Celebrating Constitution Day and Citizenship Day
President Bush proposes efforts for hurricane recovery; Secretary Spellings to deliver back-to-school address on September 21; Hurricane Help for Schools website updated; Education Department TV program to focus on high schools; Senator Byrd proposes Constitution Day and Citizenship Day; History Channel offers educational materials for Constitution Day; Jobs for the Future develops Student Information System for Early College High School Initiative; Norfolk Public Schools Broad prize; ETS to hold conference on achievement gaps; UCTV offers Teacher's P.E.T. programming.
Innovations in the News
Schools across the country celebrate Constitution Day, plus information on choice, hurricane relief, raising student achievement, and supplemental educational services.
Celebrating Constitution Day and Citizenship Day
The setting is Philadelphia, inside Pennsylvania's State House, now known as Independence Hall. Summer-like heat has returned to the city for one last time before autumn can rustle in colored leaves and crisper air. The characters are George Washington, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, and other delegates from our country's first states. Despite the mid-September humidity, these men, our "Founding Fathers," shut all the doors and windows to the State House and set to work, putting the finishing touches on what would become the "supreme law of our land," the 4,543 words that describe the structure of the government and the rights of the American people: the U.S. Constitution.
Now, over 200 years since the signing of the Constitution on September 17, 1787, schools and government agencies across the country are operating under the freedoms the U.S. Constitution provides and are celebrating the first official Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, proposed by Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV). As part of Public Law 108-447 PDF, (4MB), the Fiscal Year 2005 Consolidated Appropriations Act, educational institutions receiving federal funds are to hold an educational program pertaining to the Constitution on September 17. If September 17 falls on a weekend, as it did this year, the observance can occur either the week before or the week after that date.
The U.S. Department of Education is responsible for overseeing a number of grant programs dedicated to American history and civic education. The Office of Innovation and Improvement (OII) administers the Teaching American History and Presidential Academies for American History and Civics Education programs. Teaching American History supports programs that raise student achievement by improving teachers' knowledge, understanding, and appreciation of American history. The purpose of the program is to promote the teaching of traditional American history in elementary and secondary schools as a separate academic subject. The Presidential Academies for American History and Civics Education is a new program that held its first grant competition this year. These academies will offer workshops for both veteran and new teachers of American history and civics to strengthen their knowledge and preparation for teaching these subjects.
In the Office of Safe and Drug Free Schools (OSDFS), some programs focus on character and civics education. The Cooperative Civic Education and Economic Education Exchange program, for example, is designed to provide grants to improve the quality of civic education through exchange programs with emerging democracies in eligible developing countries, such as those in Central Europe. Another initiative is the directed grant to the Center for Civic Education, a nonprofit organization dedicated to developing responsible and active citizens committed to democratic principles in the United States and other countries. The Center, located in Calabasas, CA, specializes in curricular, teacher-training, and community-based programs that focus on civic and citizenship education, law-related education, and international educational exchange programs. Many of the Center's projects have American political institutions and processes, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights, at their core.
One such project, We the People, is supported through a grant administered by OSDFS. This national civic education program was designed in 1987 to help elementary and secondary school students understand traditional American history and the main principles of government. The program also helps students develop a commitment to qualities that are important in sustaining a democratic society, such as problem-solving and building community relationships.
The foundation of We the People is a curriculum, which was developed by the Center for Civic Education (CCE) to supplement the course of study at each school site where it is implemented. We the People textbooks for elementary and secondary students examine the history and principles of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights through lessons that correspond to CCE's National Standards for Civics and Government. Through written assignments, as well as discussion-based and hands-on activities, students answer questions such as: "How did the framers create the Constitution?" and "How have the protections of the Bill of Rights been developed and expanded?" Questions like these form the basis of each unit in the curriculum, which varies in the level of difficulty for upper-elementary to high school students.
In addition to a comprehensive multiple-choice and written examination at the end of the program, students also participate in a simulated congressional hearing. These hearings involve the whole class and enable students to demonstrate what they have learned through written speeches and unrehearsed discussion.
