Parker Reply

I emailed Dr. Walter Parker and other well-respected civics education researchers in February, 2016, to ask for their "Top Two" research/information that they felt was helpful and/or necessary to understand the civics test movement.   

Walter replied on March 10, 2016 with the following:


Thanks for writing, Kris. I've been mulling your question. 


The current election cycle has pushed me off my 'undecided' position regarding the INS test (the Foss proposal). I was undecided before and after Diana [Hess] and I led a large-group deliberation on the question at the NCSS conference in November. There are good arguments on both sides. 


But I've since moved to the 'pro' side. My reason? Our political situation is dire. These are dark, ignorant times. A demagogue is winning primary after primary; and with each vulgar, vacuous, or bigoted statement, crowds fill another stadium. As David Remick wrote this week, "No American demagogue--not Huey Long, not Joseph McCarthy, not George Wallace--has ever achieved such proximity to national power."  Even the Fordham Foundation, which in the past has dismissed civic education as fluff , is getting the message.


The frame that makes sense to me is this, which I heard from a local judge who supports it: I don't know anyone who is suggesting that students learn only what's on the INS test, and that's not what I support. However, students should know at least what a naturalized citizen is required to know about US government and politics.


A test is only a test, and not to be confused with an education. "You don't fatten cattle by weighing them."  For high-quality civic education, there is a consensus: the six Promising Practices from the Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools. In support of Practice #1, learning information about local, state, and national government, I am concentrating my efforts on invigorating the high school government and politics course. It is taken by 80% of high schoolers (best estimate, AP plus non-AP versions of the course). I believe this course should be offered in the senior year when students turn 18, and after they have taken 11th-grade US History (the sequence matters). Furthermore, bringing in #2 (discussion of current issues) and #6 (simulations), my research team has created a version of the Govt course where these three practices together are the backbone. A measure of deep civic learning (versus rote memory) is part of the course, too. A brief article is attached


Even though "a test is just a test," I think the INS test will galvanize some needed attention to civic knowledge, which educators can then leverage for education: resources, curriculum, instruction, and professional development. Leveraging the test is the subsequent challenge. The risk is that a memory test will substitute for education, but returning to the frame above, that's not what I'm supporting.


I hope this is useful.