Civics Education Programs Around the Country

Here's a sampling of some courses and publications designed to educate young citizens about how government works.
April 8, 2010 AT 3:00 AM
Barrett and Greene
By Katherine Barrett & Richard Greene  |  Columnists
Government management experts. Their website is

City/County Management Curriculum

A number of city/county management organizations are apparently working together to assemble curriculum about state and local government for students in the K-12 school system.

  • The Minnesota City/County Managers Association has an active education initiatives committee that has developed a curriculum to teach K-12 students about the importance of local government in the civics process. For more information, or to view the curriculum, visit the Minnesota City/County Managers Association site.
  • The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities published a book entitled Local Government Connecticut, which is used in numerous high schools to teach how local government in Connecticut operates, including chapters on planning and zoning, taxes, public works, education, local executive offices and emergency management.
  • In Ontario, Canada, a curriculum was developed for use in K-12 education. Guides to municipal government, how it functions and what services it provides, on a variety of levels, can be found at the Association of Municipal Managers, Clerks and Treasurers.

Wisconsin Legislative Reference Bureau

In Wisconsin, the staff of the Legislative Reference Bureau produces a publication called Governing Wisconsin, a series of two-page essays on basic civics. The series is distributed to civics teachers throughout the state for use in high school civics courses. The purpose, according to the bureau, is to accurately depict government in Wisconsin. Since 2005, the bureau has published 31 essays, and has plans to issue still more. After the first 15 issues, the Legislative Reference Bureau polled teachers to find out what they were looking to get out of the publication. The response helped the Bureau design a teacher's guide, which offers study questions for each issue.

Check out the teacher's guide.

Montclair High School

Montclair High School in New Jersey has a learning community called the Civics and Government Institute, which provides the curriculum to teach students about how government affects their daily lives and how students can become contributing members of society. A select group of students from the high school is chosen each year to take part in the program, in which they spend the first half of each school day with other members of the Institute. The purpose of the program is to develop future leaders of America by giving them a solid background in Constitutional studies, the role of law in everyday life, American history and world history. In addition to classroom time, students present arguments, opinions and ideas before a panel of judges to help train them for future public speaking engagements, and better prepare them to express important ideas. Find more information on the program.

The Civics Institute

The Civics Institute of Michigan was set up to promote awareness of the roles and responsibilities of government and engage students in their communities. The Institute provides service learning opportunities and provides a curriculum for teachers to use in their classrooms. For examples, visit the Civics Institute on the Web.

The Center for Civic Education

The Center for Civic Education is a nonprofit educational group that promotes civics education and active citizenry in the United States and around the world. The group provides classroom texts for teachers to educate students on different ideas of American government including constitutional democracy and America's founding principles, necessary skills for being a responsible citizen and democratic procedure and its uses in conflict resolution. The programs produced by The Center focus on the U.S. Constitution, Bill of Rights, political traditions, civic participation, and the procedures and offerings of all levels of government. In addition, teachers are invited to participate in free or low-cost professional development programs on these topics. Get more information on organization's We the People and Project Citizen programs.

North Carolina Civic Education Consortium

The North Carolina Civic Education Consortium was set up in 1997 in an effort to teach students to be active and responsible citizens through work with schools, governments and other organizations. Since 1997, the program has provided training for more than 1,500 teachers on topics such as local government and the role of active citizens in today's society. The program has also distributed grants to 101 civic education programs in all of North Carolina's 84 counties, and developed a database that contains lesson plans and civics projects for teachers and community leaders to use. In a nationwide first, the group conducted the North Carolina Civic Index in 2003, a study of civic engagement by youth and adults.

Want to learn more? Visit the consortium's Web site.

Boy Scouts of America

The Boy Scouts of America teaches citizenship and active engagement in government through three merit badges scouts are able to earn -- one badge for citizenship in one's community, one for citizenship in one's nation, and the other for citizenship in the world. Citizenship in the community involves attending local government meetings, volunteering within the community, and interviewing officials from local branches of government. Citizenship in the nation requirements include touring a capitol building, monument and government building; writing to senators and representatives; and learning about governing documents -- both past and present -- of the United States. Citizenship in the world involves learning about different types of governments and cultures; researching how the United States interacts with other nations; and studying international law. These badges are required for Scouts to achieve Eagle Scout status.

For more on the Boy Scouts of America, visit

Urban Land Institute

UrbanPlan is a six-week course developed by the Urban Land Institute for high school students to learn the major issues and players involved in urban planning. The program teaches students how decisions made in the planning process bring together many stakeholders including residents, activists, politicians, developers, etc. The program, designed to allow students to realize the challenges affecting development and redevelopment of neighborhoods around the country, is currently in place at 37 high schools and five universities around the country. The program teaches students best practices for negotiating and listening to all sides of a debate, and allows them to play the role of city councilmember, concerned citizen, developer and so on. You can download a brochure on the program at

American Public Works Association

Of the many publications produced by the American Public Works Association, two teach students about public works. Discovering the World of Public Works was designed for students in grades K-5 to introduce them generally to what public works means to them. This includes construction, traffic and transportation, solid waste disposal, water and wastewater lessons. The second level of the program, for students in grades 6-8, Exploring the World of Public Works , teaches middle school students about public works careers and how these positions can improve the quality of life in their community. The overall goal of the program is to teach students about one of the many important elements of local government.

Kids Voting Mecklenburg

Kids Voting Mecklenburg, an organization in Charlotte, North Carolina, is aimed at providing classroom civics lessons combined with hands on community experiences. The group works with Charlotte-Mecklenburg schools to teach government to students. A program the group is preparing to launch is called Youth Civics 101, an afterschool program for teens, during which they will attend local government meetings, conduct a mock trial, visit the local newspaper, and meet with the local Board of Elections. This program not only teaches students how local government functions, but also allows them to create their own city budgets and learn how to communicate concerns to local leaders. Activities produced by Kids Voting Mecklenburg were participated in by 100,000 students in 2008.

Heather Kerrigan compiled this report.