Youth civic knowledge: glass relatively empty or rising?

I reported earlier in Johnnie and Janie Learn Civics Better the rises in 4th grade civic scores and the flat scores for high school seniors.

Students Need Civic Classes: Americans show an appalling ignorance about citizenship” (Fort Worth Journal, 6/5/07, p. 11, Andrea Neal Op-Ed) focuses less on the fact that the glass is becoming fuller and more on the overall low civic knowledge in the U.S. as a call to action.  The article quotes Charles N. Quigley, executive director of the Center for Civic Education, to say that “America’s school children are woefully unprepared to take their place as informed, engaged citizens.”

Quigley notes that historically most American high schools offered three civics/government classes.  Starting in the 1970s, most high schools kept the “American Government” class, but dropped “Civics” and “Problems of Democracy” that helped students understand the role of citizens in democracy, discussed current issues, and encouraged students to participate.  And the American Government class is offered too late (in 12th grade) and thus doesn’t reach America’s teenage dropouts.

Despite the fact that 4th grade scores have risen, Quigley finds knowledge levels still depressing:

  • Only 24% of students were rated ‘proficient’ in civic knowledge. 

  • 57% of 12th graders did not understand federalism (division of power between state and federal governments).

  • Only 5 percent [of 12th graders] could explain checks on the president’s power, such as Congress’ ability to override vetoes. 

  • Only 26 percent of 8th graders could “accurately explain a passage from the Declaration of Independence.” 

  • Only about half of 4th graders could identify one of the basic purposes of our government.

The editorial ignores the improvements on the test among 4th graders, but we wholeheartedly agree that our students and our society would benefit dramatically by restoring Civics and Problems of Democracy in our nation’s schools.


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