New FJCC Teacher Advisory Council

One of our great friends in civic education is iCivics. As part of their work and their effort to provide the best possible quality materials, they have a Teacher’s Council that works closely with them. Here at the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, we are contemplating the creation of a similar council made up of FJCC resource users. This council will serve to advise us on directions for resource development and research and opportunities for new directions, suggest revisions concerning current resources, and generally serve as a way in which we can expand outreach to and collaboration with our stakeholders across the state of Florida.

If this is something that interests you, please shoot me an email. Note that there WILL be an application process of sorts. I expect that we will have this launching around the time of the October Florida Council for the Social Studies conference. We are very excited for this new effort!

First Annual Florida Civics Teacher Survey

In our efforts to improve our work and help teachers in their efforts to build the next generation of citizens, the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship is looking for feedback from teachers. To facilitate this, we have created a survey, which should take about 15 minutes.

The survey asks teachers about Classroom Climate, Coverage of Instructional Benchmarks, School Climate, Professional Development, Classroom Instructional Practices & Resources Used, Availability & Use of Classroom technology, Demographics & Background

Ultimately, we are seeking to understand how you, the great civics teacher that you are, approach classroom instruction and work with your future citizens. Completing this survey will be a huge help for us, and we are grateful for your assistance and support. You can complete the survey here. Thank you in advance for your collaboration and cooperation!

The Role of Instruction in Encouraging Civic Engagement

The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship is quite proud to be a member of Florida’s Partnership for Civic Learning. One of the most promising research projects that the Partnership has undertaken is to explore the role of classroom experience in student civic participation. In other words, are students more likely to engage in civic life if they learn about civics in a classroom with a variety of instructional practices? This is a question that we believe deserves an answer, as it can help districts, schools, teachers, and other stakeholders what quality civics instruction should look like. And it is such an important one for Florida and the nation.

In the spring of 2015, the Lou Frey Institute administered the Civic Attitude and Engagement Survey to 7th grade students enrolled in Miami-Dade, Clay, and St. Lucie County schools here in Florida. 7,436 students in 75 middle schools across these three districts were surveyed. It should be pointed out here that a huge amount of the data sample was drawn from Miami-Dade schools, in part because of certain time and district issues. 88% of the schools that took part were in Miami-Dade, 10.7% in Clay County, and 1.3% in St. Lucie County. We are grateful to all those that participated.

The survey itself consisted of 20 items of question blocks that focused on a number of areas connected to civic attitudes, knowledge, dispositions, and engagement. Ultimately, we want to provide districts with a tool that would connect completion of Florida’s 7th grade civics course to student (1) civic proficiency and readiness for future engagement as informed citizens; (2) commitment to democratic values and rights; (3) knowledge of current events; (4) efficacy/self-confidence about one’s ability to contribute to society; and (5) experience with recommended pedagogies for civics. We hope to expand the number of participants in this survey, and to provide this as a yearly examination of what is happening in civic education classrooms.

So, what did this first offering of the survey find? Let’s take a look.

Learning in Classroom

learning This is, perhaps, no surprise. The more students are engaged in the practices of civic life through classroom instruction, the more they are likely to engage in the practices of civic life outside of the classroom. Of course, there are caveats that must be taken into account when considering this data. For example, it is highly unlikely that 10% of students are taking part in debates every day. I do not find it surprising however that 40% of students said that they NEVER engage in debate in the classroom, and that 58% of students never participate in a mock trial (though students in Florida are SUPPOSED to experience the jury process. See SS.7.C.2.3—Experience the responsibilities of citizens at the local, state, or federal levels) . In my experience, some teachers are uncomfortable with the structure of debates and simultations and the possibility that there could be controversial (and possibly job-threatening, especially in a state with no tenure) topics involved. And of course, there is the time factor!

It is important to note having even one visitor from the community seemed to have a positive impact on broader civic engagement. This suggests to us that perhaps the FJCC should work on making that more possible (hint: we are).

Best Bang for Your Buck 

best impact

So, what sorts of activities did seem to have the greatest impact on promoting student engagement? Preliminary review and analysis of survey data suggests that, as mentioned above, having a visitor from the community come to a class was huge. These visitors, of course, should be connected in some way to civic life (perhaps a mayor, city manager, council member, school board member, elections supervisor, etc). Naturally, actually participating in some sort of civic project was huge, as students are more likely to continue engaging in civic life once they have been out in the community. Personally, I expected a greater correlation with playing civics-oriented games (in this case, likely to have been iCivics), but I suspect that some of that could depend on how the game is actually used in class, and how often it is used. This is an area for further research on our part.

Best Practices

best practices

Best Practices in Civics, at least according to the most recent research from our friends at CIRCLE , Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools, and others, tends to emphasize the Six Proven Practices in civic learning:

1. Classroom Instruction: Schools should provide instruction in civics & government, history, economics, geography, law, and democracy. Formal instruction in these subjects increases civic knowledge and increases young people’s tendency to engage in civic and political activities over the long term. However, schools should avoid teaching only rote facts about dry procedures, which is unlikely to benefit students and may actually alienate them from civic engagement.

