Girls sits at desk next to voting sign
The Koret Foundation is donating money in support of civics, or "the study of the privileges and obligations of citizens." (Creative Commons/Eric Haynes)

Koret Foundation aims to bolster civics education in California with $3M grant

The San Francisco–based Koret Foundation has announced grants totaling $3.25 million to support civics education for California students.

“Civics used to be taught, explicitly as civics, in schools,” said Lauren Silver, vice president for education at the Commonwealth Club’s Creating Citizens initiative, one of the organizations receiving support. “For at least 50 years, that has not happened.”

Woman with dark curly hair
Lauren Silver

Civics, according to the League of Women Voters, is the study of the privileges and obligations of citizens. It includes the study of the theoretical, political and practical aspects of citizenship, the rights and duties of citizens, and the study of government and civil laws and codes.

Funds in the grant will be administered through three existing educational organizations, including two based in S.F.: the Commonwealth Club program and Common Sense Media.

The grants will be targeted primarily at the Bay Area, with some programs reaching across California. The money will go toward programming that teaches young people to understand the nature of democracy, engage proactively as citizens and keep themselves informed in an age of hyperpartisanship. The funds also will help educators bring these skills to the classroom, something that experts see as crucial to bolster the functioning of a healthy democracy.

The Commonwealth Club’s program for young people, Creating Citizens, was launched with Koret funding two years ago, Silver said. Currently virtual, it allows student audiences to hear from civic leaders and youth leaders who talk about issues from climate change to student loans to voter rights for Gen Z.

Funds from the new grant will go toward expanding the program to include more intergenerational talks, new in-person discussions and expanded use of archived Commonwealth Club events.

Common Sense Media, a nonprofit known for its database of recommendations to help parents make sense of a complicated media landscape, will launch a new program targeting dozens of Bay Area middle schools, high schools and districts. It will provide classroom content that aims to help students identify reliable news sources, spot and push back against disinformation and gain a deeper understanding of how media influences identity.

Massachusetts-based iCivics, founded by Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor in 2009, already has a digital civic library of learning materials and educational video games for teachers. The Koret grant will allow iCivics to set up a new program to train 70 “master teachers,” who in turn will train classroom teachers about educating their students on concepts of democracy.

According to Koret, while the three programs will roll out in California, they can be scaled for national impact, including workshops, lesson plans, case studies and other educational materials.

“A new generation educated on the fundamentals of our government is the strongest way to ensure democracy for decades to come,” said Michael Boskin, president of the Koret Foundation, in a press release.

All of it is important for students to know, said Silver.

“In a democracy, nobody is governing for you,” Silver said. “We are all responsible for governing ourselves.”