New Education Law in Arizona Sets High Standards

Arizona, as a border-state, has first-hand experience with the issue of immigration. The state's policies have been a subject of national debate. Its S.B. 1070, for instance, has ignited concerns over racial profiling, xenophobia, constitutional legitimacy and the separation between state and federal government (as immigration, a derivative of foreign policy, has traditionally remained a responsibility of the national government).

But Arizona has seemingly passed a relatively uncontroversial education law that explicitly requires high school students to pass the same exam as those applying for U.S. citizenship. The American Civics Act, according to the Arizona Republic, necessitates "students to pass 60 of the 100 questions on the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization civics test."

While the stakes for receiving a high school degree and being deported are certainly different, the new law represents both a step towards consistency between immigration and education policy, as well as supporting American civics education. (Arizona, surprising, is the only state in the U.S. that will mandate its students understand "the history and workings of American government.")

According to the Wall Street Journal, "two-thirds of students tested below proficient on the civics portion of the National Assessment of Educational Progress in both 2006 and 2010."

Thus, seemingly, civics education should be an important and vital part of the American education curriculum, especially considering its nationalization through the Common Core. The relationship between education and democracy has been celebrated for centuries, appearing even in the early writing's of Thomas Jefferson.

But still, civics education faces barriers. Political scientist Amy Guttman, and current president of the University of Pennsylvania wrote in her book, Democratic Education:

"The first issue is whether civic education that is publicly mandated must be minimal so that parental choice can be maximal. The second issue concerns the way in which publicly subsidized schools should respond to the increasingly multicultural character of societies. The third issue is whether democratic education should try to cultivate cosmopolitan or patriotic sentiments among students."

And even those who support citizenship education agree that there is a problem of developing standards. According to Kathleen Hall Jamieson, tasks forces must be "drafting, and agreeing on, the actual standards, identifying assessment instruments for use with the standards; and developing resources to help teachers use the standards and assessments effectively."

Because courses that discuss governance often lead to both debate and disagreement, many are also concerned that civics curriculum could encourage political bias within the classroom.

Ultimately, while Arizona's new requirement faces logistical issues, it is certainly a clear step towards accountability in relation to federal immigration policy, as well as an initial step towards creating a more well-informed and active electorate of America's youth.