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February 9, 2005

the president's budget and civic education

The Bush Administration's budget proposal for education is available online. For those concerned about civic learning, here are two key points:

  • Funding for the Office of Safe and Drug-Free Schools is cut in half, from $672 million to $317 million. This is the office that manages character and civic education, including grants to produce curricular materials, train teachers, etc.
  • The budget makes high school reform a major priority. There will be a big fight over what that means. Some believe that the standards-and-accountability regime that's now in place for grades 3-8 should be extended upward to grades 9-12; others think that high schools should be made smaller, more various, and more connected to communities. In principle, we could do both; but in practice, there are likely to be major tradeoffs between the two approaches. For one thing, a standards-and-accountability regime will drive schools toward standardization, which will make it more difficult for them to develop idiosyncratic curricular themes, such as public service or American history. Many in the "civic ed" world see great promise in small, themed high schools, especially ones that emphasize civic values.

    The budget is somewhat ambiguous about how to reform secondary education. On one hand, the title of the relevant subhead is "Finishing the Job: Bringing NCLB to High Schools," and money is earmarked for mandatory "testing in grades 911 in language arts and math." On the other hand, the following passage implies some flexibility:

  • This initiative provides $1.2 billion to help States implement a high school accountability framework and a wide range of effective interventions. In return for a commitment to improve academic achievement and graduation rates for secondary school students, States will receive the flexibility to choose which intervention strategies will be most effective in serving the needs of their at-risk high school students. Allowable activities would include vocational education programs, mentoring programs, and partnerships between high schools and colleges, among other approaches. A portion of the funding will be used for randomized trials and evaluations to identify the most effective intervention strategies to enable school administrators to make better choices on what educational strategies to adopt."

    I read this as a negotiated statement. Those who simply want high-stakes testing to be expanded through the 12th grade probably have the upper hand, but they have made some room for people who see other ways to reform high schools.

    [cross-posted from the CMS Community blog]

    February 9, 2005 7:50 AM | category: advocating civic education | Comments


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