A New Roadmap for 21st Century History And Civic Education

March 2, 2021

Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Department of Education, Educating For American Democracy provides guidance for states and school districts with the goal of providing 60 million K-12 students with access to high-quality civic learning opportunities by 2030

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A team of more than 300 scholars, educators, and practitioners have released the Roadmap to Educating for American Democracy, an unprecedented, cross-ideological effort to build excellence in civic and history education for all K-12 students. The Roadmap, released against a backdrop of political polarization and increasing inequality threatening the country’s civic strength, provides a framework for innovation and improvement in history and civics learning with the goal of supporting the development of all students into prepared, informed and engaged citizens.

The Educating for American Democracy (EAD)  project was funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities (NEH) and the U.S. Department of Education and was led by a team drawn from iCivics, Harvard University, Arizona State University, and Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life and Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE). The Roadmap provides guidance to states and local school districts for the creation of the standards, curricula, and instructional materials necessary for excellence in civic learning for 21st century students.

The project brought together an ideologically, demographically, and professionally diverse national network of experts in civics, U.S. history, political science, and education to foster a shared national conversation about what is most important to teach in U.S. history and civics, why it should be taught, and how.

This effort comes after a 50-year erosion of civic education in K-12 schools—to the point that the federal government now spends only 5 cents per student per year on civics, and fewer than a quarter of American 8th graders score as proficient on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in civics.

“EAD lays the foundation for a major investment in history and civic education to address today's governance challenges. It answers what we should teach and why we should teach it,” iCivics Executive Director Louise Dubé said. “Educating for American Democracy is critical to our ability to sustain our unique American form of self-governance.”

The Roadmap offers guidance to states and local school districts, but is not a national curriculum

The Roadmap is not a national curriculum, but a robust framework with content guidance and advice about pedagogic strategies that states and local municipalities can use to guide improvement and innovation in their development of U.S. history and civic learning curricula, resources, and learning opportunities. The goal of the framework and advisory guidance is to support the development of students into prepared, informed, and engaged civic participants. The aspiration is that states and districts will take the Roadmap as a foundation for their own efforts to improve history and civic standards, and to support districts, schools, and educators in efforts to deepen and strengthen U.S. history and civic learning across all grade bands. The goal is to shape instructional programs that give 21st-century students the knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary to participate effectively in a democratic society.

The Roadmap is supplemented by an implementation plan, with roles for each level of our federal systemlocal, state, tribal, territorial, and national. The goal is to give 60 million students access to high-quality civic learning opportunities and to create 100,000 schools that are “civic ready” by 2030.

The implementation plan urges that:

  • Local school districts should develop Civic Learning Plans that include goals and progress toward civic excellence and ensure that every teacher has access to ongoing professional development.
  • States should require local school districts to have Civic Learning Plans, adopt social studies standards that reflect EAD guidance, and support educator professional development. 
  • Civil society organizations, including institutions of higher education, foundations, and civic education providers, should create instructional materials that reflect EAD guidance, offer professional development, and develop protocols for credentialing civic learning, including through the use of badges for students and seals for schools.
  • The federal government should build a national data infrastructure for the teaching of history and civics and revise the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) framework for civics and history.

The recommendations are the result of a process that started in October of 2019, when the EAD team conducted a deep examination of the state of civic and history education across the countrywhich included educator listening sessionsas well as research in civics, history, political science, and pedagogy.

The EAD Roadmap, which was launched at a national online forum co-hosted by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Archives Foundation, is available for download at www.educatingforamericandemocracy.org. A Pedagogy Companion is also available, and suggests instructional principles for teaching the content of the Roadmap. 

“America’s current state of polarization and civic dysfunction is the byproduct of our failure to invest in civic education for many decades. We’ve forgotten how to listen to each other, how to reasonably disagree on issues, and why these civic virtues matter – because in both universities and schools we have neglected these priorities” said Paul Carrese, the director of The School of Civic & Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University. “The Educating for American Democracy Roadmap reestablishes the importance of crucial civic knowledge about our constitutional democracy, along with the civic virtues that engaged citizens need.”

