Florida continues to emphasize civics education as national test scores fall

(The Center Square) – Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed several bills over the past few years designed to improve the U.S. history and civics knowledge of Florida students.

The need for such reform…

(The Center Square) – Gov. Ron DeSantis has signed several bills over the past few years designed to improve the U.S. history and civics knowledge of Florida students.

The need for such reform was spotlighted by a decline in eighth grade social studies scores on The National Assessment of Educational Progress examinations. These tests designed to measure student achievement in several subject areas in the fourth, eighth and 12th grades.

The data showed that the average score (with a maximum score of 300) for U.S.. eighth graders in 2022 was 150, down three points from 2018, the last time it was administered. That score is the same as the first assessment issued in 1998.

The Florida Legislature built this session on previous measures that have already been signed into law. 

DeSantis recently signed Senate Bill 266, sponsored by Sen. Erin Grall, R-Fort Pierce, which requires that state universities and colleges have curriculums that align with the U.S. Constitution, and prohibits funds being spent on critical race theory, diversity, equity and inclusion programs, and social or political activism.

SB 266 builds on SB 7044 which was signed into law in 2022 and created Florida’s civics institutes at universities. The University of Florida was allocated $3 million in funding to create the Hamilton Center, whose core mission is to integrate a multidisciplinary undergraduate curriculum based on the ideals of the American founding.

Other civics-focused institutes in Florida include the Adam Smith Center at the Florida International University and the Florida Institute of Politics at Florida State University. The Florida Institute’s curriculum was overhauled to focus on developing tools for educators to use in K-12 settings to teach about democracy and individual rights.

Educators were also offered a $3,000 bonus if they chose to participate in workshops to better implement civics into their classroom lessons.

The Florida laws governing civics and U.S.. History education are an outlier to what some say is a national trend in education to emphasizing English and mathematics to the detriment of civics, history and the arts. 

Scott Abbott, the assistant director for Delaware Center for Civics Education, said on Twitter on May 3 that “Our reality in 2023 is that the vast majority of education leaders (e.g. school, district, state, non-profit, etc) have spent the bulk of their career in a system which prioritizes accountability metrics in ELA [English Language Arts] and Math over subjects like social studies, science, & the arts.

Florida’s Department of Education has been working to develop an integrated civic education curriculum since DeSantis signed House Bill 5 in 2021. The bill revises high school graduation credit requirements to align it with civics and government standards. and the curriculum will be available to schools beginning with the 2023-2024 school year.

The DOE states on its website that the state is committed to preparing students to become knowledgeable adults, adding that this will encourage positive contributions to their respective communities. The DOE further states that students will graduate with the principles reflected in the United States Constitution so they are aware of their rights and responsibilities as American citizens.

Civics lessons begin in kindergarten, and students are taught the foundations of government, law, and the American political system and the structure and functions of government are also part of the curriculum.

In order to graduate from middle school to high school, students in Florida are also required to pass a mandatory one semester civics course, which includes the meaning and significance of historical documents like the Declaration of Independence, the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution. The course includes the roles and responsibilities of federal, state, and local government, and the structure and function of the three branches of government.

High school students must complete one credit in U.S. history, and one-half credit in the study of U.S. government if they want to earn a high school diploma. Universities and colleges in the Sunshine State have integrated civics lessons into curriculums and added them as requirements for graduation.