Spring 2008 Newsletter

 

Teachers from California, Kentucky, and Montana Receive American Civic Education Teacher Awards

Center Hosts Annual Seminar to Help Journalists Inform Citizens About the Federal Budget Process

Experts Surveyed on Congress' Performance Gave the Institution a “C” for 2007

Center and IU Institute for Advanced Study Bring Leading Politics Scholars to Bloomington

Center Teams with ProtonMedia, Ark Media To Develop Virtual Congress Project

Center's Survey of Public Opinion on Congress Is a Source for New Book on 2006 Election

 

Teachers from California, Kentucky and Montana Receive American Civic Education Teacher Awards

Teachers from California, Kentucky and Montana are recipients of the 2008 American Civic Education Teacher Awards, recognizing their exemplary work preparing young people to become informed and engaged citizens.

Selected in a nationwide search, the ACETA winners are: Sally Broughton of Monforton Elementary School in Bozeman, Mont.; Cheryl Cook–Kallio of Irvington High School in Fremont, Calif.; and Julie Kuhnhein of Highlands High School in Fort Thomas, Ky.

The awards are given annually to elementary and secondary teachers of civics, government and related subjects who have demonstrated special expertise in motivating students to learn about the Constitution, Congress and public policy.

ACETA is sponsored by the Center on Congress, the Center for Civic Education, and the National Education Association.

Center on Congress Director Lee Hamilton lauded Broughton, Cook–Kallio and Kuhnhein for “helping young people feel they are a part of something larger than themselves by connecting them to the splendid traditions of American civic engagement. They show their students how to use their talents to make their communities and their nation better.”

In presenting the awards, Hamilton said, “We call public attention to the fact that many teachers across the nation are doing an excellent job molding the civic character of America's youth.”

Charles N. Quigley, Executive Director of the Center for Civic Education, praised the awardees for their commitment to teaching young people the responsibilities of citizenship in our democracy. “These teachers are extraordinarily dedicated to giving their students a firm grasp of the fundamental values and principles of our constitutional system of government,” Quigley said.

The ACETA winners receive an all–expenses–paid trip to Washington in July to participate in an educational program that includes observing committee hearings in Congress, meeting members of Congress and other key officials, and visiting sites such as the National Archives and the U.S. Supreme Court.

The three awardees share a passion for explaining the work of government in an engaging way, and helping young people see that what goes on in Washington is relevant to their lives.

“My goal is to develop in my students the civic knowledge, dispositions, and virtues, and the intellectual and participatory skills, that will enable them to become reasoned, informed citizens,” said Montana's Broughton. “I guide them by active learning; I want my students to feel empowered and pushed to the limits of their ability.”

California's Cook–Kallio said, “Education is a prerequisite for democracy. So is civic virtue. Service learning and community service connect academics with real world learning opportunities. Civic education allows students to learn for the sake of learning.”

And Kentucky's Kuhnhein said, “Preparing our students to become productive and responsible members of society is the most important charge we have as educators. This task is best accomplished by many people. I want to thank my colleagues from across the Commonwealth for their assistance. I look forward to working with the organizations sponsoring ACETA as we bring more attention to the cause of civic education.”

Each year the ACETA program selects and showcases three teachers whose students represent the diversity of the American public and private school systems. Applicants must be full–time classroom teachers of grades K–12. There is no fee to apply. Applications and materials for the 2009 awards will be available online in January.

 

Center Hosts Annual Seminar to Help Journalists Inform Citizens About the Federal Budget Process

In its continuing effort to encourage the media to pay more attention to the federal budget's impact on every American, the Center on Congress in January hosted its third annual seminar on the budget, bringing together prominent experts to explain the complicated budget process to journalists.

The Center partnered with the National Press Foundation and the Regional Reporters Association to host the half–day seminar, “(Un)Covering the Federal Budget,” in Washington on Jan. 17.

In opening remarks, Center Director Lee Hamilton noted that “Washington is girding for a second year of spending and taxing policy being thrashed out by a divided government — a Democratic–controlled Congress going toe–to–toe with a Republican–controlled executive branch.” He urged reporters “to convey to your audience that tension and strong interaction between the legislative and executive branches of government is not a bad thing, but rather a sign that the federal government is working the way our Founders intended. The Founders understood that the process of resolving conflicts ensures that diverse views are heard, and helps build common ground among people who have very different backgrounds and attitudes.”

