New high school grad requirement: Civics project?

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BOSTON — Completion of a student-led civics project after the eighth grade would become a requirement to graduate from high school in Massachusetts under a civics education bill the Senate plans to debate Thursday.

Beginning with the graduating class of 2022, public school students in Massachusetts would be required to participate in two student-led civics projcts, one of which must be completed after grade eight in order for the student to graduate high school, under the Senate's civics education bill (S 2306).

The Senate's bill defines student-led civics projects as individual, small group or class-wide "student-centered exploration(s) of the connections between federal, state and local policies and an issue that impacts the student's community."

All public schools would be required by the Senate's bill to provide instruction in American history and civics, and would be required to include in its curriculum "American history; local history; the function and composition of the branches of local, state and federal government; the constitution of the United States, the bill of rights, the declaration of independence and the constitution of the commonwealth; the electoral process; the roles and responsibilities of a citizen in a democracy; the development of media literacy skills to access, analyze and evaluate media as it relates to history and civic education; community diversity and the role it plays in the democratic process; knowledge of the ways in which civic participation has been restricted throughout history; and opportunities to identify and debate issues relative to power, economic status and the common good in democracy."

Legislative leaders this year named civics education legislation as a priority, alluding to but never explicitly naming President Donald Trump when asked what ignited the recent interest in civics education.

"I think probably the last year in terms of what's going on in the country, in particular, has convinced me about the need for further civic education and through that hopefully more civic involvement nationwide and obviously in our state's politics as well," House Speaker Robert DeLeo said in January.

Senate President Harriette Chandler, Education Committee co-chairs Sen. Sonia Chang-Diaz and Rep. Alice Peisch, and members of the Legislature's Civics-Education Working Group plan to discuss the bill, which the Senate described as "consensus House-Senate legislation," at a press conference at 3 p.m. today. The Senate Ways and Means Committee has offered up a re-draft of the bill. The state Board of Elementary and Secondary Education and Board of Higher Education voted in 2016 to revise their definitions of college and career readiness to include a section on "civic readiness," calling for "a deep understanding and knowledge of U.S. history and its foundational documents, along with the knowledge, intellectual skills, and applied competencies that citizens need for informed and effective participation in civic and democratic life."

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