CIRCLE Studying Civic Education in Massachusetts
As part of our broad efforts to examine and improve equitable civic learning for more youth in the United States, CIRCLE is undertaking a comprehensive study of K-12 civic education in Massachusetts.
- In recent years, Massachusetts has made landmark changes to civic education in its public schools, including a 2018 change by the state legislature: An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement.
- With researchers at Boston University, CIRCLE will conduct a mixed-methods study to better understand the state of civic education in Massachusetts, the impact of these new requirements, and what it will take to ensure effective and equitable implementation for the benefit of all students.
- CIRCLE is the only research organization that conducts such state-level evaluations of civic education policy, and this research will build on—and be informed by—our previous work studying K-12 civics in Florida, Illinois, and elsewhere.
We received a grant from the Massachusetts Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (MA DESE) to assess the current state of civic education in the Commonwealth and to evaluate the impact of a state program, the Civics Teaching and Learning Grant, which supports school districts in implementing the new History and Social Science Framework in Massachusetts. This research is being conducted in partnership with Boston University’s Wheelock College of Education & Human Development, whose lecturer Dr. Ariel Tichnor-Wagner is the principal investigator on the project. CIRCLE Director Dr. Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg is the Co-PI, and CIRCLE Researcher Noorya Hayat is a key leader in the study. Colleagues at Harvard University’s Democratic Knowledge Project (DKP) are also collaborating in the research. The Boston Foundation is providing support for disseminating results.
As part of the changes that Massachusetts has made to civic education in its public schools, in 2018, it approved a new K-12 History and Social Science Framework which created a new 8th grade civics course. The framework also places greater emphasis on inquiry-based learning, taking action, and social-emotional development—elements that CIRCLE has long promoted, based on decades of research, as key to an effective and equitable civic education.
That same year, the state legislature passed An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement. (The Massachusetts Civic Learning Coalition, of which our Director Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg is a member, provided background research and strategic advice to advocates for the Act.) This legislation seeks to build on the framework; notably, it requires schools to undertake at least one-student led civics project, and it established a Civic Project Trust Fund to support teacher professional development and implementation at schools in underserved communities. The MA DESE also issued a Civic Project Guidebook to help support implementation.
In partnership with other researchers, CIRCLE will conduct a mixed-methods study to better understand the state of civic education in the state, the impact of these new changes, and what it will take to ensure that they benefit all students. We will field and analyze a comprehensive survey of teachers, school administrators, and district education leaders. We will follow that up with in-depth interviews in order to better understand the specific views, needs, and concerns of various critical stakeholders. In doing so, the project will create a core set of quantitative and qualitative measures to track the progress of civic education implementation over time.
In addition, the project will evaluate the initial impact of the Civics Teaching and Learning Grant, one of the first programs funded by the Civic Project Trust Fund. Thus, rather than evaluating students’ civic dispositions, knowledge, and skills, our research will focus on the infrastructure, resources, and capacity of the broad ecosystem of educators, school systems, and organizations that support students’ civic learning. The study is also accounting for educational disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, including explicitly asking educators and administrators about the support they need to provide civic education given changes to instructional practices.
CIRCLE is the only research organization that conducts such state-level evaluations of civic education policy, and this research will build on—and be informed by—our previous work studying K-12 civics in Florida, Illinois, and elsewhere. Our experience reaching out to diverse educators and, in this case, our relationships with stakeholders in the Massachusetts civic education field, allow us to approach this research with an understanding of the various systemic barriers and opportunities that must be understood in order to facilitate better civics for all youth.
K-12 civic education must be specific and responsive to the experiences of students and the conditions in their communities, which are surely different in different states, and even at the district and school level. Our study of civic education in Massachusetts will help educators, policymakers and stakeholders better understand the needs in their various local contexts. But, combined with what we have learned elsewhere, we believe it will contribute important new knowledge about what civic education should look like across the country as we continue to promote deeper, more equitable civic learning in classrooms and beyond.