Proposed Requirements for Instruction in Civics and Government

The sole opportunity for most students to acquire the knowledge and skills essential for informed, effective citizenship is likely to be in precollegiate schools. The material in the following chart presents recommendations for specific course and unit of instruction requirements within the K-12 social studies curriculum. It also illustrates ways in which civics and government can and should be infused into other areas of the K-12 curriculum. These proposed requirements have been developed to maintain the integrity of the scheduling of a traditional school day but may also be included as part of the flexible scheduling patterns currently being adopted by many school systems.

Requirements by Grade
  Grade   Specific Treatment Treatment in Other Subjects
K - 2 30 hours per school year at each grade, e.g., focus on rules, authority, justice, responsibility Primary and elementary - a minimum of 30 hours per school year, e.g., as part of instruction in reading, language arts, math, science, physical education, etc.
3 - 4 40 hours per school year at each grade, e.g., community and state studies focusing on local and state government
5 40 hours per school year, e.g., integrated into a course in US History/Civics and Government/Geography Teams of middle-grade teachers develop integrated curriculum units infusing content standards for civics and government, e.g., a language arts/literature unit focusing on the theme of power and authority; a science unit on environmental pollution focusing on the public policy aspects of the issue
6 - 7 Four two-week units at each grade (approx. 30 hours per school year), e.g., focus on comparative government as part of a World Civilization/Area Studies program
8 One semester course (approx. 60 hours), e.g., US Constitutional Government
9 - 10 Six two-week units at each grade (approx. 40 hours per school year), e.g., focus on comparative political philosophies and political systems in a World History/Global Studies course Teachers planning high school courses in other subjects could use the content standards for civics and government to develop thematic organizers, e.g., a technology education class exploring how safety procedures and work place rules protect everyone.
11 60 hours per school year as an integral part of specific social science course work, e.g., 20th-Century US History and Government
12 Full-year course (120 hours), e.g., Applied Civics/Participation in Government
NOTE: For grades K-4, 30 minutes per day was used as an average instructional period. For grades 5-12, 40 minutes per day was used as an average instructional period.

Opportunities to Participate

Finally, to achieve the civic mission of education, schools must provide their students meaningful opportunities to participate in class, school, and community governance. In addition, the management of schools should exemplify the fundamental values and principles of American constitutional democracy. The following are examples of how this may be achieved.

Planned activities

Primary grades - A teacher develops a unit on the importance and necessity of rules that culminates with children creating their own classroom rules which promote the general welfare.

Upper elementary - A student senate is established to advise school administrators on student-related issues. Each classroom elects a representative to attend a weekly forum.

Middle school - A student government, modeling the US government, is established. The roles and responsibilities model the executive, legislative, and judicial functions of the US political system.

High school - A school district creates one or two student seats on the board of education. Student candidates campaign for and are voted into office by the student body. Student members have full rights and responsibilities except as prohibited by law.

Students regularly appear before local governing councils to present testimony or promote student positions relative to public policy issues.

School Governance

The management of schools should be based on the fundamental values and principles of American constitutional democracy. All adults in the school should respect the rights and dignity of each individual in the school community and display a commitment to the common good.

In addition, the management of the school should use those procedures and practices essential to the establishment and exercise of legitimate authority in a constitutional order designed to protect the common good. This would include, for example, the responsibility of the school to

  • establish fair and reasonable rules that, among other goals, provide equal opportunities for learning for all students
  • enforce rules and laws in a fair and reasonable manner
  • use fair procedures when managing conflict over rules and laws
  • deal fairly and reasonably with students accused of breaking rules
  • maintain a safe campus and an environment conducive to learning

For additional information on the role of civic education in the schools and how it fits into the national campaign, read:

The Role of Civic Education: An Education PolicyTask Force Position Paper with Policy Recommendations
by Margaret Stimman Branson

Dr. Branson's paper explores such topics as:

  • What are the essential components of a good civic education?
  • Where and how does civic education take place?
  • What evidence is there of the need to improve civic education?
  • What is the relationship between civic education and character education?
The paper concludes with policy recommendations at the school level, as well as at national, state, and local levels.

The final series of recommendations calls for a renewed emphasis on the common core of civic culture that unites individuals from many ethnic, linguistic, religious, and social groups, and for state legislatures, boards of education, schools, and parent groups to reexamine and strengthen their formal curricula and assessment practices to reverse the cycle of low expectations and low achievement.



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