Students don’t understand American government

Published 10:00 am Thursday, May 19, 2011

“Pathetic.” That’s what former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor called the results of the civics part of a test given last year to thousands of fourth, eighth, and 12th-grade students in public and private schools across the country.

American Bar Association President Stephen Zack said the results are “a wake-up call we cannot ignore.” …

According to the recently released test results, 77 percent of fourth-graders, 62 percent of eighth-graders, and 64 percent of 12th-graders scored at the “basic” level. They shows partial mastery of grade-appropriate knowledge and skills related to civics topics.

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Only about a quarter of the students in each grade scored at the “proficient” level. If developing good citizens who have detailed knowledge of the workings of government is a national goal, schools need to do better. …

It’s not clear how students today compare to their parents and grandparents on civics knowledge. Suggesting the test reveals a “crisis” may overstate things.

But if civics knowledge is valuable, civics education must be valued. That means hiring better-trained teachers; making better use of local resources such as bar associations, courts, and politicians, and carving out more time in already busy school days to teach about government. …

The (Toledo) Blade