The seminar featured a keynote address by then–Comptroller General of the United States David Walker, head of the Government Accountability Office. He was followed by presentations from veteran insiders of the budget process on Capitol Hill, including: Mary Naylor, Staff Director of the Senate Budget Committee; Rob Nabors, Staff Director of the House Appropriations Committee; James R. Horney, Director of Federal Fiscal Policy for the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities; and Donald Wolfensberger, Director of The Wilson Center Congress Project and former Chief of Staff of the House Rules Committee.

Then a panel of three experienced budget hands offered reporters insights and tools for first–day and ongoing reporting of the budget story: Bill Allison, of the Sunlight Foundation; David Clarke, a reporter at Congressional Quarterly; and Martin Kady, a reporter at Politico. Moderating that panel was Linda Topping Streitfeld, of The National Press Foundation.

The Center on Congress and the National Press Foundation are making plans for more seminars to educate reporters covering Congress, in furtherance of the two organizations' shared belief that promoting good journalism about Congress can help citizens make better–informed judgments and hold their elected officials accountable.

 

Experts Surveyed on Congress' Performance Gave the Institution a “C” for 2007

The grade for Congress' work in 2007 was a solid “C,” according to political scientists asked by the Center on Congress to rate the performance of the national legislature. This is a notch better than the “C–minus” grade Congress earned in 2006, when the Center conducted a similar survey of experts.

“Going from a C–minus to a solid C — almost a C–plus — is not a dramatic improvement, but it is a real improvement,” said political scientist Edward G. Carmines, who is Director of Research for the Center on Congress. “It shows that Congress can change.”

The Center conducted the survey online, getting a select group of 51 top academic experts on Congress from around the country to give the institution grades on 19 questions.

Democrats took control of the House and Senate in 2007, and the experts saw improvement during the year by Congress in “carrying out effective oversight of the president and executive branch” (C–plus) and “protecting its powers from presidential encroachment” (C). Congress got D's in those areas in 2006, when Republican majorities in both chambers were seen as more deferential to President George W. Bush.

“Competition with a president of the opposite party typically leads Congress to play a more important role in policymaking,” Carmines said.

Congress also moved up on three questions related to operational performance: whether it “engages in productive discussion and allows all points of view to be heard” (C–plus); whether it “allows Members in the minority to play a role” (C–plus); and whether it “follows good process and conducts its business in a deliberate way” (C). In 2006, Congress got D's on all three counts.

The experts also gave C's in 2007 on the questions of “Does Congress keep the role of special interests within proper bounds?” and “Does Congress hold members to high standards of ethical conduct?” — again, up from D grades in 2006.

But Congress still is doing a poor job of “keeping excessive partisanship in check.” The experts' grade on that count for 2007: D–plus, barely changed from a D in 2006.

However, that was the only D grade Congress received for 2007 — compared to eight D's in 2006 — and in 2007 Congress was awarded five above–average marks (in the B range). Still, 13 of the 19 survey questions drew grades in the C range. “Several weaknesses found in 2006 were still rather weak areas in 2007,” Carmines said. “A GPA of C is not a high standard. There is obvious room for improvement.”

The three highest grades for 2007 came on these questions: “Do legislators make a good effort to be accessible to their constituents?” (B–plus); “Does Congress make its workings and activities open to the public?” (B); and “Do legislators broadly reflect the interests of their constituents?”(B).

The Center has an annual tradition of conducting a year–end survey of experts' opinions on the performance of Congress. “Our interest is not to dwell on past shortcomings, but to develop a sense of what areas are most in need of improvement, as well as what areas are generally handled well by Congress,” explained Center Director Lee Hamilton.

For the first time, the Center's survey for 2007 included an additional set of questions to gauge how the experts assess the public's knowledge of and interaction with Congress. “We want to know, are the citizens holding up their end?” said Carmines.

The answer from the experts: The public, like Congress, has significant room for improvement. Citizens managed to earn C grades on “contacting their members of Congress on issues that concern them” and “working through groups that share their interests to influence Congress.” But otherwise, the citizenry got Ds — on questions such as “understanding the main features of Congress and how it works” and “following what is going on in Congress on a regular basis.”

“The experts were quite critical of what the public knows about Congress as a national policymaking institution,” said Carmines. “Much more work needs to be done to help citizens understand Congress and its role in our system of representative democracy.”

