Much has been written in recent years on the crisis in American civics education—of students’ low achievement, of the deprioritization of civics in classrooms. This book by Harvard ed-school professor (and famous left-winger) Meira Levinson covers many of the same points. Part teaching memoir, part policy analysis, it laments our nation’s “civics empowerment gap” and explains how teaching civics can reengage low-income youth in the education system. Much of the book makes familiar arguments. But one section stands out. In it, Levinson explains how the three-legged stool of standards, assessment, and accountability (what she calls SAA) can help promote democratic values. Though not a direct discussion of civics literacy and classroom-based civics teaching, this section of the book does offer an interesting perspective. As Levinson explains, rigorous standards model democratic principles of equity by helping to ensure that all students are afforded the same access to quality education (of course, there’s more to it than just standards). Their linked assessments and accountability structures promote the democratic ideals of efficiency and transparency—and help empower parents and others to engage in democratic dialogue and deliberation about the quality of American schooling. And these common goals allow for diversity in other areas (allowing for more individualized teaching and disparate educational philosophies). Critics of SAA, take note.

SOURCE: Meira Levinson, No Citizen Left Behind (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2012).

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