100Kin10 as a model of education reform

The Clinton Foundation recently hosted a small roundtable discussion led by Chelsea Clinton and made up of funders and civic education organizations. The purpose was to learn about the 100Kin10 model. Although 100Kin10 is concerned with STEM education, it is also a model for reform in other areas, such as the one that concerns me professionally: civic education.

In his 2011 State of the Union Address, President Obama said, “Over the next 10 years, with so many baby boomers retiring from our classrooms, we want to prepare 100,000 new teachers in the fields of science and technology and engineering and math.”

I’d be open to arguments against the target he set, but I’ll assume for the sake of this post that it was a good one. It wasn’t the President’s own idea but resulted from previous research and discussion. Thus the story really begins before the 2011 State of the Union, with the research and advocacy that influenced President Obama.

With the President ‘s term running out, a group of 28 organizations came together to form 100Kin10. They included unions and districts that bargain with unions, education schools and alternatives to ed. schools (like Teach for America), companies, and foundations. New groups could be added to the network by nomination after a vetting process. Membership does not require ascribing to any particular model of science education, any specific strategy for getting to 100k, or any philosophy of education–groups must simply share the goal of 100,000 new STEM educators and be committed to seriously assessing quality.

The network has a very lean central node. Lots of money circulates in the form of grants or contracts from one network member to another, but the 100Kin10 team doesn’t collect and redistribute that money. Members of the network make commitments to advance the cause, and they do their actual work in a decentralized way.

100Kin10 has promoted consistent measurement by helping to develop assessment tools. There’s an agreement not to share the data with funders. That encourages members to use the tools and reflect candidly on what their data tell them.

The network has made strong progress toward the numerical goal set by President Obama. However, members have become increasingly aware that meeting the 100,000 target will not solve the problem. More teachers will still be needed as the years go by. Besides, there is more to improving STEM than hiring more and better STEM teachers.

I am a critic of “root cause analysis” because I believe that complex problems never have one or a few determinative causes. Problems are almost always systems of interlocking causes and consequences. With a similar view in mind, 100Kin10 asked a large number of experts and stakeholders to identify reasons for the chronic shortage of strong STEM teachers. Respondents came up with around 100 causes, each of which could plausibly be seen as the “root.”

If the respondents had been asked to identify the single most important factor, they would have been biased by their own vantage points and organizational missions. Instead, they were asked whether changing one factor would affect another specific one–in other words, whether each given pair of factors was causally related. These data were collected to produce a network map of causation.

As with most networks that develop in nature, this one was skewed. The rule of thumb is that 20% of nodes will have 80% of the links. I don’t know whether the 100Kin10 map follows that 80/20 distribution precisely, but it looks roughly like that to the eye. This means that by changing 20% of the variables measured in this complex system, we can directly move 80% of the whole system. Therefore, 100Kin10 has recently focused on encouraging members to shift their attention and discretionary efforts to the most central nodes. That is a powerful form of social analysis and leadership.

We could do something similar for civics. The goal would not be 100,000 qualified civics teachers, but some other broad and compelling outcome. Many of the steps would be similar. However, we would have take some differences into account:

Incentives: STEM education pays off for the individual who gains skills and credentials, and for firms and communities that gain more qualified workers. Thus the case for STEM is economic. The case for civics has to be different–probably patriotic and democratic (with a little “d”).

Politics: STEM is not without political controversy. (Should evolution be taught? Should resources be distributed to the poorest students, or to schools that demonstrate success?) However, civics is more pervasively political. Political opponents disagree in principle about what should be taught. Civics can also have immediate partisan implications by affecting who votes. To be clear, turnout is not the central goal of civics, but it could be an ancillary effect, and that makes it “political” (in a bad sense). On the other hand, there is more consensus about the core purposes of school-based civics than we sometimes assume.

