation ican gain the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary in order to be active civic participants.

About Our Partnership: Rhode Island Civic Learning Coalition

The Rhode Island Civic Learning Coalition (RICLC) is a multiracial, multiethnic, and multigenerational group committed to ensuring that all Rhode Islanders, including young people and those most marginalized from our democratic system, have equitable access to high-quality civic learning opportunities. The student survey in this report was co-designed by three RICLC Youth Research Fellows who contributed to each stage of a youth-centered, participatory research process.

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