Utah Civic Learning Collaborative releases report with recommendations to improve civics education in Utah

The Utah Civic Learning Collaborative (UCLC) released a report, CIVICS EDUCATION POISED FOR INNOVATION: LISTENING TOUR FINDINGS. In collaboration with the Utah State Board of Education, the UCLC interviewed more than 400 teachers and administrators to learn about current approaches, barriers to civic teaching, and what educators need to expand their efforts. 

“Educators take the historical ‘civic mission of schools’ very seriously,” said report author Judi Hilman; “but many struggle to make time for civics in the face of competing pressures, like the need to boost achievement in areas that are regularly tested like reading and math.”  The report describes a consensus on the need for guidance on how to discuss current events and issues that matter to students. “No matter what they do, even meeting core standards for teaching about slavery, teachers feel like they are under constant scrutiny,” adds Hilman, “They want clarity and leadership from administrators around fostering civic skills like civil dialogue.” 

Other key findings include: 

  • Teachers need help furthering trust and transparency with parents about what they are teaching and why, if only to continue civil discussions at the dinner table. 
  • Teachers can see civic connections across all academic disciplines; but they need time and practical support to develop these angles. 
  • Civic teaching needs to accommodate different learning needs and backgrounds,
  • Educators have many fresh ideas for building civic dispositions through academic service learning and want a chance to test them.
  • Teachers admit they need their own training in civic life. “Do I even know how (civic life) works?” asked one teacher. 

The report includes recommendations, some that are in process: 

  • Civic learning and skill building should happen in all academic subjects and across all grade levels. 
  • Curate curriculum tools for teaching constitutional literacy. 
  • Make better use of current frameworks and curate tools for teaching the promising practices of civics education.
  • Build a network of nonprofits prepared to partner with schools on academic service learning, where the service is paired with study of the issues surrounding the need for service. 
  • Engage in emerging discussions about ways to cultivate patriotism and address the “crisis of faith in American institutions” described by political analyst Yuval Levin. Said one teacher, “We say the pledge every morning–but students struggle with what it really means.” 
  • Address the equity angles in civics education to open up civic life to students from all walks of life. 
  • Help students have a voice in efforts to improve civic teaching and learning.

The report finds reasons for hope and fresh opportunity to center civic teaching in the K-12 experience. “The art of teaching is about weaving it all together,” said one teacher from Canyons; but teachers should not have to reinvent the wheel. They need professional development, models, and more. “We certainly have our work cut out for us at the UCLC,” shared Hilman. 

The project was funded in part by a generous grant from U-Serve. 

The full report can be found here.