Reps. Kortz, Boback Emphasize Importance of Civics Education

HARRISBURG, May 3 – State Reps. Bill Kortz, D-Allegheny, and Karen Boback, R-Lackawanna/Luzerne/Wyoming, called for increased civics education in schools and were joined by state and national leaders in civics education to encourage the Legislature to support House Bill 1858, which would require Pennsylvania high school students to demonstrate a basic understanding of American history and civics as a condition of graduation.  

Several national studies and surveys have shown that students are unable to answer basic questions about the U.S. government and American history. To address this problem, Kortz and Boback have introduced House Bill 1858, which is adopted from the Civics Education Initiative. The bill would require high school students to pass a test on 100 basic facts of U.S. history and civics from the United States Citizenship Civics Test – the test all immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship must pass.

"We need to reconsider our approach to civics education when only one out of four students can pass a citizenship test," Kortz said. "Knowledge of how our government works is essential for democracy to survive."

"Our young people today face a crisis of knowledge with respect to their understanding of our country and its founding documents. It is incumbent on us, as lawmakers, to ensure that our education system provides schools with a mechanism to make certain that Pennsylvania’s students are adequately prepared to be active and engaged citizens," Boback said.

"Pennsylvania has a proud place in the history of our American democracy. We commend Representatives Kortz and Boback for their bipartisan leadership on this important issue," said Lucian Spataro, chairman of education initiatives for the Joe Foss Institute, which launched the effort last year in legislatures throughout the country. "This legislation is an important first step to put civics back on the front burner where it belongs, so our students graduate as actively engaged and responsible citizens." Spataro added that 10 states have already passed similar legislation with bipartisan support and many more are considering legislation this year.

Educators would have a great deal of flexibility with regard to the implementation of civics proficiency graduation requirement. The 100 questions can be applied in a variety of ways and many teachers have expressed that they already incorporate the topics into their curriculum.

Superintendent of the North Dakota Department of Public Instruction Kirsten Baesler, which was one of the first states in the country to adopt the new test, highlighted how the startling national statistics prompted her state to act. "It is a state’s responsibility to set high expectations for their students. Knowledge of our republic and our founding documents is certainly one area for which we must have high expectations. Our teachers were provided resources and the freedom to develop their classroom lessons to teach these important concepts. Today, teachers and students alike are excited and engaged in deep debate and activity across our state, which is exactly what we'd hoped for."

House Bill 1858 has the support of over two dozen members and is a bipartisan initiative. The bill is endorsed by the American Legion Department of Pennsylvania and is currently awaiting a hearing in the House Veterans Affairs and Emergency Preparedness Committee.