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