Outcomes: The debate about what counts as a good outcome for students is more controversial in civics than in STEM. Disagreements go beyond simple left/right debates. People who share other views about politics may still disagree about the importance of civic knowledge versus civic action, or appreciating the constitutional system versus critically assessing it, or local citizenship versus global citizenship. (For my own part, I believe that an absolutely central goal is to increase students’ sheer interest in politics, because without a sense of intrinsic motivation to stay involved and informed, they will forget what they learn in civics class or fail to update it as the world changes.)

The role of the classroom: In education generally, there’s a live debate about how much the school, the classroom, and the teacher matter compared to the economy and social context beyond the school walls. People who believe that we can educate our way to social mobility are rightly challenged by critics who argue that the economy must be reformed to generate real opportunity. That debate is even more fundamental in civics, because it’s fairly clear that the political context beyond the classroom is unsatisfactory. In civics, the context starts with the school as a community (is it a just and loving place or a pipeline to prison?) and extends to the democracy as a whole, because our formal institutions are clearly flawed. I’m one who believes that good civics teaching is beneficial even under conditions of injustice, but we need to consider the critique that civics just accommodates students to an imperfect system and that reform should focus elsewhere.

These are differences between civics and STEM. They are mostly differences of degree, not profound gaps, and they do not suggest that reforming civics is impossible. In fact, civics has a great deal of momentum right now because of a broadly shared sense of civic crisis. (See our recent White Paper, “The Republic is (Still) at Risk and Civics is Part of the Solution.) It’s exciting to contemplate something like 100Kin10 for civic education.

effects of school climate on civic engagement

Sarah K. Bruch (Iowa) and Joe Soss (Minnesota) are conducting important research on the relationships between school climate and young people’s civic engagement. They have more research in the pipeline, but their working paper entitled “Learning where we stand: How school experiences matter for civic marginalization and political inequality” is already available.

Bruch and Soss challenge the idea that schools prepare students for democracy by transmitting a set of skills and knowledge that make people better citizens. If that were the whole picture, then more–and more equal–civic education would yield a better and more equal democracy. But Bruch and Soss note that schools are also institutions and communities that can encourage–or discourage–participation by demonstrating how the larger society works. Bruch and Soss did not invent this framework–it has a scholarly heritage, which they summarize, and it is being forcefully advocated by young people today–but they contribute important empirical findings.

Bruch and Soss use nationally representative surveys of students and administrators to measure the strictness of the school’s disciplinary policies, the perceived negativity of the school’s culture, individual students’ reported personal experiences with punishments, perceptions of unfair treatment by the school, rates of membership in school groups, and reports of feeling included or marginal in the school community. Some of these factors are about perceptions of the whole school, and others about perceived personal experiences. Some are about treatment by adults, while others involve treatment by fellow students. Some come from student data; others, from administrators.

To a large extent, these factors are related to race, class, and gender. To illustrate with a strong example, African American boys whose parents have little education are more than ten times more likely to be punished by a school than White girls with well-educated parents.

In a multivariate model that includes many other factors, most of these school climate variables are related to civic engagement, with harsher and less inclusive climates depressing graduates’ community engagement, voter turnout, and trust in government. But there are important differences among these relationships.

Perceptions of unfair treatment are related directly to lower civic and political engagement and trust in government. Not being involved in school activities is a strong predictor of being disengaged from community after graduation, but half of that relationship is indirect: students who miss out on school activities go on to have adult experiences with criminal justice, welfare, etc., that are related to disengagement from civic life.

Authoritative disciplinary climates are related directly to more civic engagement, more voting, and higher trust in government, but such climates also predict adult roles that tend to depress these outcomes. The net impact is insignificant for voting and civic engagement and comes out as positive for trust in government. This finding begins to suggest that the problem is not school discipline per se: in fact, a well-ordered school may be a good place to learn to be a citizen. The main problem is unfairness. In political philosophers’ terms, a school can restrict freedom (defined as individual choice) by establishing and enforcing rules, but it should avoid “domination” in the sense of arbitrary power.

