Across the Street: Civics foundational to education
“An informed citizenry is the heart of a dynamic democracy.”
— Thomas Jefferson
Civics is the study of the rights and duties of citizenship. The United States Citizenship Civics Test is the test all immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship must pass. Unlike Colorado, some states are requiring students pass the test before receiving a high school diploma.
Currently, only 24 percent of U.S. high school students are proficient in civics. Proficient is defined as “competent or skilled,” however, a passing grade in many states — and for those desiring citizenship — is 60 percent, which, I believe, is a pretty low bar. According to a recent study one third of all U.S. citizens can’t name even one branch of our federal government.
An organization called the Civics Education Initiative believes high school students should be required to pass the 100 basic facts immigration test. I would add that, if those entering our country need to earn a score of 60 percent, shouldn’t current citizens be able to answer all 100 of the questions correctly?
Under current Colorado law (C.R.S. 22-1-104), Colorado students are required to take and satisfactorily pass a civics course to graduate from high school. Remarkably, in Colorado, this is the only graduation requirement included in state law.
The actual law reads: “The history and civil government of the state of Colorado shall be taught in all the public schools of this state.” Note the word “shall” in this statement. It’s critical, when reading bills, to note “shall” as opposed to “may.” Both terms are used in bill writing and, of course, they have different meanings. You seldom see the word “shall,” because Colorado is a local control state. This bill, however, states that history and civil government “shall,” or “will be,” taught.
The bill goes on to state that: “Satisfactory completion of a course on the civil government of the United States and the state of Colorado, (which includes the subjects described in subsection 2, including history, culture and contributions of minorities, including, but not limited to, the American Indians, the Hispanic Americans and the African Americans), shall be taught in all the public schools of the state.”
In reading the foregoing paragraph, you may have noticed that students are “required to take and satisfactorily pass” a civics course. What does satisfactorily mean? That is left up to the school districts. Some districts may require a higher standard to pass than others. Is one correct answer “satisfactorily passing”? It depends on your school district.
Some believe there are too many tests given to students, and we can’t possibly add another. I believe that, next to reading and math, being a good citizen should be the foundation of our educational system and our country. Our state should rise to the challenge and require high school graduates to not only be able to pass the test, but also understand the history and responsibilities behind the answers.
Joyce Rankin represents Colorado’s 3rd Congressional District on the State Board of Education. She writes the monthly column, Across the Street, to share with constituents in the 29 counties she represents. The Department of Education, where the State Board of Education meets, is located across the street from the State Capitol. She is also a legislative assistant for State Rep. Bob Rankin.
About a week ago I was rolling a bale of hay down past the loading dock of the corral so that I could throw hay over the fence. Right there in the path was some rhubarb. It isn’t that the rhubarb hadn’t been there before, but I thought it had died out during the drought. It isn’t easy to get water to that location. The rhubarb is nice and tender, and I’m determined to use it up before the stalks get tough. So I hunted up my rhubarb recipes.