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The New Jersey Coalition to Support the Civic Mission of the Schools was organized to create public awareness and support for the civic mission of the schools through public meetings and discussions and to
enhance the teaching of civics, history, economics, humanities and other social sciences. It includes educators, public policy makers and others interested in ensuring that our future generations have the necessary
knowledge and interest to maintain our democratic institutions. The Coalition is co-chaired by former New Jersey governor Brendan Byrne, retired New Jersey Supreme
Court Justice Daniel J. O'Hern, and John J. Degnan, a former state attorney general, who is vice chairman and chief operating officer of the Chubb
Corp. It is led by Arlene Gardner, director of the New Jersey Center for Civic and Law-Related Education. For a statement of the Coalition's goals, click
here. An updated list of members will be added soon.
Although youth turnout this primary season was up, two-thirds of students scored below proficient on the most recent National Assessment of Education Progress
in civics. Less than a third of eighth- graders could identify the historical purpose of the Declaration of Independence, and less than a fifth of high school
seniors could explain how citizen participation benefits democracy. Low-income and minority students scored even lower on these assessments.
In New Jersey, the situation is even more disturbing. Unlike 30 other states, New Jersey does not require a single civics course at any time in the K-12 education
of our young people. An Inventory of Civic Education in New Jersey, conducted in the fall of 2004, revealed that only 39 percent of New Jersey school districts require
all of their students to take a civics course in any grade. (For the full report, click
here). And this number has been reduced over the past four years due to
high-stakes No Child Left Behind testing. According to a 2008 report by the Center for Education Policy, three-quarters of schools nationally have reported a decrease
in the amount of time spent on social studies in order to devote more time to preparing for literacy and math exams. Except for students taking an American government
elective (10 to 20 percent of the student body of any given high school), students in most New Jersey school districts are exposed to one week to one month of
civic content knowledge as part of U.S. history, with little emphasis on the importance of citizen action. We are graduating a significant number of young people who
have no sense of what it means to be a citizen in a democratic society and no sense of civic responsibility.
But we have an opportunity to change this! The 2009 New Jersey social studies standards head in the right direction by integrating civics, economics and geography with
history. However, it is unclear how teachers will be able to find the time to teach the concepts of democracy and civics. A-1071 has been introduced in the New Jersey
Assembly. It would expand the existing requirement for teaching New Jersey in an upper elementary grade to make it clear that "the basic concepts of authority,
responsibility and justice as well as the role of the citizen in a democratic society are infused into the elementary school curriculum." It would also require that
"a course of study about the values and principles underlying the American system of constitutional democracy, the function and limitations of government and the
role of a citizen in a democratic society" be taught in an appropriate middle school grade.
The Civic Mission of the School report outlined six promising approaches to civic education:
- Provide instruction in U.S. government, history, law and democracy.
- Emphasize knowledge, skills and attitudes.
- Engage students in classroom discussions about current local, national and international issues that young people view as important in their lives.
- Design and implement service learning programs that enable students to connect community service and classroom learning.
- Encourage student participation in student government.
- Encourage student participation in simulations of democratic processes and procedures.
With support from the U.S. Congress, the Center for Civic Education, the National Conference of State Legislatures, the Center on Congress, Congressional Conferences on Civic Education have been held in Washington,
D.C. in September 2003, December 2004, September 2005, and November 2006. These events have brought together state legislators, chief state school officers, state and local boards of education members, representatives of the governors,
education professionals at all levels and civic educators to discuss the critical role civic education plays in fostering civic engagement as well to explore the current status of civic education. Each state is now working on a local effort because,
consistent with historical local control of education, most decisions are made at the local school district and state level.
To be a part of this growing movement toward a comprehensive and effective approach to the civic education of students in New Jersey, join our mailing list
or contact our office at 848-445-3413 or at email@example.com.