School, Youth, & Family Engagement on Civic Learning


Centering equity across educational agendas is crucial and civic education is no exception. Yet, achieving it is another matter. Effective educational materials and skilled teachers are but two key pieces of the puzzle. Accessibility and cultural relevance of civics curricula are essential, as is an understanding of how civics curricula “land” for different students within a broader context of their families and communities. A sharply polarized political climate makes family and community engagement an increasingly necessary part of school-based civics. In this context, schools and curriculum providers would be wise to adopt proactive approaches to family engagement versus reacting to parental pushback or proceeding with little to no understanding of families’ perspectives on civics curricula. As watchdog organizations call out schools, teachers, and curricula for politicized instruction, thoughtful school-family engagement around civic education is both crucial and vexed.

Research suggests the necessity of widening our lens beyond curriculum and instruction to understand factors that contribute to deeper civic learning beyond the classroom and, from an equity lens, to more effectively account for the range of experiences and perceptions that shape students’ engagement with curricula (Barron, 2006). Students can play meaningful roles in bringing relevant civic learning home. Yet, understanding what values, perspectives, and concerns students bring from home to the civics classroom is also crucial and understudied.

The DKP is undertaking a three-year project focused directly on (1) integrating a stronger, intentional, and more explicit focus on equity across all strands of our work; and (2) expanding and increasing an engagement program with school/district administrators/leaders and families in the diverse communities where our curriculum is being implemented.

Barron, B. (2006). Interest and Self-Sustained Learning as Catalysts of Development: A Learning Ecology Perspective. Human Development, 49(4), 193–224.

This project includes:

1) Student Youth Advisory research:  We seek to amplify the voices and perspectives of students in our work – especially students from historically marginalized backgrounds – through student interviews and recruitment of a youth advisory board. Among other lines of inquiry, we hope our youth advisors can share how they make sense of the broader relevance of our curriculum and of other school-based civic learning experiences.

2) Family engagement research: Through surveys, interviews, and focus groups, we seek to deepen our learning about the perspectives of students’ families on our curriculum and on civic learning more generally. Insights from these research strands will inform curriculum redesign, professional development, and the development of practical resources for school-family engagement around civic learning.

A DKP equity group provides support for this work as it broadly examines our 8th grade curriculum with an equity lens. An expert advisory group for this project, made up of both researchers with expertise in school-family engagement and youth participatory research and educational practitioners, provides ongoing input to the DKP team.

Funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York

Contact:  Dr. Carrie James ( and Natalie Sew (