+ NAEP: American Civics Education in Crisis

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Not even half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights, according to the most recent national civics examination, writes Sam Dillon in the New York Times.

Only one out of ten demonstrated knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches.

And three-fourths of high-school seniors who took the test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), could not identify the effect of United States foreign policy on other nations. Nor could they could name a power granted to Congress by the Constitution.

Former Supreme Court justice Sandra Day O’Connor founded http://www.icivics.org last year, a nonprofit group that teaches students civics through Web-based games and other tools. 

She says, “Today’s NAEP results confirm that we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to civics education.”

The NAEP, called America’s Report Card, is administered  by the Department of Education.  The test was given to 27,000 4th-, 8th- and 12th-grade students last year.  Questions covered issues such as how the government is financed, how laws are passed, and what rights are protected by the Constitution.

Fourth-grade scores on the 300-point scale rose slightly; eighth-grade scores were essentially unchanged.  The scores of high-school seniors dropped.

The scores mean that one-quarter of 4th- and 12th-graders, and one fifth of 8th-graders ranked at proficient or advanced levels.

According to Charles N. Quigley, executive director of the Center for Civic Education, a nonprofit group in California,

The results confirm an alarming and continuing trend that civics in America is in decline.  During the past decade or so, educational policy and practice appear to have focused more and more upon developing the worker at the expense of developing the citizen.

Dillon writes in the article that scores of Hispanic students were the one bright spot: they narrowed the gap between their scores and those of non-Hispanic white students. 

Unchanged was the achievement gap between blacks and whites in civics, about 25 points at the 4th- and 8th-grade levels, and 29 points among high school seniors.

The NAEP test showed that a smaller proportion of 4th- and 8th-graders demonstrated proficiency in civics than in any other subject — except history, the worst subject — tested by the federal government since 2005.  

According to Justice O’Connor

We face difficult challenges at home and abroad.  Meanwhile, divisive rhetoric and a culture of sound bites threaten to drown out rational dialogue and debate.  We cannot afford to continue to neglect the preparation of future generations for active and informed citizenship.

sole source: New York Times article by Sam Dillon on May 4, 2011.  http://www.nytimes.com

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