See also: school discipline in a democracyavoiding arbitrary command.

working on civic education in Ukraine

(Kyiv, Ukraine) I am here for just a few days, working with Ukrainian civic educators and my American colleagues at Street Law, Inc. I’ve served on Street Law’s board for more than a decade, but this is my first time directly helping with a project. Ukraine’s plans to revamp democratic education in their primary and secondary schools seem highly promising, and I’m pleased to be able to participate. This effort also connects to another project I’ve done with Ukrainian colleagues since 2014: the European Institute of Civic Studies (which is aimed at adults). Finally, it’s nice to be back in this handsome city as the leaves turn yellow and the air is cool and damp.

new overview of civic education

I’m at Democracy at the Crossroads, a conference on civic education, with speakers who include Justice Sonia Sotomayor, former Secretary of Education John B. King Jr., Senator Bob Graham, Prof. Danielle Allen, and more. At this conference, we are releasing “The Republic is (Still) at Risk–and Civics is Part of the Solution.” Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg and I are the authors of this new overview document, which builds on The Civic Mission of Schools (2003) and Guardians of Democracy (2011). We argue that the main reason to strengthen civics is the perilous condition of our republic, that today’s circumstances require innovation (not your grandparents’ civics), that a wide range of practices are effective when done well, and that state policies can support civics. The paper releases new information on positive changes in Florida and Illinois. It is available for download.

Citation: Peter Levine and Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, “The Republic is (Still) at Risk—and Civics is Part of the Solution” (Medford, MA: Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University, 2017)

civics road trip: from Philadelphia to Ukraine

I’m in Philadelphia for the Action Civics Initiative Summer Convening, a gathering of students, educators, and NGO leaders who are working to make civic education more action-oriented. From the closing plenary tomorrow, I’m heading to Ukraine to participate in the third annual European Institute of Civic Studies, this year at the Chernivtsi National University. The Institute draws practitioners, scholars, and activists involved with strengthening democracy in Ukraine and its neighbors. On my way home, I’ll stop in Kiev to talk with civic educators who work at the high-school level.

I predict some consistent themes (polarized societies, fragile democratic norms, inequalities of power and agency) as well as some important differences. I plan to blog periodically as I travel, or at least on my return.

See also: action civics goes mainstream and gets controversiallessons from a large youth service program, creating good citizens, and the European Summer Institute of Civic Studies.

lessons from a large youth service program

I’ve previously posted a link to my evaluation of Points of Light’s ServiceWorks program, which engages thousands of disadvantaged teenagers and young adults in service projects. In addition to yielding good outcomes for the participating youth, the program also suggests lessons of general interest to anyone who promotes youth civic engagement. This is a summary of four issues, taken from the CIRCLE website:

  • Scale vs. Depth: Programs that aim to provide compelling positive experiences for young people must weigh the competing goals of reaching many youth and deeply affecting the participants, particularly those who are highly disadvantaged. ServiceWorks sought to reach 25,000 youth over three years with a medium-dosage program (more sustained than a one-time service project, but less intensive than a full-time opportunity lasting months such as YouthBuild, City Year, or the National Guard’s Youth ChalleNGe program). Although ServiceWorks has found a reasonable balance between size and depth, this demonstration project reinforces that trade-off. Pushing for large numbers may have shifted at least some ServiceWorks sites toward enrolling not-as-disadvantaged youth or lowering expectations for how much each Scholar would accomplish. Focusing resources on fewer youth might produce higher impact and increase the proportion of participants who are particularly disadvantaged.
  • Demonstrating Skills for the Labor Market: Although the evidence collected here shows that ServiceWorks Scholars gain skills, particularly project-management skills that would help them in the workforce, prospective employers may not always recognize the value of these skills. ServiceWorks and similar programs should consider offering reliable certificates or credentials for participants who demonstrate job-relevant skills (and not automatically for those who complete the program). The challenge of connecting youth who have 21st century skills to jobs will require shared understanding and partnerships between youth-serving nonprofits and employers.
  • Incorporating Youth into Diverse, Intergenerational Teams: At least some ServiceWorks sites bring youth of diverse backgrounds together with adults to collaborate on social issues. Youth contribute distinctive knowledge and talents, as do the VISTA members, unpaid adult volunteers, program staff, and professional educators. The atmosphere is one of mutual respect, shared learning, empathy, and collaboration. Scholars value that atmosphere and find it atypical in their lives. ServiceWorks and similar programs should give explicit attention to creating such climates.
  • Youth Voice: ServiceWorks encourages Scholars to choose issues and strategies for their service projects. Scholars often identify very difficult issues, discuss these topics with sophistication and nuance, and then struggle to implement projects that would address the underlying causes that they have identified. Although giving young people choice and voice is important, asking them to plan and implement a whole social change initiative in a short period may produce frustration. Possible solutions include structuring deliberations so that young people are more likely to choose successful projects, connecting youth to ongoing initiatives, or recognizing that they have natural talents and affinities for awareness-raising, media-production, and policy advocacy, and highlighting those activities (along with conventional community service). That would mean viewing programs like ServiceWorks as a potential space for youth-driven media-literacy education or Action Civics (a recent movement that emphasizes youth voice in policy) as well as examples of service-learning and workforce education.

