Bill causes concern for civic education

As educators and legal professionals continue their struggle to make civic education a priority for students, the Indiana Legislature has passed a bill that may put more pressure on teachers to focus on test scores rather than overall student development.

Signed into law on April 30, Senate Bill 1 will tie teacher pay to student performance. The bill also stipulates that teachers should focus on student mastery of standards by the state and should have the ability to teach scientifically based reading. It does not mention civic education.

On April 19, when former U.S. Rep. Lee Hamilton and others announced that the National Conference on Citizenship (NCoC) would soon begin work on the Indiana Civic Health Index, Hamilton said, “Civic education is crucially important for the country – as important as math and science.”

Hamilton, director of the Center on Congress at Indiana University, said that while teaching the fundamentals is important, students need a well-rounded education, which includes civics. Phil Duncan, consultant for media and outreach for the Center on Congress agreed.

“An important thing to try to do would be to try to create some civic education standards,” Duncan said.

The Indiana State Teachers Association website states that “during these difficult economic times, offering merit pay bonuses to select individuals means a reduction in resources to programs and/or services far more directly connected to improved student learning.”

Sheila Suess Kennedy, professor and director of public affairs programs for the School of Public and Environmental Affairs at Indiana University – Purdue University Indianapolis, said that tying teacher pay to performance may be impractical in some school districts.

“You’ve got inner-city schools where the kids you test at the beginning of the year aren’t even the same kids you test at the end of the year,” she said.

She said that what she fears might happen is teachers may leave inner-city schools for suburban schools, as research suggests students whose parents have higher incomes have higher test scores.•

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