Blueprint for Maryland’s future emphasizes reading and math, but what about civics? | GUEST COMMENTARY

As the first state to require service learning to graduate — a 75-hour volunteering mandate adopted in 1992 — Maryland has long had a reputation as a place that prepared young people well for civic life. Yet as the state gears up to implement the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future, civics is strangely missing.

Yes, the Blueprint invests $3.8 billion in education over 10 years, and promises new programs to eradicate achievement gaps and improve outcomes. But the Blueprint fails to prioritize one of the fundamental missions of public education: to prepare students for civic life. Even though the Blueprint legislation explicitly states that its primary goal is to prepare students “to be successful in the 21st — century economy and productive citizens of the State,” the ongoing implementation of the Blueprint continues a trend established by No Child Left Behind to prioritize reading and math, while saying virtually nothing about civics.


“It’s a glaring omission,” Marcie Taylor-Thoma, who retired as social studies administrator at the Maryland State Department of Education and is a member of the Maryland Civic Education Coalition (as am I), said in an email last week. “I am very disheartened at the lack of support from the MSDE ‘s Office of the Superintendent. I believe most reasonable citizens can look around their own communities and see the lack of civility and understanding. Unless the Blueprint for Maryland’s Future’s Accountability and Implementation Board realizes this omission and makes strong policy recommendations, the mission of this legislation will be ineffective.”

It’s not the only area where Maryland is falling short when it comes to civic learning. Lately, our elected officials have been missing golden opportunities to innovate and strengthen civics, just when our country needs it most.


Civic education bills that stalled in the Maryland General Assembly include Senate Bill 271, which would have empowered local school systems to award a Seal of Civic Excellence to students who demonstrate significant achievements in civic learning and participation. Advocates of such seals say that they directly boost student civic engagement. Tying civic learning and opportunities to an achievement award, such as a graduation seal, gives students concrete incentive to embrace volunteering and community engagement. In states as different as Georgia and California, civic seals have been hailed as a way to empower young people to make valuable contributions to their communities and learn important life skills that will lead to success in college and career. Having failed to make it out of committee this spring, civic seals will be off the table in Maryland until the next legislative session.

The good news is that public support for civic learning in Maryland is on the upswing, and efforts to invest in and rally support for civic education are getting more organized. The Maryland Civic Education Coalition — launched in 2020 and now representing over 140 community members, civic organizations and K-12 and higher education partners — is committed to strengthening civic learning from pre-K through the college years.

Coalition members will gather online on Thursday for their third annual Maryland Civic Education & Engagement Leadership Summit: Strengthening Civics for All, hosted by the Maryland Civic Education Coalition, the University of Maryland College of Education and the Governor’s Office of Service & Volunteerism. We will hear from civic leaders — including Paul Montiero, the recently appointed Secretary of Gov. WEs Moore’s Department of Service and Civic Innovation — and celebrate the Maryland Youth Service Award honorees. Participants will engage in conversations to explore how to strengthen civic knowledge, skills and values among students and communities across Maryland to secure a thriving democracy for future generations.

If we want high quality education in Maryland, civics has to be part of it. Educators and experts on both sides of the aisle agree that effective, meaningful civic education and service learning are crucial to equip all students with the knowledge, skills and values to confidently engage in issues that affect their lives.

At the Maryland Civic Education Coalition, young people have had the opportunity to engage directly through our Youth Advisory Council, which gathers students from across the state to participate in service and leadership activities. Our members collaborate together to strengthen civic education and civic learning in schools and communities across the state, partnering with groups like The Civic Circle in Montgomery County, Allegany College of Maryland in Cumberland, Maryland Humanities, Morgan State University and many others.

At a time when public support for civic education is on the rise, Maryland has the potential to be a national leader. In the classroom, teachers are implementing high-quality curriculum and great programs, including from Street Law, the Center for Civic Education, and National History Day. Public officials in Maryland should do more to support them.

Genie Massey ( is a member of the Maryland Civic Education Coalition Steering Committee and a social studies teacher, recognized as the Archdiocese of Baltimore Teacher of the Year for the 2017-2018 school year.