Does Service Work? Lessons from the ServiceWorks Program

Points of Light’s ServiceWorks program engages thousands of disadvantaged teenagers and young adults across the United States. The participants, known as “Scholars,” participate in a series of about five educational modules designed to enhance their skills for work and higher education. They receive support from AmeriCorps VISTAs (Volunteers in Service to America), other adult volunteers, and/or professional program staff and teachers. They conduct community service projects, including a capstone project that they choose and design.

This spring, I conducted an evaluation of ServiceWorks based on original interviews and close review of the program’s documents and data. The evaluation has now been published. (Click “Does Service Work?” to read it.)

Key Findings

  • “The program’s design is consistent with previous research that shows that giving disadvantaged youth opportunities to serve their communities also strengthens skills, habits, and dispositions that help them in school, college and careers.”
    “Numerous former participants report highly concrete bene?ts, from attending college to obtaining speci?c jobs. They also describe subtler shifts in their core values and expectations.”
  • “The meetings and events that occur through ServiceWorks feel to many participants like islands of purposive, constructive, and focused work amid chaos and dysfunction that prevails elsewhere in their schools and neighborhoods.”

Lessons Learned

  • During ServiceWorks, “the students identified public policies as a cause of the problem, but their service project addressed students’ empathy, not policy. … Since ServiceWorks Scholars understand the relevance of policy, it may be worth drawing on some of the experiences of Action Civics.”
  • “Many Scholars’ service projects involved elements of communications or awareness-raising: Scholars organized or produced school assemblies, videos, murals, and forums for invited speakers. … Since youth have considerable power as communicators, and since effective communication requires skills that are highly relevant to the 21st century workplace, it may be worth focusing more attention on communications.”

There’s much more in the Executive Brief by Points of Light or my Full Report.

CQ article on civic education

There’s always a steady trickle of articles about civic education, and I don’t post most of them, but I do recommend “Misinformed and Unschooled, Young People Are Failing in Civics” by Emily Watkins for CQ/Roll Call. Actually, the headline is a little too dire, since most kids face some kind of required course on civics that is graded, and most pass. But the content of the article is good. In particular, it highlights news media literacy as an objective, focuses on a real decline (class time devoted to social studies k-8), and gives an overview of the policy landscape, including the positive news of a current federal appropriation for civics.

on teaching the US Constitution

Today at a Social Science Education Consortium meeting, Walter Parker is presenting his fine paper with Sheila Valencia and Jane Lo entitled “Going for Depth in Civic Education: A Design Experiment,” and I am replying.

Parker and colleagues have completely redesigned the AP American Government class–often a rapid march through miscellaneous material–so that it employs nothing but elaborate simulations (a model Congress, a mock Supreme Court, etc.) and focuses on a few central concepts instead of a long list.

