The State of Required Classes

— Teaching civics to Colorado's high school students makes sense. We would hope that students have, at a minimum, a basic understanding of how their local, state and federal governments operate before graduating.

That said, a bill by Senate President John Andrews, R-Centennial, to make civics a required course for graduation at all Colorado high schools usurps the principle of local control and should be defeated.

Andrews and supporters of the bill -- which will be debated by the state Senate on Friday -- say making civics mandatory in high school ultimately will increase participation in the political process and increase voter turnout.

Those are valid reasons to support Andrews' legislation. But no matter how noble the goals, Andrews' bill puts the Legislature in the position of dictating graduation requirements. That, as the Colorado Association of School Boards rightly points out, is not the Legislature's role.

Just this year, the Steamboat Springs School District added civics to the high school curriculum. Freshmen in the district are now required to take world geography for one semester and civics the other semester.

But the decision to add civics was not made because of pressure from the state. Instead, teacher Deirdre Dwyer-Boyd brought the recommendation before the high school's curriculum committee. The committee accepted the recommendation, and the school board approved it.

This is how it should be -- local parents, teachers and administrators working with our locally elected school board to determine curriculum and graduation requirements.

Think about it. The state does not mandate that students successfully complete algebra, history, English or science in order to graduate from high school. The state does not require that students pass the Colorado Student Assessment Program test. The state does not even require that students know how to read in order to graduate.

So why should the state suddenly step in and mandate that students pass civics to graduate?

Local control allows communities to have a greater impact on the education of their children. Beginning with the Class of 2005, Steamboat Springs seniors must participate in senior experience, a program in which they must defend an independent project before a review board in order to graduate. At the request of parents, the district is about to add Spanish to the elementary curriculum. And as mentioned above, civics has been added to the high school curriculum.

All of those decisions are the result of local control.

Local control "puts the responsibility for the local schools on the local board and the people they hire," Steamboat Superintendent Cyndy Simms said. "It makes them much more responsive to what the local community wants."

Simms is right. But when the Legislature starts mandating which courses students must take and pass, it detracts from the ability of the local boards to respond to their communities' needs.

Perhaps Colorado would be better off if more school districts required civics. But that's a decision for local boards to make -- not John Andrews and the Legislature.

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