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The State of Civic Education in Massachusetts

The full report of our study of civic education in the Commonwealth highlights challenges and recommendations for more inclusive and equitable K-12 civics.

As part of our broad efforts to examine and shift to more equitable civic learning for all youth in the United States, CIRCLE undertook a study of K-12 civic education in Massachusetts. We’re pleased to join our partners in the Boston University Wheelock College of Education & Human Development and the Massachusetts Department of Early and Secondary Education to publish the final report of our study, and to invite educators, civic leaders, and the public to several virtual conversations in which we’ll share insights from our work.

Join CIRCLE and the Boston Foundation on January 22 for a webinar focused on Building a Better Democracy through Civic Education, and on February 9 for the first workshop in a three-part series on A New Era of Civics in Massachusetts.

Major findings and takeaways from our study include:

  • An overall commitment from educators to civic principles and practices, but differences in awareness of civic policies and in depth of implementation. That includes marked differences between middle and high school teachers and elementary school teachers—with the latter less confident about teaching civics, less aware of the 2018 History and Social Studies Framework, and less likely to spend dedicated time on social studies or incorporate civic content in the classroom.
  • Elementary school teachers in districts with a high proportion of economically disadvantaged students, or in districts with a high proportion of English learners relative to the state population, were more likely to report not having time dedicated to social studies. 
  • The greatest barriers to implementation reported by teachers included: not having enough time to plan and teach, having too much pressure to teach other content, and not having enough civics resources. District per-pupil expenditures were positively and significantly associated with civic teaching competency. Intentional investment of civics resources in districts with a greater proportion of students from historically underserved groups may keep disparities at bay.
  • Professional development works: middle and high school teachers who were provided civics PD at least once a year reported statistically significantly higher levels of awareness of the 2018 HSS Framework and civics project legislation.

Based on our findings, the report issues the following recommendations:

  • Continue to prioritize equitable implementation of the 2018 HSS Framework and the civics project legislation.
  • Invest in and design for equitable PD and pre-service training infrastructure that is aligned directly to the HSS Framework and Civics Project Guidebook, allowing for collaboration and sharing of best practices across schools and districts, and that is sustained across a school year or multiple school years
  • Invest in developing resources and professional learning opportunities specifically designed for elementary educators and designed to address gaps for middle and high school educators.
  • Provide elementary school teachers with more time to teach social studies by carving out time in the existing schedule, more classroom resources to teach civics, and more PD on how to integrate civics across subject areas
  • Educate school and district administrators on the requirements of both the 2018 HSS Framework and student-led civics projects and best practices in supporting continuous educator development in civics instruction. 
  • Establish creative accountability and incentives mechanisms (like questions on the knowledge of mandated practices in teacher licensure exams, tying civics teaching strategies to teacher evaluation frameworks, and creating a student civics accomplishment badge) that bolster the value of civic education.

More data, insights, and recommendations can be found in the full report.

About the Study

Massachusetts has made landmark changes to civic education in its public schools, including a new K-12 History and Social Science Framework which created an 8th grade civics course, as well as a 2018 change by the state legislature: An Act to Promote and Enhance Civic Engagement. The framework placed greater emphasis on inquiry-based learning, taking action, and social-emotional development—all of which CIRCLE has long promoted as key, research-driven elements of an effective and equitable civic education.

With researchers at Boston University, CIRCLE conducted a mixed-methods study to better understand the baseline state of civic education in Massachusetts, the impact of these new requirements, and what it will take to ensure their 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.