Special Commission on Civic Education


For the past three years, the Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies has been a consistent presence at Board of Elementary and Secondary Education meetings to urge the re-instatement of the history and social studies MCAS test as a graduation requirement. Someone from the Board has testified before the DESE at each meeting for roughly two straight years. In spite of our efforts, the test has been continually postponed and recently we were told that to produce the test that they want would require starting from the beginning. Our feeling is that if they can’t find the money to make a test that has already been vetted operational, there is little chance that they would find the money to start from scratch.

In January of 2012, a Special Commission on Civic Engagement was announced by Senator Richard Moore. As president of the Mass Council for the Social Studies at the time, I was invited to be a member of the commission. In addition, current president Norm Shacochis, past presidents Richard Meegan and Roger Desrosiers and past board member Charlie White all served on that commission. In impressive range of people from various constituencies met monthly in the Senate reading room. A number of these people formed sub-committees that addressed various aspects of the teaching of civic education in the Commonwealth.

In December we voted to approve a report of the commission with recommendations. The final report is included on the website. Though I voted for the final report, I also added a reservation to the report’s recommendations which I have included at the end of this introduction.

We social studies and history educators know how important history, geography, civics and behavioral sciences are to producing a well-rounded education for our students. We all know that the free public school system was created to ensure an educated electorate in a democracy. This commission report is not an end in itself but certainly a beginning. Please take the time to read the report, concentrating on the recommendations that were included. We social studies and history educators will leave no stone unturned in our efforts to emphasize the importance of social studies education in the curriculum and bring to an end the marginalizing of history and social studies education in our public school curriculums.

Bob Kostka
Immediate Past President
Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies

Commission Report (pdf download)

Reservation on the Report of the Special Commission on
Civic Engagement and Learning

Elementary and Secondary Education

Recommendation three: Appropriate sufficient funds to implement the MCAS history test, including remedial services, effective as early as the 2015-2016 school year.

Based on the past history of the MCAS test in history and social studies, to have this recommendation read “effective as early as the 2015-2016 school year” means never. Without a date certain or at least a “no later than” date, this can will be kicked down the road indefinitely resulting in further eroding of civic education in the elementary schools, what little of it remains. In addition, we will experience a continuation of the cannibalization of middle and junior high social studies/civic programs to support testable subjects, as has been happening since the test was originally postponed. If one of the goal is to stem the degradation of civic education in K-12 schools, in my opinion and the opinion of most social studies educators (speaking as immediate past president of the Massachusetts Council for the Social Studies) it is essential that social studies, history and civics be restored as a testable subject.

I would suggest that the recommendation read “………..effective as early as possible but no later than the 2016-2017 school year.”

This would give DESE and school districts time to tweak their curriculum as well as design a test that will include portfolio components as well as a defined community service element so that students get an opportunity for “hands-on” social studies and civics.