CIRCLE (The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement)
conducts research on the civic and political engagement of young Americans.
The Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement

New CIRCLE Fact Sheet Describes State Laws, Standards, and Requirements for k-12 Civics

October 10th, 2012
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With funding from the S. D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation, CIRCLE has analyzed the standards, course requirements, and mandatory assessments relevant to civic education in all 50 states plus the District of Columbia. This is the first such scan in 5 years. The full analysis is summarized in our new fact sheet entitled State Civic Education Requirements, and a spreadsheet provides details on each state.

Some of the highlights:

  • All states have standards for social studies, a broad category that includes civics/government along with other disciplines such as history and geography. The civics theme of power, authority, and government is included in all 51 states’ social studies standards (including the District of Columbia’s). The theme of civic ideals and practices is found in every state’s standard except Missouri’s
  • Thirty-nine Forty  states require at least one course in American government or civics*
  • In the 2012-13 school year, 21 states require a state-designed social studies test. This is a similar number as in 2006 but a dramatic reduction compared to 2001, when 34 states conducted regular assessments on social studies subjects.. Two states, Maryland and Florida, have recently instituted new social studies assessments, not yet required this year.
  • Just nine states require students to pass a social studies test in order to graduate from high school: Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, New Mexico, New York, Ohio, South Carolina, Texas, and Virginia. Georgia’s assessment will be phased out but Maryland and Florida will add high-stakes tests.
  • Eight states have statewide, standardized tests specifically in civics/American government: California, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Missouri, Ohio, Virginia, and West Virginia.  Of those, Ohio and Virginia are the only ones that require students to pass that test to graduate from high school.
  • Social studies assessments have shifted from a combination of multiple-choice and performance tasks to almost exclusively multiple-choice exams since 2000.

The previous scan of state standards, requirements and laws relating to civic education was conducted more than five years ago.  In the past decade, education policy has changed rapidly, due, in part, to the No Child Left Behind Act of 2001 (NCLB), Race to the Top, and other federal policies. In 2008, CIRCLE found little change in the amount of time devoted to social studies, but more recent research suggests that states have shifted educational resources away from social studies toward subjects that are included on state-wide assessments. The pendulum may be swinging back as several states are now reforming their requirements for civic education.

CIRCLE simply summarizes the facts about state standards and requirements, without arguing for a particular policy, but colleagues and k-12 students have expressed concern based on these results:

  • “This invaluable resource from CIRCLE is a must for every education policymaker in the nation. In this era of Standards and Assessment based education, it is most disturbing that only 21 states require assessment in this area vital for our nation’s future. The goal of education in this country is effective preparation of all students for success in college, career and Citizenship. Clearly we must pay more attention to Civic Learning!” — Ted McConnell, Executive Director, Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools
  • “CIRCLE’s fact sheet on state civic education requirements is a telling reminder of the considerable gap between states’ goals and their execution. Virtually all states have established standards that should be part of any serious civics curriculum, but only eight require an assessment of civics or American government. The results are plain to see: National tests of civics knowledge indicate that schools are failing to impart basic information to students – and future voters – about their country’s history and how its government works. To be sure, imparting content knowledge is just one part of an effective civic education. However, one could ask what is the likelihood of students developing the civic values, behaviors, and skills they need without the solid foundation of knowledge on which these values and habits securely rest?” — Gary Schmitt, Director of the American Enterprise Institute Program on American Citizenship, and Cheryl Miller, Program Manager.
  • “In my opinion, the Illinois standards for social studies are not enough. Only a few states require less. Illinois students will fall behind students in other states and that will create a disadvantage for them in college and later in life. Social Studies is important because it helps us understand how we arrived at the world we have now. To me, social studies is very interesting and it is like a story. Illinois should require students to be educated on civics so students can learn how they can play a part in their community and government. Students can be motivated to make changes and not be afraid to speak out on their issues.” — Christopher Tso, 12th grade, Whitney Young Magnet School, Chicago
  • “Making great citizens is the point of public education, and this fact sheet is a wake-up call: not enough states in the United States take the teaching of civics seriously. It’s time to change that.” – Eric Liu, founder of the Guiding Lights Network and co-author, ‘The Gardens of Democracy’
  • “While many states have comprehensive standards for civics education, the reality on the ground is that schools are not teaching our students to be active citizens. It will take states instituting authentic and rigorous assessments – focusing not just on civic knowledge, but also on civic skills and dispositions – in order for our schools to truly achieve their civic mission.” — Scott Warren, Executive Director, Generation Citizen
  • “I became a social studies teacher because what better venue than the social studies classroom to learn to think critically, examine the world and your place in it and to learn the skills and knowledge necessary to create a better world?  These are objectives everyone should want for young people.  The movement away from this type of learning in schools should concern everyone.” — Jill Bass, Director of Curriculum and Teacher Development, Mikva Challenge, Chicago

*Note: The default requirement in Indiana is four years of social studies, but students may opt out and get a “general diploma” that only requires two years.

