Preparing students for civic life can advance goals to improve student achievement and prepare them for college and 21st century careers. Done well, civic education can teach students to communicate effectively, to ask tough questions, to research and assess information from various sources, and to work collaboratively. Some current efforts aim to bridge civic education with education reform initiatives. For example, the Partnership for 21st Century Skills provides strategies for states to strengthen their adoption of the Common Core State Standards (CCSS) by explicitly integrating civic literacy in curriculum and instruction. In addition, the Los Angeles County Office of Education developed a guide to align civic education with the CCSS for English Language Arts & Literacy in History/Social Studies, Science, and Technical Subjects.
At EDC, my colleagues and I have addressed the need to both strengthen civic education and improve student achievement through the Law and Justice (L&J) high school program. L&J aims to empower young people to solve problems, develop innovative solutions, and take civic action as members of the "fourth branch" of the U.S. government. The program comprises curriculum and professional development components and includes two courses, Foundations in Law and Foundations in Criminal Justice.
Today’s students want to make a difference in society and to forge connections between the classroom and the local and global communities. The L&J curriculum provides opportunities for students to engage in learning through authentic projects that are relevant to their lives and to the real world. For example, in one unit students explore laws related to school safety, examine issues of justice and injustice in how laws are enforced, and organize a community forum on school safety and the law. In another unit, students play dual roles as a legal journalist and as a citizen journalist writing about past and current civil rights issues and sharing their articles online.
In a recent survey of high school students in California, one student made the following comment about the L&J curriculum:
"The most interesting part of this course is learning about how all the laws developed. The course empowered me by helping me choose the career I might want one day, and it made me want to do more in my community through civic action."
L&J improves students’ academic performance by integrating literacy skills with civic learning. Teachers employ tools and strategies to help students read a range of primary, secondary, and complex informational documents and write for multiple audiences. We also think that the curriculum can reduce the achievement gap in disadvantaged communities by empowering all students to develop essential habits of learning that can often lead to a sense of self-efficacy. The design of the curriculum encourages students to engage in critical literacy—to read and question texts from different perspectives, critically discuss multiple interpretations and viewpoints, and identify evidence that supports arguments. These skills prepare all students for success in college and careers, and also for a lifetime of knowledgeable and engaged citizenship.
- If you're a teacher, or just curious, learn about the innovative core design of Law and Justice and how to teach the courses.
- Read about EDC's approach to providing schools and districts with technical assistance to improve outcomes for youth.
- Find out about all of our College and Careers initiatives.