At the upper-elementary and middle school levels, hearings are noncompetitive and can occur at any point throughout the academic year in classrooms or outside settings. Parents and community members are often encouraged to attend as observers. At the high school level, classes may hold individual hearings or form a large school group that can participate in local, state, and national competitions.
This year, a team of 26 students from East Brunswick High School in Middlesex County, New Jersey, earned First Place at the We the People National Finals, for the second consecutive year. East Brunswick purchases and uses We the People educational materials in two tenth and eleventh grade elective classes and a twelfth grade Advanced Placement course in American Government. This year, the school's We the People team arrived in Washington, D.C. on April 29 for the national finals and competed for three days, with the final hearing held on Capitol Hill. The competition measured students' knowledge of the Constitution, its origins, and case law before a panel of constitutional scholars, judges, lawyers, and journalists. East Brunswick earned its third national title, and the school has won 18 out of 19 competitions at the state level.
According to Robert Shamy, the social studies supervisor for the district, "The students who compete in the We the People congressional hearings could be mistaken for second-year law students. Their communication and critical thinking skills are excellent. It's amazing to hear them cite court cases, Locke, and Hume."
Mr. Shamy credits the success of the East Brunswick team to the hard work of the students and teachers. Students spend the majority of their senior year preparing for the local, state, and national competitions, often organizing study group sessions at each others' homes and local libraries after school. Many of the teachers have been involved in the We the People program for 18 years, and bring with them a wealth of experience and knowledge of American history and civics. East Brunswick's AP American Government teacher is also a lawyer, and has begun to lead professional development and training sessions for his colleagues concerning the teaching of American history and government.
In remarks to the U.S. House of Representatives Congressman Rush D. Holt (D-NJ) referred to the 2004 East Brunswick We the People team as "bright and dedicated students,...[with] extensive knowledge of the U.S. Constitution and superb reasoning and speaking skills."
East Brunswick High School received a Teaching American History grant in 2004.
From the White House
President George W. Bush has proposed efforts for Hurricane Katrina recovery, including how the needs of schools and students will be met. Funding would be provided to school districts enrolling displaced children that would cover, for example, additional teachers' salaries and supplemental educational services. The President also proposes to provide compensation to displaced families for enrollment in private schools. (Sept. 15)
From the U.S. Department of Education
U.S. Secretary of Education Margaret Spellings delivered her back-to-school address, "Katrina: A Teachable Moment," at the National Press Club on September 21 at 1:00 p.m. in Washington, D.C. The speech is archived for viewing after the event. (Sept. 15)
The website Hurricane Help for Schools has been updated. It contains information about the Education for Homeless Children Program, as well as information for postsecondary students, borrowers, and schools. There are also links to organizations accepting donations and recruiting volunteers, as well as health and safety information. (Sept. 14)
The first Education News Parents Can Use television program of the new school year airs September 21 on "High Schools: Expanding the Promise of No Child Left Behind." The program is archived and can be viewed on the U.S. Department of Education website (scroll to the bottom of the page). (Sept. 14)
Senator Robert C. Byrd (D-WV) proposed that Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, September 17, be observed by schools and federal government agencies. In the message on his website , he says, "Why study the Constitution? Study the Constitution because it is both the foundation and the guardian of our liberties." His website includes a webcast of the Senator talking with students about the Constitution, as well as links to school materials on the topic. (Sept. 16)
For the September "Save Our History" page, the History Channel has created educational materials for the Constitution Day observance. American history lesson plans are available for elementary, middle, and high school levels. This material complements the primary source and other materials available online from the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the National Endowment for the Humanities. (Sept. 13)
High School Reform
Jobs for the Future, a nonprofit organization dedicated to educational and economic opportunity, has developed the Student Information System PDF, (233KB), for the Early College High School Initiative. The online tool can be used to support continuous school development and improvement and can provide help in measuring outcomes, including the attainment of four-year college degrees by early college high school graduates. (Sept. 9)
Raising Student Achievement
