ALBANY - New York state high school graduates would have the opportunity to earn a seal of civic readiness on their diploma under proposals presented Monday to the Board of Regents.
The proposal, presented to the Regents by a task force of people from around the state, would give students a chance to demonstrate social studies knowledge and civic participation through a capstone project, volunteer work and other activities.
The “Seal of Civic Readiness,” which would appear on a student’s high school diploma, was modeled on the state’s existing Seal of Biliteracy, which was adopted in recent years as a measure of the special skills of students proficient in multiple languages. Students who earn the civic readiness seal could use the accomplishment as a replacement for one of five mandatory Regents exams, under the proposal.
“We want people out there to understand we want our young people to have a sense of how to engage the community,” said Regent Catherine Collins, who represents the Buffalo area, noting the upcoming presidential election. “This is important, especially now.”
Many members of the Board of Regents, though, pressed the task force to go even further, highlighting the fundamental ties between public education and preparing children to participate in government and engage in local issues.
Some members of the board highlighted the importance of voting, the 2020 national census, jury duty, media literacy and other essential responsibilities of citizenship. An oft-cited judicial decision that outlined the state’s constitutional obligation to provide its students a “sound basic education” cites civic duties as a prime driver in undergirding the state’s charge to educate its children. Others said the civics focus should include more study of the constitutions of both New York and the United States.
“I believe if we don’t get a handle on this we are in danger of having this country be one we don’t even recognize, (where) we are subject to tyranny,” said Regent Josephine Finn of Monticello, arguing that for some people their lack of civic knowledge is used to oppress or marginalize them. “I want more, I think we have to know our children know that constitution backward and forward by the time they graduate high school.”
The Regents’ discussion of the civics proposals also blended into an ongoing discussion about the state’s graduation requirements. The Regents plan to appoint a commission this summer to review the state’s graduation requirements and propose changes.
If Monday’s meeting was any indication, many members of the Board of Regents would like to see a major focus on civic readiness as part of the graduation requirements proposals.
“We want this to be an essential experience, knowledge and skill set for every high school to go forward,” said Regent Wade Norwood, who represents Rochester. “(We should) use the diploma requirement discussion to say this is essential.”
In an effort to focus attention on the importance of civics education and government participation, the Board of Regents established the civic readiness task force in 2018 and charged it with making recommendations to bolster civics education in the state’s schools.
The task force defined civic readiness as “the ability to make a positive difference in the public life of our communities through the combination of civic knowledge, skills and actions, mindsets, and experiences.”
Students completing a civics capstone project will be asked to identify an issue facing their school or community, design a potential solution to the problem, take action to address the issue and reflect on what they learned about their school or community from the project.
The proposal calls for creating a pilot of the capstone project and civic readiness seal next school year and ramping up the program statewide in the 2021-2022 school year.
The state also recently included a college, career and civic readiness measure that will be used in determining which districts need state interventions and support. School districts can earn points on that measure for students who earn the civic readiness seal, giving school districts a good reason to prioritize enabling students to pursue the civics readiness projects as part of their school experience.
“The New York State Education Department is committed to empowering the civic agency of students and ensuring all students achieve civic readiness as a result of their prekindergarten (through) 12th grade education,” according to a draft document explaining the renewed focus on civic readiness.