Legislature(2015 - 2016)BUTROVICH 205
02/26/2015 03:30 PM EDUCATION
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SCR 1-CIVICS EDUCATION TASK FORCE 3:30:37 PM CHAIR DUNLEAVY announced the consideration of SCR 1. 3:31:04 PM SENATOR GARY STEVENS, Alaska State Legislature, sponsor of SCR 1, began with a historical overview of the Constitutional Convention in 1787 and a story about the people's responsibility to "keep the Republic." He opined that too many young people have little understanding of civics and the value of liberty and equality, individual worth, open-mindedness, the ability to collaborate with those with differing opinions, and to work toward a common goal for the good of the country. He stated that those qualities must be passed on to children by parents and in schools by means of classes in government, history, economics, and democracy, and include discussions on current events and controversial issues. Many Americans agree that these courses and methods are very important to prepare children for a democratic life. He maintained that civic education does not get the attention it deserves in public schools. On the National Association of Educational Progress tests recently, only one-third of students scored proficient or above on civic knowledge. He stated that preparing for active citizenship was a foundational principle of public education in America from its beginning. He concluded that civic education strengthens the democracy, it provides an understanding of current events, and encourages participation in voting, volunteering, and public speaking. He said SCR 1 is a pathway to help children become full and effective citizens. 3:35:32 PM TIM LAMKIN, Staff, Senator Stevens, Alaska State Legislature, provided an overview for SCR 1. He said America is facing a quiet epidemic of apathy and ignorance amongst students. For decades the focus has been on science, math, reading, writing, and increased testing. He questioned the goal of that focus. He said that other states have adopted some version of a civic curriculum. The only civics-related bill in Alaska, HB 19, was adopted in 2000 and required the Pledge of Allegiance in schools. He discussed a movement that uses a 100-point quiz from the U.S. Immigration Department as part of the school curriculum. He gave examples of some of the questions. He said that 92 percent of immigrants pass the test. In Arizona only 3 percent of high school seniors could pass the test. He explained that SCR 1 would establish a task force to look at civics education currently in Alaska and in other states and decide on better options for Alaska students. 3:38:56 PM SENATOR GARDNER asked if the recommendation from the task force will result in a civics graduation requirement. SENATOR STEVENS answered no. He addressed funding challenges and costs to districts. He pointed out that Massachusetts used business and industry-sponsored workshops for teachers in order to increase students' knowledge of civics within existing classrooms. CHAIR DUNLEAVY asked if the task force expires in a year. SENATOR STEVENS answered yes. CHAIR DUNLEAVY announced the arrival of Senator Huggins. 3:41:07 PM At ease 3:41:53 PM SENATOR DUNLEAVY called the committee back to order. 3:42:25 PM SAM STONE, Executive Director, Civics Education Initiative, Joe Foss Institute, discussed their work on promoting the civics quiz mentioned by Mr. Lamkin. He said the goal is to see states adopt the quiz as part of their civics curriculum. He pointed out the declining levels of informed and engaged citizens and the critical challenges of reversing that decline. He related that two-thirds of the population can't name the three branches of the government and one-third can't name one branch. Social studies teachers across the country are frustrated by their reduction of class time due to science, engineering, technology, and math courses and time for testing. He said many other states have enacted task forces to study this issue. Free resources are available that would not tax a state's budget, such as iCivics. He stressed that promoting civics would be beneficial long-term to the strength of America. 3:45:29 PM MICHAEL POLIAKOFF, Vice President of Policy, American Council of Trustees and Alumni, testified in support of SCR 1. He said his organization has been deeply committed since 1995 to the imperative of making sure citizens understand America's free institutions. He maintained that the founders were aware that the lifespan of liberty was not likely to be very long without well-informed participating citizens. He emphasized the necessity of setting civic requirements and mandates because they set clear expectations. MR. POLIAKOFF shared statistics on America's historical illiteracy. He said the community service part of civic education is an important quality that characterizes the nation. Schools and colleges are essential for civics education and are the only ones that can fill the civics gap. 3:49:13 PM STUART THOMPSON, representing himself, testified in support of SCR 1. He stated that he is petitioning the committee to do a presentation on civics. SENATOR STEVENS noted an article by Mr. Thompson in The Frontiersman. 3:51:22 PM At ease. 3:51:55 PM CHAIR DUNLEAVY called the committee back to order. He requested that Mr. Thompson speak for three minutes and then send the committee a copy of his whole presentation. MR. THOMPSON said, "The volume of true citizen participation in government of, for, and by the people is probably the most reliable test for the effectiveness of public education that could ever be." He explained that America's founders researched different forms of government. He ended with a statement on the importance of civics education. 3:54:41 PM CHAIR DUNLEAVY thanked Senator Stevens for bringing the resolution forward. He noted the importance of how civics is taught. SENATOR STEVENS summarized that the resolution will initiate a task force that will research how to improve civics education. 3:56:06 PM SENATOR GARDNER questioned why there were no minority members on the task force. She asked the sponsor if he would accept an amendment that would ensure a member from each caucus having a seat on the task force. SENATOR STEVENS replied that he would accept that amendment and opined that the task force should be as large a group as is affordable and encompass all Alaskans. SENATOR HUGGINS asked that Mr. Thompson's amendments be considered. SENATOR STEVENS replied that if there is a task force he hoped for Mr. Thompson's involvement, as well as participation from the other two speakers. CHAIR DUNLEAVY held SCR 1 in committee.