Center for Civic Education
School Violence Prevention Demonstration Program
Year One Report
May 1999 - June 2000
There are hundreds of school violence prevention programs in the United States. Many of those programs stem from attempts to keep conflict, fear, and the use of weapons from interfering with the daily operation of our nation's schools. One area conspicuously absent from the menu of violence prevention offerings is civic education. Civic education has long demonstrated that knowledge of responsible citizenship has a definite role to play in the way students act and think.
The Center for Civic Education's School Violence Prevention Demonstration Program is designed to investigate ways in which civic education can be used as a violence prevention program. In May 1999, the Center was awarded a grant from the United States Department of Education to study how the teaching of civic knowledge and skills can affect those attitudes that serve as early warning signs of violence among youth. Phase one, the first pilot year of the program, was conducted in seven school districts in the United States. The school districts were Los Angeles Unified, Denver Public Schools, Jefferson County (Colorado) Public Schools, Wake County (North Carolina) Public Schools, Philadelphia Public Schools, Community School District 30 (Queens, New York) Public Schools, and Community School District 23 (Brooklyn, New York) Public Schools.
The program includes a quasi-experimental research study that attempts to answer two questions:
- Will the teaching of civics and government, using high quality educational materials and well-trained teachers, increase students' civic knowledge, sense of civic responsibility, tolerance for the ideas of others, respect for authority and the law, and inclusion for all people in the social and political process?
- Can regular classroom subject areas that are required by most state and local frameworks be enhanced to include effective violence prevention strategies?
Research instruments for the program included both a knowledge test on the history and principles of the United States Constitution and an attitudinal survey, custom designed for this program. The fully implemented program as designed includes the Center's curricular materials: Authority: Foundations of Democracy, We the People… The Citizen and the Constitution and We the People… Project Citizen. We the People… The Citizen and the Constitution is a program that teaches essential concepts and fundamental values of the United States Constitution and the Bill of Rights and concludes with a simulated congressional hearing. Project Citizen promotes competent and responsible participation in state and local government. It actively engages young people in learning how to monitor and influence public policy and concludes with a portfolio presentation. Foundations of Democracy is a multidisciplinary curriculum that focuses on concepts fundamental to an understanding of politics and government.
Both the knowledge test and the attitudinal survey were administered to middle and upper elementary students in 54 schools during the months of September and October 1999 and again in May and June of 2000. The tests were given to 4,184 experimental group students who participated in the instructional strategy and 1,765 students in control groups who did not receive the instruction. Analysis of covariance (ANCOVA) was used as a statistical tool to control for preexisting differences between the control and experimental groups.
The attitudinal test measured four target areas of violence prevention. Those areas were respect for authority and the law, tolerance for the ideas of others, inclusion of all people in the social and political process, and a demonstrated sense of civic responsibility.
- There were statistically significant gains in knowledge of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in all seven sites.
- There were statistically significant positive shifts in attitudes toward police and authority figures in six of the seven districts.
- There were statistically significant gains between the experimental and control groups in students' sense of civic responsibility in Queens and Denver.
- There were statistically significant gains in tolerance for the ideas of others and inclusion for all people in the political and social process in Queens and Denver.
- Queens also had a statistically significant positive shift in relation to authority and the law.
- Effects on other attitudinal items in five sites were not statistically significant.
Qualitative information was gathered using focus groups, classroom observations, and teacher questionnaires. Qualitative data were very positive. There was clear improvement in teacher morale and confidence in teaching about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights in all seven districts. Teachers appreciated and enjoyed receiving high quality social studies textbooks in sufficient quantity; receiving quality teacher training in an important area of their responsibility; meeting with teachers from other schools and other districts; and learning new teaching strategies. The teachers indicated they gained appreciation for the power of performance-based assessment strategies. They also improved their knowledge of the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. New teachers acquired skills and experienced teachers indicated they felt renewed by their participation in the program.
In year two, the program will be expanded to more than double the number of participating teachers and schools. New districts from rural areas of Alaska with large Haida and Tlingit populations - Hoonah and Sitka; the Archdioceses of Chicago and Washington, D.C.; and Native American reservations: Choctaw - Mississippi, Lakota Sioux - South Dakota, Ojibwe - Wisconsin will be added.
The research design will stay essentially the same, with only minor revisions to the attitudinal survey. Although the test-retest evaluation of the attitudinal survey conducted in year one revealed that it was a reliable instrument, improvements will be made for year two. Some items will be removed and others added to increase the survey's reliability.
Year One Report May 1999 - June 2000
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