Testimony to the NYC Council on the 2020 Education Budget


Testimony by Martin Mintz, New York City Program Manager
New York City Council Education and Finance Committee

Good Morning Members of the City Council’s Education and Finance Committees:­­­

Thank you for the opportunity to testify today on behalf of Generation Citizen (“GC”) about the Fiscal Year 2020 City’s Education’s budget. My name is Martin Mintz, and I am a Program Manager at Generation Citizen NYC (“GCNYC”).  Our New York City Executive Director, DeNora Getachew, sends her regrets that she is unable to testify before the Committee today.

GC is an nine-year-old national, nonpartisan nonprofit dedicated to bringing civics education back into the classroom through a new, engaging pedagogy: Action Civics. Action Civics is a “student-centered, project-based approach to civics education that develops the individual skills, knowledge, and dispositions necessary for 21st century democratic practice” (National Action Civics Collaborative). It differs from normative, knowledge-based civic education in the same way that taking any “hands-on,” project-based, or experiential course differs from reading a textbook. Students learn about democratic structures and processes by directly engaging with them, as well as with each other, to address one or more issues they care about, which are impacting their community. GC is the largest Action Civics education organization with a national model. This year, GC will educate approximately 18,000 students through our flagship New York City site and 5 additional sites: Rhode Island, where we were founded on Brown University’s campus; Massachusetts; the Bay Area, California; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; and Central Texas.  We are partnering with 194 classrooms and 60 teachers in 55 schools to educate and empower approximately 4,850 middle and high school students this year in New York City.

Overview of Action Civics

GC is reinvigorating civics education in schools through our Action Civics model in order to address America’s civic participation problem. Though this problem has been growing in impact over the last several decades, recent data shows that only 23 percent of eighth graders nationwide are proficient in civics. Worse, young people nationwide are receiving unequal civic learning opportunities: students in low-income schools, when compared with just average socioeconomic status (SES) schools, are half as likely to study how laws are made, and 30 percent less likely to report having experiences with debates or panel discussions in social studies classes. GC partners with teachers and schools to help them implement our standards-aligned Action Civics education program twice weekly over the course of a semester, often added to History, Social Studies, the state-mandated Participation in Government class, or similar in-school class time.  Our two models: our college volunteer, or Democracy Coach model (DC model), and Teacher-Led model (TL model) are unified by a shared Action Civics curriculum, our innovative approach to advocacy planning and support, and supplemental resources for students, teachers, and schools. 

In GC’s Action Civics course, students debate issues directly affecting them, like affordable housing, gun violence, police brutality, domestic violence, or discrimination, and work as a class to decide on one focus issue to address during the semester. Through our student-led program, they develop strategic action plans to effect systemic change on the identified issue, implement the plan by engaging directly with influencers and decision-makers, and present their findings at Civics Day, a semester-end showcase. Students learn valuable academic and life skills, like public speaking, collaboration, critical thinking, and how to work through difference. They also gain firsthand experience engaging in an important lifelong habit, understanding how they can directly inform and influence change in their community through the democratic process.  Thanks to the Council’s $1.5 million investment in GC’s program through the Civic Education in New York City Schools Initiative since Fiscal Year 2017, GCNYC has tripled our impact in New York City, educating and empowering approximately 10,550 sixth through twelfth graders citywide via our DC model. Our DCs provide extra classroom capacity to teachers by researching relevant articles for the classroom as well as securing a guest speaker to engage with the class. DCs also bring an element of excitement and energy to the classroom since they are a near peer and new face who  can mentor GC students and give them information on their college experience.

We are incredibly thankful that the City Council renewed funding for GCNYC this fiscal year to enable us to educate and empower approximately 3,425 students to find their voice and become civically engaged this year through our DC model of programming. We recruited, trained and placed 84 CUNY college volunteers as Chapter Directors and DCs in our classrooms to co-facilitate our curriculum alongside experienced NYC public school teachers, as well as serve as peer-to-near-peer mentors to students in the classroom.  We are thankful for the City Council’s funding, which allows GCNYC to provide stipends to volunteers from our 5 CUNY college partners — Baruch College, Hunter College, John Jay College, Medgar Evers College and Queens College. GCNYC has helped over 22,000 New York City middle and high school students find their voice and advocate for systemic local policy reform, making the site the largest and flagship in the organization. 