2. Discussion of Current Events and Controversial Issues: Schools should incorporate discussion of current local, national, and international issues and events in to the classroom, particularly those that young people view as important to their lives. When students have an opportunity to discuss current issues in a classroom setting, they tend to have a greater interest in civic life and politics as well as improved critical thinking and communication skills.

3. Service-Learning: Schools should design and implement programs that provide students with the opportunity to apply what they learn through performing community service that is linked to the formal curriculum and classroom instruction.

4. Extracurricular Activities: Schools should offer opportunities for young people to get involved in their schools or communities outside of the classroom. Studies show that students who participate in extracurricular activities in school remain more civically engaged then those who did not, even decades later.

5. School Governance: Schools should encourage meaningful student participation in school governance. Giving students more opportunities to participate in the management of their classrooms and schools builds their civic skills and attitudes.

6. Simulations of Democratic Processes: Schools should encourage students to participate in simulations of democratic processes and procedures. Evidence shows that simulations of voting, trials, legislative deliberation and democracy, leads to heightened civic/political knowledge and interest.

As the chart suggests, engaging students in a greater number of school and classroom-oriented civic practice opportunities tends to encourage greater engagement. Is there a point at which we receive diminishing returns however? Do students who might otherwise fall on the low end of civic engagement suddenly jump to moderate or high levels if they take part in all six elements of the proven practices? Just how can we get a control group for this? No one wants to, not should they want to, provide future citizens with a lower quality civic education for the sake of further research. Nonetheless, this remains an area of inquiry that we need to further explore.



So, what does it all mean. Basically, engaging students in civic practice, even to a low degree, encourages further participation within the broader community!  Now, we must consider that all of this information we have discussed relies on self-reported student data, and the Lake Woebegon Effect should always be in the back of our minds. Still, there are promising methods which can encourage greater student engagement in civic life; teachers just need to do them, and curriculum should be written in such a way that we give students that opportunity.

This is, certainly, a great deal to take in. The Partnership for Civic Learning is eager to continue this research and to see how these findings compare to data gathered from the next iteration and administration of the survey, especially outside the three districts that took part here. We are in the process of developing a brand new website that will share Partnership for Civic Learning research and projects, and this post will be updated to reflect where you can find this entire infographic, among other things.

New Goals for Florida Citizen!

So, we recently had a Lou Frey Institute/Florida Joint Center for Citizenship staff meeting here at our office. It was two days of planning for the future, led by our inestimable director, Dr. Doug Dobson, and it was refreshing to sit down with the entire Lou Frey Institute/FJCC staff to discuss issues and direction for the work that we do. I just wanted to take a moment and share with you, our friends in civic education here in Florida and nationally, just some what we have going on and where we are going organizationally. This is not an inclusive list; this is just what we are most excited about!

Projects with National Archives

We have have developed, over the past few years, an ongoing relationship with the fine folks at the National Archives. They have been kind enough to share personnel who were more than willing to come to Florida to work with our teachers on using primary sources. Happily, they will be working with us next month to develop bellringer/formative assessment or enrichment type resources that are aligned with high school US History and US Government benchmarks. This is new ground for us, as most of our focus has been on the middle school and (to a lesser degree) elementary school level. We are also hoping, sometime this summer, to work with the National Archives to develop additional elementary school resources centered around primary sources.

Adopting the SAMR Model

One of the biggest issues we face with our curriculum is that while we believe that we have quality resources, they follow a traditional model of classroom pedagogy. To address this, we are exploring ways in which we can adopt the SAMR model in our curricular revision and design.


The SAMR Model of Educational Technology . Check out more at

We are definitely open to suggestions on this end, for sure. Right now, I will be meeting with the Educational Technology experts over at the UCF College of Education to explore possibilities. At the same time, we are striving to find a way to make our curricular materials more ESE and ESOL friendly. We have high hopes that we will bring you new and improved resources!

Website Redesign (Again!)

One of the most pressing needs across the state is for our teachers to be able to disseminate some of the great resources they themselves have created. We are working on a way to facilitate that. We hope to add an expansion to Florida Citizen that allows users to upload materials and share them with others. It will feature a ‘vetting’ system that will allow FJCC to recommend some of these materials as well. We have lots of hopes, and I expect that our great IT leader, Mike Barnhardt, will do some good things.

Civics Teaching Certificate

The Civics Teaching Certificate will provide pre-service teachers with complementary, civics teaching-focused coursework that will build on and enhance the Social Science Education B.S. curriculum.  Individuals enrolled in the Civics Teaching certificate program will learn the substantive content, skills and pedagogical tools needed to deliver instruction explicitly linked to the 7th grade Civics End of Course Assessment (EOCA) in Florida.  The Civics Teaching Certificate will also support and enhance high school U.S. government instruction. Reflecting the importance of service and experiential learning in civic education, enrollees will also take part in a summer internship that involves them in hands-on practice with local government.

Pre-service teachers enrolled in the Social Science Education B.S. major will complete four courses to develop expertise in civics content, pedagogy and assessment.  The Civics Teaching Certificate will be completed as a three semester sequence. Summer coursework will include an internship in a local government office.

