by Karl Kurtz
The National Assessment of Educational Progress released its third report in the last 12 years on the civic knowledge, dispositions and skills of America's young people today. The title of the report's news release, "Fourth Graders Post Gains in Civics Knowledge and Skills Since 1998 While Twelfth Graders Lose Ground From 2006" provides a succinct summary of its contents. Neither the increase for the fourth graders nor the decrease for the 12th graders was large, but they were both statistically significant.
One-quarter of the fourth and eighth graders who took the test fell below a basic level of competence in civics, as did one-third of 12th graders. Only about a quarter of all students scored "proficient" or "advanced" at all grade levels.
Perhaps as disturbing as anything in the results is the persistence of a large gap between racial and ethnic minorities and Whites in the scores. Although Hispanics made gains in relation to Whites, the gap was still wide. Performance by Black students declined both in absolute terms and relative to Whites.
Speaking on a panel at the release of the report, Charles Quigley, director of the Center for Civic Education, was asked about the irony of the elimination of federal funding for civic education in the FY 2011 federal budget in light of these findings. He responded that he was dismayed by the funding cuts at a time when the NAEP report suggests that efforts at democracy education need to be redoubled, not cut out. He advocated not only refunding of existing civic education programs in the FY 2012 Department of Education budget but also creation of new competitive grant programs in civics. He said that he was "cautiously optimistic" that some funding would be restored.
[Disclosure: NCSL has received funds over several years from the federal civic education appropriations that were eliminated in FY 2011.]
Graphics credit: The Nation's Report Card