civic education study 2009

Two people landed on this blog today by doing searches on “civic education study 2009”.

I think I’ve had browser windows open for the last few days on what they probably were looking for, but I hadn’t had the time to save those items, much less post anything about them.

Anyway, the most substantial source on that topic would be the IEA’s ICCS 2009, directed from the University of Maryland; but that’s probably not what they were looking for.

It’s more likely they were looking for the recently more highly publicized “studies” reported by Matthew Ladner, on high school students in Arizona and in Oklahoma.

These have been tossed around in anti-public-education circles. Ladner does have an agenda and a point of view, but his own writing seems more fair and balanced than I had expected from some of the publicity it’s gotten. Ladner writes:

Of course, immigrants have had an opportunity to study for the test-a distinct advantage-so we might not necessarily expect a 92 percent passing rate from Oklahoma’s public high-school students.

On the other hand, most high-school students have the advantage of having lived in the United States their entire lives. Moreover, they have benefited from tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars being spent for their educations. Many immigrants seeking citizenship, meanwhile, often arrive penniless and must educate themselves on America’s history and government.

After seeing the questions for yourself, you the reader can judge whether a 92 percent passing rate is a reasonable expectation for Oklahoma’s high-school students. Unfortunately, Oklahoma high-school students scored alarmingly low on the test, passing at a rate of only 2.8 percent. That is not a misprint.

Sadly, that result does not come as complete surprise. When the same survey was done recently in Arizona, only 3.5 percent of Arizona’s high-school students passed the test. As the nation’s largest newspaper, USA Today, editorialized: “[T]he Goldwater Institute, a non-profit research organization in Phoenix, found that just 3.5 percent of surveyed students could answer enough questions correctly to pass the citizenship test. Just 25 percent, for example, correctly identified Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence.

“Other questions, all culled from the citizenship test, included: Who is in charge of the executive branch? (The president.) What is the supreme law of the land? (The Constitution.) How many justices are on the Supreme Court? (Nine.) The vast majority of students flubbed them all.

“Unfortunately, and unsurprisingly, this was no aberration. …”

While these results do reflect a problem, it’s amusing to hear people insisting that the schools need to start teaching these facts. As someone who’s professionally familiar with Social Studies education in the US, I can assure you that every one of those students has been “taught” the facts in question. The kind of teaching that’s being advocated is exactly what’s been going on, for decades. That’s the problem — that’s not the solution


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