 

Center and IU Institute for Advanced Study Bring Leading Politics Scholars to Bloomington

This fall, the Center on Congress, in conjunction with the Indiana University Institute for Advanced Study, will bring to the Bloomington campus prominent experts on American politics to deliver a series of lectures on the 2008 congressional and presidential elections.

Robert Dallek of Boston University will be in Bloomington September 17–19 to discuss presidential politics; Charles Franklin of the University of Wisconsin at Madison visits the campus September 29–October 2 to discuss polling during election campaigns; and Gary Jacobson of the University of California at San Diego will be on campus October 13–17 to discuss congressional elections.

The Center's participation in this lecture series is part of an ongoing commitment to bring to Bloomington prominent figures — from academia, the media, government service and other areas of expertise — to create a dialogue with students and community members about current issues and Congress.

 

Center Teams with ProtonMedia, Ark Media To Develop Virtual Congress Project

Work is progressing on the Center's Virtual Congress, an educational multiplayer online role–play game that will give students an insider's view of representative democracy and help them understand their role as citizens.

The Center is working with ProtonMedia, of Lansdale, Penn., on the game development component of the project, and with Ark Media, of Brooklyn, N.Y., on the companion video for the project.

Virtual Congress will function much like the real Congress, with committees, floor action, amendments, back–and–forth discussions, input from constituents, and random events that can influence the legislative agenda. In Virtual Congress, students from across the country will assume the roles of Members of the House and Senate, lobbyists, journalists, and constituents.

“We are excited about the potential for Virtual Congress to let students experience how Congress really works,” said Center Director Lee Hamilton. “Combining the online role–play game format with serious and substantive educational content about Congress is a promising new way to get young people engaged and informed.”

The Virtual Congress project is funded by grants from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB), the MacArthur Foundation, the AT&T Foundation, the Pew Charitable Trust, and the Paul Ogle Foundation of Indiana. Partners and collaborators in the Virtual Congress project include the public television station WTIU, the National Education Association, the Close Up Foundation, the National Council for Social Studies and the departments of Telecommunications and Learning Sciences at Indiana University.

The CPB grant is a part of their American History and Civics initiative, which calls on public television managers, film makers and content developers — especially in the high technology and interactive media sector — to join educators in creating ground breaking media projects and methods that measurably improve the learning of American history and civics by middle and high school students.

 

Center's Survey of Public Opinion on Congress Is a Source for New Book on 2006 Election

In 2006 the Center on Congress joined with other organizations and individual researchers to support a national public opinion survey that provides a source of information for a book to be published this summer, “Fault Lines: Why the Republicans Lost Congress.” Edward G. Carmines, who is Director of Research for the Center and leader of our congressional survey work, is a contributor to the book, and Center Director Lee Hamilton wrote the book's foreword.

“Fault Lines” is one in a series of books published by Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group entitled “Controversies in Electoral Democracy and Representation.” The books present cutting–edge scholarship and innovative thinking on topics related to elections, voting behavior, party and media involvement, representation, and democratic theory.

The 2006 Survey on Congress was part of the Center's continuing work to conduct national opinion surveys of the public's attitudes about Congress. In congressional election years, the Survey on Congress gathers information to help devise strategies for fostering a closer relationship between citizens and their representatives. The Survey examines how people learn about and interact with Congress, and it gauges how citizens rate the job performance of their representatives and how they regard their own responsibilities as citizens.

Researchers from several other prominent universities partner with the Center to support and conduct the Survey, which provides data to scholars, the media and others that is invaluable in understanding how the public sizes up the effectiveness and responsiveness of Congress.

 

About the Center

The Center on Congress is a non–partisan, educational institution established in 1999 to help improve the public's understanding of Congress and to encourage civic engagement. The Center offers an extensive array of programs, projects and resources that foster an informed electorate which understands our system of government and participates in civic life. These include: print publications; Web–based, interactive modules and other online learning tools in English and Spanish; commentaries for newspapers, radio stations, podcasts and a Weblog; video and television in the classroom resources; survey research; teacher awards; and seminars, conferences, and a lecture series.

The Center on Congress
1315 E. 10th St.,Suite 320
Bloomington, IN 47405
Phone: (812) 856-4706 Fax: (812) 856-4703 
email: congress@indiana.edu 
www.centeroncongress.org