The results have been positive: students perform just as well on the AP test while developing much more civic skills and interests. I love the move to interactive projects and the willingness to distinguish central from peripheral concepts. I also agree with Parker and his colleagues that if the course is AP American Government, then the core concepts are “federalism and constitutional reasoning.” Working with those concepts in interactive settings will teach you what you need to know to score high on the test.

The question is whether these should be the core concepts if we have one chance to teach civics to high school seniors. I can think of three major reasons that they should be:

  1. Americans should understand federalism and separation of powers as major aspects of our constitutional system, because the constitution determines our politics.
  2. Americans will be more effective if they understand these concepts. For instance, if you understand federalism, you won’t contact your Member of Congress to report a broken streetlight on a state or city road.
  3. Americans should honor the basic values of constitutional government, which include obeying the rules that constrain us and recognizing the value of limitations on the power and discretion of each person and office.

Here are my reasons to doubt, or at least to complicate, these arguments.

First, the US Constitution is not very well designed for our era. I am not primarily talking about its undemocratic aspects, such as the highly unequal significance of a vote in different states. That is a planned feature, not a bug. Instead, I am talking about the bugs.

For example, if the president and Congress belong to different parties, no coherent policy is possible, and all the incentives favor each side sabotaging the other. Juan Linz found that the US was the only presidential republic that hadn’t already collapsed into a dictatorship. The reason may have been lucky circumstances (vast ideological diversity within each party) that allowed US presidents to form working majorities regardless of which party controlled Congress. Those days are gone.

Likewise, the Constitution fails to acknowledge such crucial components of our modern polity as parties, general purpose corporations, lobbies, media companies, administrative agencies, security agencies, and nonprofits. Our jury-rigged system copes by treating parties, companies, and nonprofits as First Amendment “associations,” media companies as “the press,” and federal agencies as arms of the president. This doesn’t work very well. Therefore, learning the official theory of the Constitution does not help a citizen to understand how things actually work; and learning how things work does not reinforce trust in the official theory. (See yesterday’s post on the small negative correlation between political knowledge and trust in government.)

Second, learning the official rules doesn’t help you navigate the system all that well. A very common assignment (or assessment question) asks students to choose which branch or level of government to contact about various topics of concern. But that’s not how things really work. Your Member of Congress might be the best person to ask about a significant road repair if you know her; she can call a city official and get it fixed. Your Representative is not worth contacting about a federal issue if she she has taken a hostile position on it or if the issue is off the table. Effectively navigating the system involves answering such questions as: What is being decided, by whom? Whose interests align with yours? Whom do you know? Whom do you know who knows someone else who knows an actual decision-maker? What does the press care about? Is there an organization that might take an interest in your issue? I fear that by teaching the official theory, we actually give the wrong impression of how a bill becomes a law. (A question for Walter is whether simulations of governmental processes primarily teach the official rules, or skills like persuasion, or both.)

Third, I am not sure that the values implied in a curriculum about separation of powers are the most important ones for students to learn. We do want people to honor the best principles that underlie a constitution like ours, such as rule of law and limits on powers. Our president never acknowledges that he should be limited in these ways, which is one of the reasons that I consider him anti-conservative. Citizens who understand the importance of limits may be less likely to assess politicians in unreasonable ways–expecting them to accomplish things that they are prevented from doing.

However, these principles may not be the paramount ones for everyday citizens (as opposed to presidents of the United States). Citizens should also honor such principles as personal responsibility for the world, openness to alternative views, concern for facts, and fairness. I am worried that by emphasizing constitutional values that mainly pertain to office-holders, we encourage students to think like states, when they should above all think like citizens.

See also: is our constitutional order doomed?the Citizens United decision and the inadequate sociology of the US Constitutionliberals, conservatives, and love of the Constitutionconstitutional piety.

college curricula for civic learning and engagement

I’d welcome recommendations of particularly promising undergraduate courses or programs that are intended to boost students’ civic knowledge, skills, and engagement. I’m especially interested in two approaches: 1) requiring a specific course with a civic focus for all students at a given institution, or 2) offering a major, minor, or certificate program for especially interested students.

