STATE BAR PRESIDENT VINCENT E. DOYLE III SOUNDS THE
ALARM ABOUT POSSIBLE CHANGES IN CIVICS EDUCATION
A day after a report that showed American students know
little about their nation's history, State Bar Association President
Vincent E. Doyle III today urged New York education officials to
continue to foster the state’s nationally acclaimed social studies
“A vibrant democracy needs engaged citizens who understand the
rights and responsibilities of being an American,” said Doyle of
Buffalo (Connors & Vilardo, LLP).
The State Department of Education has been weighing changes that
would diminish the importance of the teaching of social studies.
It is unclear whether the Board of Regents will act on those proposals
at its June 20 and 21 meeting.
The National Assessment of Educational Progress, issued Tuesday by
the National Center for Education Statistics, found that only 12 percent
of twelfth graders tested are proficient in American history.
Among fourth graders, 20 percent were rated proficient while 17 percent
of eighth graders were proficient. Only 9 percent of fourth
graders, shown a picture of President Abraham Lincoln, could provide two
reasons why he was important.
“Our schools fail our children--and our society--if they teach
only the 3Rs. They also must prepare children to be active
participants in our democracy,” Doyle said.
The State Bar Association is concerned about what appears to be a trend
toward the weakening of New York's commitment to educating all students
about civics. For example:
• In June 2010, the Board of Regents voted to eliminate
social studies testing for fifth- and eighth-grade students. This sends
a message to schools that teaching social studies is not a priority.
• The national Common Core Standards --adopted by New York
and 43 other states-- focus on literacy and math. The teaching of
social studies falls under the English Language Arts umbrella. Such a
model treats social studies (which includes history, civics, geography,
economics and government studies) as a secondary curriculum.
• Currently, students must pass two Regents exams in
social studies (Global History and American History) to graduate from
high school. The staff of the State Department of Education has
recommended that students be allowed to graduate having passed only one
social studies exam—or none at all.
• According to a state Department of Education of memo,
“The Regents Reform Agenda is centered on ensuring that all
students graduate prepared for postsecondary education and/or career
opportunities.” There is no mention of preparing students
“New York is currently among the national leaders in civics
education,” said Doyle.
“But recent changes—and others under consideration--by our
education officials will dilute New York’s historic commitment to
A recent report by the Thomas B. Fordham Institute found, “New
York U.S. history standards are among the most substantively
comprehensive and sophisticated in the nation.” The Washington,
D.C. think tank awarded New York an “A-minus”; the average
grade of other states was “D”.
On a national level, civics education is a top legislative priority
of the New York State Bar Association.
The New York State Bar Association’s Law, Youth and Citizenship
program, founded nearly three decades ago, is the nation’s third
largest civics education program. It has involved more than 5,000
teachers and works to bring quality civic education to all corners of
As volunteers, members of the State Bar assist classroom teachers
through its Lawyer in the Classroom, mock trials, moot courts, youth
courts, youth outreach, essay contests and award-winning professional
The 77,000-member New York State Bar Association is the
largest state voluntary bar association in the nation. It was
founded in 1876.
NEW YORK STATE BAR ASSOCIATION, ONE ELK STREET, ALBANY, NY 12207 PH: (518) 463-3200 SECURE FX: (518) 463-5993