The Roadmap uses an inquiry-based approach, integrates civics and history, reflects diverse viewpoints,
and provides educators with design principles for excellence in history and civic learning

The Roadmap and its Pedagogy Companion offer an inquiry-based vision for civics and history, with seven content themes that integrate history and political science, and that are organized by means of the questions to be pursued over the course of a K-12 education. The themes are designed to support disciplinary learning and to motivate the agency students need to sustain constitutional democracy.

The Roadmap also presents educators with design challenges that face all educators who enter into the work of delivering history and civic learning in the 21st century. Central to these is the need for civic education that gives the complete narrative of America’s plural, yet shared, story and a more complete and honest accounting of the past—both the good and the bad.

“Nothing could be more urgent and important at this point in the life of our constitutional democracy than rebuilding our civic strength via a significant re-investment in K-12 civic education,” Danielle Allen, James Bryant Conant University Professor at Harvard University, said.

The EAD’s Principal Investigators

Educating for American Democracy was led by The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University, The School of Civic & Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University, Tufts University’s Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning (CIRCLE) and Engagement and Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, and iCivics—the country’s largest civic education provider.

The Corresponding Principal Investigators are Danielle Allen and Jane Kamensky from Harvard University, Paul Carrese from Arizona State University, Louise Dubé from iCivics, and Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg and Peter Levine from Tufts University, and Tammy Waller from the Arizona Department of Education.

For more information contact jacob@oneallen.com.

National Endowment for the Humanities: Created in 1965 as an independent federal agency, the National Endowment for the Humanities supports research and learning in history, literature, philosophy, and other areas of the humanities by funding selected, peer-reviewed proposals from around the nation. Additional information about the National Endowment for the Humanities and its grant programs is available at: www.neh.gov

The School of Civic & Economic Thought and Leadership at Arizona State University blends a liberal arts education with civic education to prepare 21st century leaders for American and international affairs, balancing study of classic ideas with outside-the-classroom learning experiences.  The School also provides civic education programs: its Civic Literacy Curriculum, (a comprehensive curriculum guide based off the U.S. Citizenship and Naturalization Test), the Arizona Constitution Project, and the Civic Discourse Project – a national-caliber speakers program partnering with Arizona PBS to provide a space for civil discourse on pressing issues.  https://scetl.asu.edu/

The Edmond J. Safra Center for Ethics at Harvard University seeks to strengthen teaching and research about pressing ethical issues; to foster sound norms of ethical reasoning and civic discussion; and to share the work of our community in the public interest. The Center stands at the core of a well-established movement giving ethics a prominent place in the curriculum and on research agendas at Harvard and throughout the world. The Center's Democratic Knowledge Project is a K-16 civic education provider that seeks to identify and disseminate the bodies of knowledge, capacities, and skills that democratic citizens need in order to build and sustain healthy, thriving democracies. https://ethics.harvard.edu/

Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life and Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE): The only university-wide college of its kind, the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life at Tufts University studies and promotes the civic and political engagement of young people at Tufts University, in our communities, and in our democracy. Peter Levine serves as Associate Dean of Academic Affairs. Tisch College’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), directed by Kei Kawashima-Ginsberg, is a premier research center on young people’s civic education and engagement in the United States, especially those who are marginalized or disadvantaged in political life. CIRCLE’s scholarly research informs policy and practice for healthier youth development and a better democracy. https://tischcollege.tufts.edu/

iCivics: U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor founded in 2009 to transform civic education and rebuild civic strength through digital games and lesson plans. It is the country’s largest provider of civic education content and is currently used by more than 120,500 educators and 7.6 million students annually. All of its games are free, nonpartisan, and available at www.icivics.org

U.S. Department of Education (ED): ED’s mission is to promote student achievement and preparation for global competitiveness by fostering educational excellence and ensuring equal access. Find more at www.ed.gov