Civic education at the college level may address contested concepts (justice, citizenship, democracy), skills (from facilitating meetings to reading regression tables), bodies of knowledge (how a bill becomes a law; the texture of the local geographical community; social determinants of health …), self-understandings and identities (“Who am I and what is my role in the community?”), and relationships among students or between students and others. The list of possible outcomes is so long that one reasonable view is: A civic education is a liberal education–it’s the whole curriculum and co-curriculum. But it’s valuable to consider what to offer (or perhaps even require) in the finite span of one course or one major.

Many colleges and universities require first-year seminars. Students can typically choose a course from a menu, but all the seminars create a similar experience, which is supposed to build a community among the students. To the extent that first-year seminars address issues of civic importance, this is also a way of teaching ideas and skills relevant to citizenship. At Cal. State Chico, the guiding principle of the first year seminar program is “Public Sphere Pedagogy.” Chico aims to shift “from a typical classroom setting” to real public dialogues with “diverse campus and community members.”

Other institutions require a particular course or sequence of courses for all students. Columbia’s Core Curriculum is a distinguished example that dates to the early 1900s. Since Columbia’s Core course on “Literature Humanities” has included the Iliad, Oresteia, and Inferno for all of its 75 years, every Columbia College student since WWII has read those books. “The communal learning–with all students encountering the same texts and issues at the same time–and the critical dialogue experienced in small seminars are the distinctive features of the Core.” One could focus mainly on formal, historical, or theological issues while reading texts like the Inferno; but among the topics emphasized in the Core seminars are explicitly civic ones: “What does it mean, and what has it meant to be part of a community?” “By what rules should we be governed?”

At Florida Gulf Coast University, all 13,000 students must take the University Colloquium, an “interdisciplinary environmental education course designed to explore the concept of sustainability as it relates to a variety of considerations and forces in Southwest Florida. In particular, we will consider environmental, social, ethical, historical, scientific, economic, and political influences.” The Colloquium requires 10 hours of service, which can go toward FGCU’s universal requirement of 80 hours for graduation.

Note the interesting difference in content focus: classic texts at Columbia; the local physical and human environment at FGCU.

At least 31 institutions offer majors with titles like “Civic Engagement,” “Service Learning,” “Civic Leadership,” “Community Service,” or “Leadership, Ethics, and Social Action,” and variations on those themes.* I would add majors in “Peace & Justice Studies,” “Advocacy Studies,” “Citizenship & Civic Engagement,” and others to this list.

These programs almost always require community-service experiences or internships. Most also require a foundational course. Butin* finds that the content of these courses varies a great deal. The most frequently assigned material is research about civic engagement in America, e.g., Robert Putnam’s Bowling Alone or excerpts from de Tocqueville; but those particular texts are assigned in a minority of all the foundational courses.

Majors are usually more ambitious than minors or certificates, but a program like the University of Maryland’s Civicus is not only a certificate with some required courses; participants also live together in a dedicated dorm and conduct service projects beyond their courses. In that situation, a certificate may be more intensive than a major.

I view public policy programs (whether undergraduate or graduate) as somewhat different from programs in civics. I like to say that the question for Civic Studies is “What should we do?” whereas the question for public policy is “What should be done?” (Or, “What should a policymaker do?”) However, public policy programs can emphasize the citizen’s side of policymaking. Some assign all their students to participate in simulations in which they role-play various official leaders in a fictional crisis. These simulations typically fill a limited number of days before the main coursework begins and serve to build a community while teaching civic skills. I am not aware of any institution that offers or requires a simulation for its whole undergraduate student body, but that’s an interesting prospect.

* Dan Butin, “’Can I major in Service-Learning?’ An Empirical Analysis of Certificates, Minors, and Majors,” Journal of College & Character, vol. 11, No. 2 (2010), pp. 1-18.