California Launches High School Civic Learning Award

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — California Supreme Court Chief Justice Tani Cantil-Sakauye and state superintendent of public instruction Tom Torlakson, recently announced they are co-sponsoring a new Civic Learning Award for public high schools in the state. The award will recognize schools that develop successful models for engaging students in civic learning that can be replicated in other schools.

The pair of civic leaders will announce the winners of the competition at a Feb. 28 civic learning summit in Sacramento, with former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor serving as the keynote speaker. The award overview document identifies a quote from the Commission for Impartial Courts final report in 2009 as giving the award program its purpose.

“Every child in the state should receive a quality civics education, and judges, courts, teachers and school administrators should be supported in their efforts to educate students about the judiciary and its function in a democratic society.”

The award program will recognize three levels of achievement. Top-scoring schools will receive the award of excellence and earn a visit from the chief justice herself. High-scoring schools will receive an award of distinction and a visit from an appellate court justice. Mid-scoring schools will receive an award of merit and recognition from a superior court judicial officer.

Schools are encouraged to submit an application describing their civic learning practices and programs. The awards committee will give special attention to programs that incorporate strategies listed in Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools; a report from the Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania; the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools; the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement at Tufts University; the American Bar Association’s Division for Public Education; and the National Conference on Citizenship.

The report focuses on six major strategies it identifies as proven practices. The first practice calls for formal instruction in government, history, law and democracy, while avoiding “teaching only rote facts about dry procedures, which is unlikely to benefit students and may actually alienate them from politics.”

The second practice emphasizes discussion on current issues on the local level and beyond, especially those that young people view as impactful in their own lives. The third practice focuses on encouraging community service in a way that links these activities to traditional curriculum and classroom instruction.

The fourth practice involves creating extracurricular activities that involve students in their schools or communities. The fifth practice focuses on encouraging student participation in school governance. The sixth practice calls for schools to create simulations of democratic processes and procedures for students to participate in.

Applications for the 2012-2013 version of the new award program will be due Dec. 14, 2012.