D.C. public schools may drop U.S. government requirement

(by Jay Mallin/Bloomberg)
(Jay Mallin/Bloomberg)

In the you-can’t-make-up-this-stuff category: The public school system in the nation’s capital may let high school students graduate without taking a high-school-level course in how their country’s government works.

The D.C. State Board of Education  is  proposing changes to graduation requirements from the system that would actually get rid of the current requirement that students take a U.S. government class,  my colleague Emma Brown reported here. If approved, they would have to rely on the information they received in elementary and middle school.

Under the proposed changes, high school students in the District would take more physical education, art and music, and be required to write a thesis before graduating. They would also be permitted to earn some of their credits — proposed to go from 24 to 26 — outside the classroom, including study-abroad programs as well as off-campus arts and sports programs.

Civics education advocates are, Brown reports, unhappy with the proposal to drop the U.S. government requirement, and it is said to be open for discussion.

The real question is why it is a consideration.

On the last administration of the  National Assessment of Educational Progress in civics, in 2010, only 24 percent of high school seniors scored on the proficient level, with knowledge deficiencies in areas including the U.S. Constitution, civil rights, immigration laws, and the court system. As for the eighth graders, less than half could identify the purpose of the Bill of Rights. When those scores came out last year, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said that “we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to civics education.”

Perhaps an idea better than dropping the requirement is making the course so engaging that kids actually learn something from it.

Correction: This post has been corrected to reflect that the D.C. State Board of Education  is  proposing changes to graduation requirements, not D.C. public schools.

Valerie Strauss covers education and runs The Answer Sheet blog.
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Valerie Strauss | January 22, 2013