Norfolk Public Schools is the winner of the 2005 Broad Prize for Urban Education. Awards are given annually to the country's urban school districts that are making great improvements in student achievement while reducing achievement gaps among ethnic groups and between high- and low-income students. The $500,000 awarded to Norfolk Public Schools will go to college scholarships for graduating high school seniors. (Sept. 20)
The Goldman Sachs Foundation and the Educational Testing Service will hold a symposium on "Addressing Achievement Gaps: Developing High Potential Youth." On November 29-30 in Princeton, NJ. The event will present the latest data, analyses, policies, and practices from a variety of stakeholders focused on preparing students for admission to and success in selective colleges and universities. (Sept. 14)
University of California Television (UCTV) offers new Teacher's P.E.T. programming for the school year. Programs air at 4:00 p.m. Pacific Time, Monday through Thursday, and cover topics in the humanities, the arts/film, and science. UCTV broadcasts educational programs from the campuses and national laboratories of the University of California system and is available via satellite, cable TV, and the Internet. Programming is designed to provide research developments for teachers and help them prepare their students for college. (Sept. 1)
Innovations in the News
The Monadnock Regional Schools of Choice (NH), an OII Voluntary Public School Choice grantee, has a monthly newsletter. Topics in the latest issue include information about workshops for school boards, the recently created Program and Small School Evaluation Rubric, and the Keene State and Virtual High School application. [More-Antioch New England Institute] (Sept. 1)
Some schools in Illinois invited officials to join them in Constitution Day festivities. Former U.S. Representative David Phelps read the Preamble to students at Jefferson Elementary School. Early in his career, Representative Phelps had been a teacher, and he said that Constitution Day is a great way to bring civics and government to life for children. The week of Constitution Day also marks the 191 st birthday of the National Anthem. [More-Southern Illinoisan] (Sept. 16)
The Preamble to the Constitution was recited before all home football games in the Las Cruces Public Schools district (NM) to commemorate the signing of the U.S. Constitution on September 17, 1787. At Central Elementary School (NM), "Freedom Day" was celebrated, honoring the U.S. Constitution and the 16 de septiembre holiday in Mexico. [More-Las Cruces Sun-News] (Sept. 16)
Schools in Pennsylvania celebrated Constitution Day through a number of activities. In Wilkes-Barre, the district held a range of events, including reading sessions in elementary school libraries and an educational video on closed-circuit TV in the three high schools. Another Pennsylvania high school featured a speech by a state representative and a play about the Constitutional Convention enacted by seniors. King's College hosted a live quiz show. [More-Times Leader] (Sept. 16)
The Washington Post, in cooperation with the National Archives, is running a nine-part series in "The Mini Page" for children on the U.S. Constitution. The series is part of the Newspaper in Education (NIE) program. The Mini Page editor will work with educators to make the document relevant to students' everyday lives and will cover topics such as what the Constitution does and how people make it work. [More-NIE World] (Sept. 17)
Many thousands of students have been displaced by Hurricane Katrina. It is estimated that 125,000 Mississippi children alone are out of school. More than 3,000 students have enrolled in Houston schools. Douglass Elementary, which closed in May due to declining enrollment, has been reopened to provide Katrina's children with a normal day. The school marquee says, "Welcome Little Angels to Your Land of Learning." Forty teachers have been hired, including eight from New Orleans. Douglass is just one example of how school districts across the country are working to help displaced students go back to school. [More-The Los Angeles Times] (Sept. 15) [free registration]
Raising Student Achievement
Nearly 98 percent of Gainesville School District's (GA) third and fifth graders, 80 percent of whom are minority, met or exceeded state standards on the latest round of state competency tests. With this kind of success, state lawmakers are talking about replicating Gainesville's approach in schools across Georgia. Students in Gainesville are pre-tested to determine the focus of teaching, then follow-up tests are conducted at the end of the nine-week grading period to assess progress. Technology plays a big part in providing teachers and parents with data. [More-The Gwinnett Daily Post] (Sept. 13)
Supplemental Educational Services
Supplemental educational services will serve twice as many Baltimore City students this year as last due to a slight increase in the 2006 Title I allocation, a carryover of money from last school year, and an increase in local funds. The Baltimore City Public School System is hand-delivering the applications for these services to 53 elementary and middle schools with the help of volunteers recruited by Parent Power Works, a project of StandardsWork, which is an OII-funded Parent Information and Resource Center. [More-The Baltimore Times] (Sept. 9)
Last Modified: 08/12/2009