A Crisis in Civic Education

May 4th, 2011

Today the Department of Education released the Civics 2010 Report Card, based on a civics exam administered to students nationwide in the 4th, 8th,and 12th grade. The Times reports on some of the findings:

Fewer than half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights on the most recent national civics examination, and only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches, according to test results released on Wednesday.

At the same time, three-quarters of high school seniors who took the test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, were unable to demonstrate civic skills like identifying the effect of United States foreign policy on other nations or naming a power granted to Congress by the Constitution.

Average fourth-grade scores on the test’s 300-point scale rose slightly since the exam was last administered, in 2006, to 157 from 154. Average eighth-grade scores were virtually unchanged at 151. The scores of high school seniors — students who are either eligible to vote or about to be — dropped to 148 from 151. Those scores mean that about a quarter of 4th- and 12th-grade students, and about one-fifth of 8th graders ranked at the proficient or advanced levels.

Justice O’Connor, a champion of civic education, sounded the alarm about the crisis we have in civice ducation:

“Today’s NAEP results confirm that we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to civics education,” said Sandra Day O’Connor, the former Supreme Court justice.

I have started to go through the lengthy report, and will blog more about its findings, and how the goals of the Harlan Institute help to create awareness about civic education.