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May 7 2015

Too Many U.S. Students Earning F's in Civics, US History

Patrice J. Lee

 

Do you know that nearly anything you say – regardless of how unpopular or inflammatory –is covered as free speech? Can you explain what it means to live in a free society? Then its time to teach our kids about these issues because our schools aren’t doing the job.

That’s the outcome of the Department of Education’s annual national report card. This year, we’re seeing just how badly students are performing in different disciplines – most alarmingly failing to grasp civics.

Of 29,000 students tested, only 18 percent of eighth graders reached a proficient or advanced level with in U.S. history with little improvement since 2010. Only 1 in 4 students were proficient on the civics exam.

Most students scored low, but there are also stark differences in achievement levels of different races. Six percent of black students and eight percent of Hispanic students compared with twenty-eight percent of white students were rated proficient in U.S. history. Similar results occurred in geography and civics.

CBS News reports:

The 2014 results revealed a stark racial disparity in student achievement levels. The chairman of the board that governs the NAEP assessment, Terry Mazlany, called the latest results "unacceptable" in a statement.

"Geography, U.S. history and civics are core academic subjects that must be a priority," he said. "They represent knowledge and skills that are fundamental to a healthy democracy. The lack of knowledge on the part of America's students is unacceptable, and the lack of growth must be addressed."

Some policymakers, wary that high student achievement in other countries could put the U.S. at a competitive disadvantage in the future, have recently stressed the importance of improving education standards. Many have paid particular attention to achievement in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics,) but that emphasis has some experts worried other subjects are getting short shrift.

The report card arrived as lawmakers are mulling a reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, a bill that could have broad implications for student testing and achievement. The Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions committee unanimously approved a bill earlier this month that would greatly scale back the federal government's ability to affect states' education policies

Former Washington representative George Nethercutt Jr. penned a response to the failing grade and highlights how many people in power and the media lack an understanding of our constitutional rights and the foundations of a free society:

Too many Americans don't understand the principles of a free society based on freedoms guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. In the aftermath of the tragic Baltimore riots in April, the Baltimore prosecutor failed to emphasize the innocent-until-proven-guilty guarantees of the Constitution for those charged with crime. In the recent Texas shooting by two men upset by the extremist speech of a group mocking Muslim cartoons, media outlets condemned the speech because of its admittedly offensive nature, failing to recognize that most speech in America is constitutionally protected, no matter how outrageous or politically incorrect.

When Americans are oblivious of basic constitutional principles, American society suffers. Such omissions are akin to a vehicle driver being unaware of the rules of the road, not understanding the safety importance of traffic lights, stop signs or rights-of-way at intersections. Such ignorance is bound to result in a crash and injury.

When news commentators condemn a person's right to speak out, especially if such speech is politically offensive, it shows a misunderstanding of the Constitution's First Amendment protections.

This report is alarming and when we consider that 15 to 25 percent of the civics, geography and U.S. history questions were devoted to such topics as the "roles of citizens," "U.S. relationship to other nations," "government embodiment of American democracy," "foundations of American political life" and defining "civic life, politics, government," it’s not surprising that young people are growing up without an appreciation for our nation. This means that for those who are trying to promote free enterprise and a free society, we have an even more uphill battle ahead of us.

Some point to the overemphasis on raising achievement in STEM fields (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) as driving the shift away from civics and history. The president of the National Council for Social Studies points to data that social studies have been marginalized over the past decade. While we applaud improvement in the STEM fields, we also believe that a workforce that is educated and well-rounded study history and civics and gain an appreciation for our country’s founding, system of government, and our nation’s exceptionalism.

We require that immigrants seeking to become Americans study and pass an exam to demonstrate a grasp of American history, civics, and society. The questions on those exams are at least as difficult as those ones our students are taking. Perhaps we need to start holding our own kids accountable as well.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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