Student survey data shows that, after going through GC, students make significant gains in important measures of civic knowledge, civic skills and civic motivation.  After the program, 71 percent of students improved their civic skills; 76 percent  of students gained civic knowledge; 70 percent of students believed they had the power to make a difference in the community; and 81 percent of students could identify the best action to take to address a problem. We expanded our Teacher-Led program model from the pilot we launched in Fiscal Year 2018. GC offers our TL model to provide teachers with the training and support necessary to facilitate our Action Civics curriculum and teach nonpartisan advocacy in the classroom. The TL program allows us to scale our Action Civics programming and partner with schools in less central locations or where teacher preference supports implementation through this model. In this model, we directly provide teachers with the materials, professional development sessions, coaching and support to successfully implement GC’s Action Civics curriculum in their classrooms.  Thanks in large part to an investment from The New York Community Trust and other institutional funders, this year, we are implementing our TL program model in 57 classrooms in twenty schools in fourteen City Council districts to impact approximately 1,425 students.

Due to the strong success and demand of our TL model, we are piloting a modified DC program that emphasizes the value of DCs and helps address some of the challenges associated with recruiting, training and placing DCs in classrooms.  The modified DC model focuses on adding capacity for the classroom teacher, the expert in the room, to implement the curriculum while benefiting the students and the action civics project with the presence of a near-peer mentor in the classroom. In this model, the DC provides support, assists with action project research and action planning, and ensures smaller student-to-instructor ratio throughout the project.

Throughout the semester, both the DC and the teacher receive necessary support and training to facilitate the curriculum and work in effective partnership.  This model elevates the benefits of having skilled, trained teachers and college volunteers working together to implement strong Action Civics programming.  As we continue to implement this DC model in future years, we will be focused on how we can do so while also deepening and institutionalizing our college partnerships by working to establish service learning and workforce development programs on CUNY campuses.

GCNYC is excited to provide more intentional pathways to civic engagement for young women of color though a grant from the New York Women’s Foundation (NYWF).  We are working to achieve this goal through providing specific trainings through gender and racial identity lens to DCs and teachers and providing more opportunities for our female students to continue their civic journey beyond the classroom, including through our Community Change Fellowship (CCF).

Civics for All Initiative

GCNYC is encouraged by the de Blasio Administration’s Civics for All Initiative to implement civics education in all academic disciplines as we have experimented with this approach in our partnership with city schools with great success.  As the largest Action Civics education provider in New York City, GCNYC welcomes the opportunity to partner with the Administration to share its expertise in creating and implementing engaging, student-led, project-based programming that increases students’ civic knowledge, skills and motivation.  Our very rough estimate is that it will cost the Administration approximately $4,755,000 annually to implement Action Civics in secondary schools systemwide and provide New York City public school teachers  with professional development on how to teach project-based learning and nonpartisan advocacy in the classroom. 

We look forward to partnering with the Mayor, Chancellor Carranza, and Chief Democracy Officer Fonseca to ensure that all secondary students citywide receive an effective Action Civics education. 

Civics Pathways Beyond the Classroom

It is critical to youth’s long-term civic engagement that they have concrete opportunities to further their civic engagement beyond the classroom, including through meaningful and informed voter registration, Participatory Budgeting; and Community Boards, where 16 and 17 year olds are able to serve thanks in part to successful advocacy by GC and other coalition partners.

GCNYC also provides pathways for students to continue their civic engagement through our CCF program.  CCF is a youth leadership and workforce development program for alumni of our in-school Action Civics program who have already demonstrated their commitment to civic engagement. Fellows work four days per week at a government agency, elected official’s office, or advocacy organization to apply their civic knowledge and skills in the workforce. GC also provides Fellows with professional development and workforce readiness skills – from workplace communication to resume writing — as well as coalition-building, policy research, storytelling, and media training to prepare them to share their civic engagement stories and learn how to leverage the media to advocate for policy change.  In a recent survey of CCF alumni, 81 percent  of respondents said participation in CCF deepened their commitment to political and civic engagement today. In conclusion, GC believes that all students need an effective Action Civics education in order to reach their potential as engaged citizens and civic pathways beyond the classroom to bring their education to life. We look forward to continuing to partner with the Council to deliver our DC model in the 2019-20 school year.  GCNYC appreciates the Council’s leadership commitment to GC’s DC program model to allow GCNYC to expand its impact and ensure that the next generation of New Yorkers develops the civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions necessary for them to become active and engaged stewards of our democracy for the long-term.

Thank you and the Committee for your consideration of this testimony.  I would be happy to answer any questions that you may have.