Reclaiming the Democratic Purpose of California’s Public Schools
Authors John Rogers, Erica Hodgin, Joseph Kahne, Rebecca Cooper Geller, Alexander Kwako, Samia Alkam, and Cicely Bingener
It is time to reclaim the democratic purposes of public education in California. The recent national election signals heightened interest in politics as well as deep fissures in our civic community. Further, the current moment—a global pandemic, the urgent need to address racial injustice, and wildfires up and down the West coast—highlights complex problems that demand public engagement and action. There is a clear need to prepare youth for thoughtful and powerful engagement with societal issues. Promoting civic learning in a period of increased political polarization and misinformation will be challenging for public schools. But ignoring these forces is not an option for a democratic society. Students must learn to investigate pressing issues of concern, seek out trustworthy information, engage productively across differences, and take action to help respond to problems.
Our study of civic learning in California school districts assesses the degree to which districts are focused on and devoting resources to these civic priorities. During the first half of 2020 we surveyed and interviewed district officials, examined Local Control Accountability Plans (LCAPs), and analyzed a representative sample of mission statements from district websites. The following key findings emerge from our study.