August 19, 2016
Serving Midtown, Spenard, and UMed
716 W 4th Ave Suite 411
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Governor Bill Walker
Lt. Governor Byron Mallot
Civics Education Task Force – My Takeaways From Our First Meeting
Dear Friends and Neighbors,
In light of the recent abysmal voter turnout for the primary elections – about 15% across the state - today’s meeting of the legislative Task Force of Civics Education was extremely timely.
I was one of five legislators in attendance. Around the table were representatives of the Association of Alaska School Boards, the Anchorage School District (ASD), the Department of Education & Early Development (DEED), the University of Alaska, and Alaska’s judicial branch of government. We came together to consider the value of civics education, study its current status, and ponder changes to it. Noticeably missing from the conversation were voices representing our Alaska Native and rural populations. While these voices are unfortunately not at the table, I hope we will hear from members of these groups as we move forward in this process.
Norm Wooten, Executive Director of Association of Alaska School Boards, highlighted the importance education plays in our government by stating that, “public education is the cradle of democracy.”
All students must take a semester of Alaska history to earn a diploma. Some districts require more. The Anchorage School District, for example, also requires students to take a class in US Government.
Additionally, many schools and districts encourage involvement in student government, volunteering in the community, and participation in programs such as “We the People” and “Model UN” as well as direct student interaction with legislators and the legislative process.
A current challenge is that ASD is the only district in the state with a coordinator for social studies. Pamela Orme studies and recommends curriculum and supports teachers in collective materials and texts to support state and local standards, and thereby she is in effect the social studies and civics curriculum coordinator for the entire state. I’m hopeful that the task force will recommend that this state resource be shared systematically through DEED. Ms. Orme expressed concern that deep budget cuts, and the necessary focus on basics of language arts, math, and science, will adversely impact the ability to strengthen and support teachers.
Dr. Nabors of UAA commented that teacher education is the most important single factor in a quality education. An important question that was asked challenged us to look at what the state is doing to give teachers training and support, particularly in the area of social studies, government & citizenship.
We also heard from Maida Buckley the State coordinator for “We The People.” She is based in Fairbanks and also advocates for a statewide curriculum coordinator. She shared with us her thoughts on the primary purpose of social studies:
To help young people develop the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions for the public good as citizens of a culturally diverse, democratic society in an interdependent world.
Ms. Buckley shared that groups such as Kids Voting and the Center for Civics Education report that there are visible increases of voter turnout from students who have been involved with programs like “We The People.” Students also perform better on NAEP and AP tests on applicable subject matter.
I am excited to be having these conversations and am looking forward to future discussions and presentations. The task force will present a report of its findings to the legislature before the beginning of the next legislative session which starts in January. I, for one, would be ecstatic to know that this is the beginning of improving the civic engagement of students statewide and thus an increase in citizen participation, engagement and involvement. As many have noted, “Democracy is not a spectator sport.”
I’m Berta and I’m still listening,
If you have any questions, please feel free to contact my office.