Civic education

The latest edition of Research That Matters, "Passion & Promise," explores how the UW College of Education is approaching the biggest challenges in education with a spirit of possibility. The following story about the College's research on civic education in diverse classrooms also appears in the online version of the magazine.

What’s the best way to teach civics and social studies in inclusive ways when your class consists of kids whose nationalities and citizenship statuses vary?

That’s one pressing but under-investigated question being tackled in a new study by College of Education Assistant Professor Dafney Blanca Dabach and her team of UW graduate students.

Dabach became especially interested in this issue during the 2008 Presidential elections. She observed a 12th grade teacher confusing students’ language status with their citizenship status, assuming students in an English learner class couldn’t vote just because they weren’t fluent in English.

She identified a significant knowledge gap in the field of civic education with respect to this issue, which led to her article titled “You Can’t Vote, Right?: When Language Proficiency is a Proxy for Citizenship in a Civics Classroom,” which appeared in the Journal of International Social Studies.

Dabach’s work is garnering national attention, and research from her dissertation—for which she received the 2011 Outstanding Dissertation Award from the American Educational Research Association’s Bilingual Education Research Special Interest Group—was cited in the Civil Rights Project’s legal response to the U.S. Supreme Court case Horne v. Flores concerning the education of English language learners. Articles from that study also have appeared in the American Educational Research Journal, the Journal of Education for Students Placed At-Risk and Teachers College Record.

In her latest research project, Dabach bridges the worlds of immigration, schooling and citizenship education. Dabach and her team undertook a rigorous, eight-month process to identify civics teachers working in diverse public schools who are highly knowledgeable and adept at working with immigrant youth. The study investigates how these highly skilled teachers navigate citizenship issues while they also help immigrants learn about possibilities for civic participation—even in the face of barriers.

Findings from one of the study’s analyses were published in the Harvard Educational Review in fall 2015 (“My student was apprehended by immigration”: A civics teacher’s breach of silence in a mixedcitizenship classroom). It’s the first study of its kind to consider how teachers in formal school settings, where students’ citizenship status is not something that can be taken for granted, teach about political and civic participation.

“We need to better understand how teachers and other school officials on the ground adapt to serve immigrant students,” Dabach explained. “Schools are incredibly complex settings that are racially, ethnically, and linguistically diverse—and also diverse in terms of students’ citizenship and nationalities. Part of what I seek to do in my scholarship is render the complexity of teachers’ work in these settings.”

For more information

“Teacher placement into immigrant English learner classrooms: Limiting access in comprehensive high schools,” American Educational Research Journal.
“'I am not a shelter!’: Teacher accounts of immigrant students’ stigma and social boundaries in separate “sheltered” EL secondary classrooms,” Journal of Education for Students Placed At-Risk.


Dustin Wunderlich, Director of Marketing and Communications