Graham Center initiative aims to improve Florida’s middle school civics education
In 2008, the Florida Legislature passed the Justice Sandra Day O’Connor Civics Education Act, mandating at least one semester of middle school civics instruction and requiring an end-of-course exam. Beginning with the 2013-2014 school year, each student’s performance on the civics exam constitutes 30 percent of the student’s final course grade. While a student does not have to pass the statewide standardized civics exam to be promoted to high school, he or she must pass the civics course in order to be promoted to ninth grade.
Preparing students to be successful on the civics exam has become an immediate concern for educational stakeholders. Only 23 percent of American eighth graders scored at or above the proficient level in civics on the 2014 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) exam.
But the need for robust civic education transcends student performance on state and national assessments. Florida’s civic health ranks among the bottom five states in the nation and has for some period of time. Most recently, Florida ranked 36th in voter turnout, 40th in voter registration, 47th in attending public meetings and 50th in working with neighbors to fix a community problem.*
Experts and public officials agree that enhancing civic education in the state holds the most promise for promoting increased citizen engagement in Florida.
At his investiture in December 2015, University of Florida President Kent Fuchs called on the University of Florida campus to become leaders in helping the state address its biggest challenges. The Bob Graham Center has answered the call.
Partnering with the Gainesville tutoring company, Study Edge, the Bob Graham Center, and the Lou Frey Institute at the University of Central Florida are working to create Civics Nation – a free, interactive, intensive, 24/7, online end-of-course exam preparation resource. Based on the latest research and best practices, Civics Nation will utilize social learning and technological breakthroughs to construct and stage a vibrant online learning system for middle school students and teachers. This intuitive, around-the-clock resource offers differentiated instruction through live and asynchronous tutoring, as well as a host of other tools that drive learning.
The site will include video review sessions, study guides, an interactive civics wall and a sophisticated assessment system that mimics the civics end-of-course exam in an online environment. It will also feature live broadcasts with state representatives and civic action mentoring provided by UF liberal arts and sciences majors.
Civics Nation is designed to mirror the highly successful Algebra Nation, created in 2014 by the University of Florida’s Lastinger Center at the College of Education and Study Edge. Since its launch, Algebra Nation has dramatically exceeded expectations. The state legislature recently awarded the Lastinger Center $2.4 million funding for its Math Nation, Algebra Nation educational tools, as well as a Winning Reading program. More than half of Florida’s middle and high school algebra teachers, representing 900 schools in all 67 school districts, have used this learning ecosystem.
Securing the future of our democracy and our republican form of government will require creating a generation of young people who grasp the magnitude of the challenges facing Florida and the nation and are prepared to contribute significantly to public discourse and policy-making.
* Results are based on data collected in the annual Voting and Registration and Civic Engagement supplements to the U.S. Census Bureau’s Current Population Survey. Florida’s “snapshot” of civic engagement is here.