A new report summarizing the standards for civics education across the country finds that only nine states require students to pass a civics-related exam to graduate. By failing to prioritize courses that teach students about government and democracy, schools are losing sight of what the New York Court of Appeals and at least a dozen other state courts have held is a main purpose of education: to prepare students to “function productively as civic participants.”
Researchers at Tufts University’s Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) examined social studies education, which includes disciplines such as history and economics, with an emphasis on government and politics. They found that while all states have standards for social studies, seventy-eight percent of them have graduation standards that merely require course completion rather than demonstrated proficiency. Four percent of states have no social studies graduation requirement. Fact Sheet Report.
The survey helps shed light on recent testing data that shows that a large number of K-12 students lack civics knowledge. According to the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), a report released in May 2011, less than half of eighth-graders in the U.S. knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights and only twenty-four percent of high school seniors met the proficient standard on the NAEP’s civics assessment. In a statement on the results, former Supreme Court Justice Sandra O’Connor warned that “we cannot afford to continue to neglect the preparation of future generations for active and informed citizenship.”
The CIRCLE report was factual and did not include policy recommendations or positions, but it has generated continued calls for a stronger emphasis on civics in schools. Eric Liu, founder of the Guiding Lights Network, called the fact sheet a “wake up call” for states to start paying attention to civics education. As test scores assume an increasingly large importance on the state and national level, schools may be neglecting civics to concentrate on subjects that are included in the accountability systems. CIRCLE’s Executive Director, Peter Levine, warns that the lack of federally mandated tests for civics, combined with federal grant programs that promote a narrow focus on math, science and reading, have led to the decline of state civics requirements.