On the Drawing Board

We have a number of goals for the coming months. We would like to bring back some semblance of the Civic Mentor Teacher Program. We are working on a prototype, developed in house, of a three to five minute student oriented video on specific civics content, most likely around the election. This will, we believe, provide us an opportunity to see what we can affordably do with our own resources. If the video is received positively, we would love to develop more to supplement the already good teacher-oriented videos on the Florida Citizen site. We are also going to be starting work in Duval County with a couple of schools in need of assistance in Civics, and we are excited for this opportunity! Finally, we will continue to work closely with members of the Partnership for Civic Learning on newly identified civic education priorities in this state (a topic for another post!).

One of the hopes we have for the new year as well is to begin to develop more of a national presence. We will continue to work, as always, with the great teachers in Florida, and they will always be our target demographic, but we believe it is time to start partnering with other small civic-education organizations, perhaps in a version of the Civic Renewal Network that is oriented toward state level organizations, to see how we can improve civic education at the national level as well.

We all have ambitions, I suppose, and we do love what we do here. The Florida Joint Center for Citizenship remains committed to serving the needs of teachers, students, and the civic community in Florida, and we are always working to find new ways to do that. Thank you to our team and to those we have encountered both here and elsewhere for the work that you do in creating that next generation of citizens. And if YOU have ideas on how we can improve in our work, please let us know!

Living Civics: Contact Your Florida State Senators

Dear Friends in Civics and Colleagues in Citizenship, it pains me to have to do this post, but if you find the resources and professional development provided by the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship beneficial, then we are asking for your help.

As you may be aware, the Florida legislature has devolved into infighting over the state budget, with the Senate and the House significantly apart. In the Senate’s effort to create their own version of the budget, it has slashed funding for the Lou Frey Institute considerably (though our relatively small amount of funding is barely a blip in this battle). With the Lou Frey Institute essentially the funding source for the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, this will have a major impact on our ability to help teachers, schools, and districts with civics instruction.

While the House has agreed to continue our recurring funding of $400,000 and to fund the Partnership for Civic Learning for another year, for a total budget request of less than one million dollars, the Senate has slashed that $400,000 for the Lou Frey Institute in half and eliminated PCL funding entirely. With the consistent hue and cry about civic education both in this state and nationally, this is incredibly disappointing. While the loss of the Partnership would be significant, especially as we have really jumped into researching what is working in civics education, the loss of such a huge a portion of our operating budget is even more devastating. We will be unable to provide professional development across the state, continue to develop new resources, or provide district support and trainings as requested in a variety of civics and social studies related areas. These are some of the things we are working on that will, unfortunately, face elimination:

  • The development and implementation of a certificate program for pre-service teachers that prepares them for teaching civics in Florida. This has already been partially approved by UCF, and we were expecting to launch this in the spring of 2016.
  • A partnership with the National Archives to develop resources for K-12 civics education in Florida. Most excitingly, there will be a heavy focus on ELEMENTARY resources.
  • A partnership with all of the presidential libraries that will allow incredible access to resources for teachers in Florida
  • Collaboration with districts on developing elementary resources. We already have work planned or underway with Palm Beach, Pinellas, and Miami, among others, and these resources would be made available to all districts in the state.
  • Revisions to our online resources and website to improve ease of use and to keep up with teacher and student expectations. During the current school year the state’s approximately 2,000 civics teachers have logged on to access lessons and other Joint Center support materials more than 450,000 times.
  • The development of new assessment items for our teacher bank and the Escambia site
  • The return of a version of our Civics Mentor Teacher program, intended to launch in late September and currently on hold until our financial situation is clearer
  • Reducation or elimination of support for the Escambia civics resources. Students and their parents have logged on to the Civics Review website more than 350,000 times.
  • Professional development to districts across the state. FJCC has provided direct professional development to a third of the districts in the state in the past school year alone, and since 2008, FJCC has provided PD to almost 12,000 teachers.

This list does not include the research efforts that are ongoing through the work of the Partnership for Civic Learning.

If you are so inclined to live the civics that we teach every day, we ask, respectfully and only as a last resort, that you reach out to your state senators and our state senate leadership and ask them to restore the $200,000 removed from the Lou Frey Institute’s recurring funding request of $400,000. If you are feeling generous, ask them to include in the final budget an additional $250,000 – which was funded last year – to support the continuous outcome improvement efforts of the Partnership for Civic Learning. That appropriation request was made by Senator Detert and is included in the House budget.

Outside of your own local Senator (and House member if you choose), your message of support should be directed or CCed to:
Senator Don Gaetz
420 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100

Senator Bill Montford
214 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100

Senator Tom Lee
418 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100

Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto
326 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100

President Andy Gardiner
409 The Capitol
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100

Senator Nancy C. Detert
416 Senate Office Building
404 South Monroe Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1100

If you choose to reach out to these folks in support of the Florida Joint Center for Citizenship, please be sure to refer to the funding for the Lou Frey Institute, as that is the budget item that supports us.

On behalf of everyone at the FJCC, we thank you deeply for any support that you are willing to provide.