Addressing Americans’ Lack of Civics Knowledge

On Saturday, September 17th, we celebrate Constitution Day. Beyond simply commemorating the day our Constitution was signed back in 1787, this holiday is meant to increase American awareness of our constitutional rights and responsibilities. But new survey results show far too many Americans continue to lack even basic knowledge of their constitutional rights or the structure and operation of our government. Fortunately, ALEC members have devised a solution.

The Annenberg Public Policy Center just released their annual Constitution Day survey, which found:

  • 44% of adults failed to name all three branches of government
  • 25% of adults could not name a single branch of government
  • 26% of adults could not name a single right guaranteed by the First Amendment

The National Assessment for Education Progress (NAEP) also takes a look at civics proficiency among 8th graders, with the most recent update conducted in 2018. Those results show that just 24% of American 8th graders are considered proficient in civics. The NAEP also shows little progress over time, with 22% of 8th graders demonstrating civics proficiency in 1998.

The federal government has prioritized science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) courses to the tune of $2.95 billion per year. For comparison, civics education receives just $4 million in annual funding from the federal government – just a tenth of a percent of what STEM courses received. Ultimately, school districts will focus their efforts on whatever courses and content will generate the most appropriation dollars. Additionally, many students are graduating high school without ever having taken a civics course. Today, there are still 20 states with no requirement for students to take a full semester of civics as its own course. Eleven states, including Alaska, Delaware, Kentucky, Maine, Massachusetts, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oregon, Rhode Island, and Vermont, have no civics requirement whatsoever.

That’s where ALEC comes in. Last year, members of the Education and Workforce Development Task Force passed the American Civics and History Act model policy, which offers policymakers a solution to make civics a priority for public school students. It requires a semester’s worth of 1) U.S. history, 2) U.S. and state government, and 3) American civics as their own courses. These classes are required once in middle school and again in high school so that students can develop a more advanced understanding of our nation’s founding and their individual rights.

Regardless of personal beliefs or political leaning, every American should enjoy a complete and accurate understanding of our nation’s history and the rights born from its founding. The states can lead the way on this by passing policies like the American Civics and History Act, ensuring public school students graduate with the tools and knowledge needed to become effective citizens.

In Depth: Education

An excellent education has long been recognized as key to the American Dream. Unfortunately, the current monopolistic and expensive K-12 education system is failing our students, leaving them unprepared for college, careers, or life. Similarly, our higher education system is leaving students with higher debt burdens and fewer career guarantees…

+ Education In Depth