Policy for Civic Reasoning

Published date01 January 2023
AuthorLinda Darling-Hammond,Kent McGuire
Date01 January 2023
Subject MatterInsights for Research, Policy, and Practice
232 ANNALS, AAPSS, 705, January 2023
DOI: 10.1177/00027162231193276
Policy for Civic
Preparing young people for citizenship requires signifi-
cant change in our public schools, including a commit-
ment to preparation of the education workforce for
today’s diverse learners and paying more attention to
culture and identity in what is taught. Schools should be
designed and organized in ways that help students
understand the obligations that members of a society
owe one another. Policy can be an important lever in
promoting changes that foster civic reasoning and
engagement: curriculum policies can support civic
reasoning and discourse within and across subject areas,
assessments can support civic reasoning through com-
petency-based approaches, and well-designed gradua-
tion requirements can reinforce attention to civic
learning. This article describes various frameworks to
guide policy development, each with the potential to
prepare young people more fully for citizenship.
Keywords: civic reasoning; design; policy; civic edu-
cation; school reform
This volume has, among other things, taken
up what science tells us about civic reason-
ing and provided insights into the effectiveness
of well-designed schools and classrooms for
Correspondence: kmcguire@hewlett.org
Linda Darling-Hammond is the president and CEO of
the Learning Policy Institute and Charles E. Ducommun
Professor of Education Emeritus at Stanford University,
where she founded the Stanford Center for Opportunity
Policy in Education and served as the faculty sponsor of
the Stanford Teacher Education Program. She also
serves as president of the California State Board of
Kent McGuire is the program director of education at
the William and Flora Hewlett Foundation. He leads
the investments of the foundation’s teaching and learn-
ing and open educational resources strategies, with a
focus on helping all students succeed in college, work
and civic life. He has served in various leadership roles
in philanthropy, academia, and government, including
as the assistant secretary of the U.S. Department of
Education from 1998 to 2001.
fostering civic learning. What the preceding articles confirm is that we can, in
fact, do a better job of fostering both competencies and skills, on the one hand,
and civic engagement and participation on the other. And yet the evidence sug-
gests that we are not succeeding in providing widespread opportunities for young
people to participate in citizenship and to wrestle, along the way, with difference
across groups, inequality, or the role of government in strengthening society.
Students of color and young people from low-income households are particularly
underrepresented in gaining access to these opportunities.
There are numerous roles for policy in supporting civic reasoning: policy can
signal the importance of civic reasoning and engagement, incentivize new
approaches to pursuing these competencies and skills, and align resources to
sustain and expand the reach of these practices across many schools and school
systems. But the immediate challenge is that our education system, with its cur-
rent preoccupation with basic literacy and low-level skills, is not designed to
pursue this goal. What is needed is nothing short of a new mission for schools,
one that prepares young people for jobs and occupations that do not yet exist
while providing the skills and analytic tools to grapple with new and emerging
problems with the help of rapidly changing technologies. Moreover, these new
citizens will need to be comfortable and competent in working effectively with
people from widely varying backgrounds and cultures.
If we are to fully realize the dual responsibility of preparing young people
for work and citizenship, our public education system will need to change in
many ways. We will need to create the time and space in the school day and
year for a more varied set of student learning opportunities, ones that open up
greater possibilities for students to learn out of school as well as in school set-
tings. One can imagine the new opportunities for students to engage in work
that develops their civic interests as well as their civic skills and competencies.
But as we do, we will also need to find ways both to assess and to assign credit
for these experiences.
Yet another needed change, one we have struggled to embrace, is normalizing
the idea of teaching as a profession in such a way that classroom teachers have
the autonomy and agency to practice in ways that foster thinking and reasoning.
This change would pay big dividends in terms of organizing student work around
ideas and problems that are meaningful to the lives students lead. We have more
to say about this below.
Contemporary Challenges
To be sure, these are long-term ambitions. And yet there are things we can focus
on now to get our education system on a path that prioritizes learning and prob-
lem solving across the curriculum. Three opportunities for transformation, each
representing a current barrier to developing the various competencies required
for effective civic reasoning, come to mind.

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