Oregon requires 24 total credits for high school graduation, including three in mathematics and four in English.
In detailing those requirements, ORS 329.451 doesn’t identify specific tests or required scores. Just earn the credits.
But if Senate Bill 1513 were approved, the next lines in the law would add this graduation requirement: “Correctly answer at least 60 percent of the questions on a civics test that consists of the 100 questions used for the civics portion of the naturalization test created by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.”
What about history, geography, chemistry, math, literature or music? Are there tests the law should require the student to pass with a specific score? Are an understanding of percentage points, or the scientific method or the names of the nation’s founders not also important? What about whom the combatants were in World War II? Should they know a noun from a verb or identify who wrote “Uncle Tom’s Cabin?”
Few would dispute that too many students — and their parents — lack a basic understanding of civics. Or that being an engaged citizen has high value for their own lives as well as the well-being of the state and nation.
But calling out this one subject and making it a graduation requirement lacks proportion and balance with all the many critical subjects students need to master. It’s also a simplistic idea that requires short-term memorization rather than understanding in the context of history.
The bill has the same aim as 2017’s House Bill 2691, although the approaches are different. That bill died in committee during last year’s legislative session. This year’s attempt has no named sponsor; it comes courtesy of the president of the Senate at the request of the Senate Interim Committee on General Government and Accountability.
If its anonymous advocates really want to improve civics education, they need to engage with the education department and educators. They need to understand what might be an effective method to enhance civics education in a context that gives it meaning.
The goal of SB 1513 is good. The method is a foolish shortcut. It deserves swift defeat.