Majority of students aren’t proficient in civics

Look at any daily news source this week and expect to see coverage on Osama bin Laden’s death, education policy, candidates for the next presidential election, and the U.S.’ involvement in two wars, among other issues nation-, state-, and city- wide. Now, look at a graduating class of seniors who are either of voting age or almost there, and guess how many are prepared to vote in the next election.

According to new data from a prominent national exam, only one-quarter of high school seniors who are old enough to vote demonstrate at least a “proficient” level of civics knowledge and skill.

“Knowledge of our system of government is not handed down through the gene pool,” retired U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor said in a statement. “The habits of citizenship must be learned. … But we have neglected civic education for the past several decades, and the results are predictably dismal.”

The recent NAEP study consisted of both multiple choice and written-response. The three components were civic knowledge, intellectual and participatory skills, and civic disposition.  The component “civic knowledge” consisted of topics such as the foundations of the American political system; understanding of civic life, politics, and government; and the role of citizens in American democracy.

When seniors were asked if they had studied civics, 97% reported they had taken a civics or a government class during high school. However, the survey also showed:

- 68% said they had studied political parties, elections, and voting

- 66% said they studied Congress

- 61% said they studied how laws were made

- 59% said they studied the president and Cabinet

- 47% said they studied other nations’ governments

- 43% said they studied international organizations such as the United Nations

Increased scores in reading, writing, math, and science; higher graduation rates; and more students entering college are all on the top of the list to get U.S. students academically competitive. However, a generation of voting-age seniors are about to graduate and the majority don’t know their civic rights so they can speak up about education, war, politics, or even the addition of a crosswalk.

How can you get a high schooler interested in advancing their civic knowledge?


Resources: Most students lack civics proficiency on NAEP –

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