Dean Hess weighs in on high school civics bill currently up for debate in Wisconsin legislature

Madison’s local CBS affiliate, WISC-TV/Ch. 3, utilized the expertise of UW–Madison School of Education Dean Diana Hess for a report that is headlined, “In Wisconsin, a legislative spotlight on high school civics education.”

Diana Hess

Hess shared her thoughts on a GOP-written bill that would create a statewide civics curriculum that all public and private schools in the state would have to follow, in addition to requiring all public school students to take a half credit of civics education to graduate.

The bill has passed the Assembly and is currently awaiting a vote in the Senate.

Hess, who is a former high school civics teacher, noted that most students in Wisconsin already take a civics course. Specifically, “About 70 percent of students in Wisconsin are already in school districts that require such a course,” she said.

“The concern about the bill is that it also talks about rules being promulgated about having a model curriculum,” she said. “I think that’s a problem, because the way it works is those rules could end up being overseen by the legislature, and I think the worst case scenario is to have legislators write curriculum.”

Hess added there is a lot of evidence about what comprises a high-quality civics course. “In a good civics class, students are learning about contemporary and often very controversial, real, authentic political issues and they’re learning how to talk about them with people who agree and disagree. And ideally, they’re forming an opinion on them,” she explained.

Hess said that good teachers teach civics in a way that “prioritizes students developing their own opinions – not following a teacher’s viewpoint.”

Learn more about this critical issue by viewing the full report at

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