Last updated: October 19, 2012

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20 Responses to “New CIRCLE Fact Sheet Describes State Laws, Standards, and Requirements for k-12 Civics”

  1. Civic Education Lacking in Many States | Learner First Says:

    […] it seems policy makers have forgotten about the importance of civic education for our students. Findings released from the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement in Massachusetts report that many states are under-investing in students’ social studies and […]

  2. AEI Citizenship – New CIRCLE research confirms: civic education lacking in most states Says:

    […] the solid foundation of knowledge on which these values and habits securely rest?” — Gary Schmitt and Cheryl Miller, director and program manager, respectively, of the AEI Program on American […]

  3. Ellie Richard Says:

    Can’t read the fact sheet. Whatever format was used is unreadable on my Mac. Please send me a link, a different format for the fact sheet as I very much would like to use this information in a graduate research project I am working on. Thanks! Ellie

  4. major CIRCLE study of state policies for civics « Peter Levine Says:

    […] CIRCLE study of state policies for civics Posted on October 11, 2012 by Peter Yesterday, we released a study of all the states’ standards, course requirements, and tests related to civic education. The […]

  5. AEI Citizenship – Education for a civil society Says:

    […] the Program’s Gary Schmitt and Cheryl Miller have pointed out, content knowledge of the formal structure of government is just one part of an effective civic […]

  6. Civic education is no longer a priority for school districts, colleges « Jayhawks Decide Says:

    […] states have shifted educational resources away from social studies in recent years, according to a study from the Center for Information & Research on Civic Learning and Engagement. Social studies, […]

  7. Michelle Herczog Says:

    Kudos to CIRCLE and the S.D. Bechtel, Jr. Foundation for committing time, energy, and funding to reveal the unfortunate truth about the lack of civic learning in our nation. But if you drill down into the data, I am afraid the findings are even more dismal. In California for example, the K-12 History-Social Science Standards heavily emphasize history but give little attention to developing civic competencies. The only American government/civics course required is a one-semester course in grade 12. Facing statewide high school dropout rates just under 30% and up to 50% in some schools, hundreds of students never have the opportunity to engage in civic learning. Our state assessment for social studies only occurs in grades 8, 10, and 11 and consists of multiple choice items that focus largely on assessing historical knowledge.

  8. Arts On Line Education Update 10.15.2012 | Ohio Alliance for Arts Education Says:

    […] More information is available. […]

  9. CIRCLE Says:

    Hi Ellie – Thanks for your comment. We have emailed you the fact sheet, and don’t hesitate to contact us with any other questions.

  10. AEI Citizenship – Redefining civic knowledge? Says:

    […] have been following with great interest the release of CIRCLE’s new report that examines the standards, course requirements, and mandatory assessments related to civic […]

  11. What’s Our “Market Failure?” | Generation Citizen Says:

    […] second failure is one of policy. A new fact sheet released by CIRCLE last week elucidates a problem that has nettled social studies teachers at least since the 2002 No […]

  12. AEI Citizenship – Testing civics Says:

    […] Week, Nora Fleming explores the results of CIRCLE’s recent report examining the civics-related standards, assessments, and course requirements of all 50 states. (We […]

  13. CIRCLE in the news « Peter Levine Says:

    […] in the news Posted on October 23, 2012 by Peter (Woods Hole, MA) With our new report on civic education published recently–and the election coming up–we have been in the news a lot lately. […]

  14. Tom Bulgrin Says:

    the link to the ‘spreadsheet’ takes me to a zipped folder that includes xml files but no excel spreadsheets. This is probably operator error, but I’d really appreciate any guidance on your end. Thanks.

  15. Knews Feed » Shawn Healy: Illinois Millennials Must Help Restore State's Civic Health Says:

    […] reasons for relatively low civic engagement among Illinois Millennials are many. It begins with weak civic education requirements in our schools. Illinois is not among the 40 states that mandate a civics or government course for […]

  16. Illinois Millennials Must Help Restore State’s Civic Health | Illinois News Feed Says:

    […] reasons for relatively low civic engagement among Illinois Millennials are many. It begins with weak civic education requirements in our schools. Illinois is not among the 40 states that mandate a civics or government course for […]

  17. AEI Citizenship – Civic learning, digital badges, and alternative assessment Says:

    […] and Civics: An Overview of Emerging Themes and Promising Directions.” Building on their previous research looking at the way states test (or don’t test) their students on social studies or civics, […]

  18. AEI Citizenship – Civics Loses Out Again Says:

    […] of pressure to show progress on statewide math and language arts tests. While civics is still a required subject in many states, its absence from the education-reform agenda has led many to forget that preparing […]

  19. the new framework for social studies « Peter Levine Says:

    […] states have social studies standards, but these documents tend to be incoherent, excessively long and detailed, and poorly aligned with […]

  20. priyanka singh Says:

    reasons for relatively low civic engagement among Illinois Millennials are many. It begins with weak civic education requirements in our schools.