Dec 14, 2019 - Politics & Policy

How the U.S. falls short on teaching students about civics

Students in graduation caps.

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios. Photo: William C. Shrout/Getty Contributor

While the majority of American high school students receive some education in civics, only 26 states met the standards for a “full curriculum" in civics according to research published Saturday by the Center for American Progress (CAP).

Why it matters: Many recent graduates will be eligible to vote for the first time in 2020 and an education in civics is linked to higher civic participation — including voting.

By the numbers: 26 states met all five of CAP's measurements for civic curriculums, and another 12 states met 4 out of 5.

  • 30 states require one semester of a civics course to graduate.
  • 8 others and Washington, D.C. require a full-year course.
  • Only Hawaii requires 1.5 semesters of civics to graduate.
  • Kentucky is the only state without any civics course requirement at all. The state does, however, require high school seniors to pass a civics exam, as do 19 other states.
  • 33 states address media literacy in their civics courses, which can teach students to gauge news sources for trustworthiness.

The big picture: Young voters are disproportionately impacted by voter suppression, voter registration requirements and rigid voting hours, according to the report.

  • In the 2016 election, only 50% of eligible voters ages 18-29 voted. In the 2018 midterms, 36% voted, which was up from 20% in 2014.
  • There is also a racial disparity in voting, which was seen in 2018, despite increases in voting across the board. About 40% of eligible Hispanic and Asian voters and 51% of eligible black voters turned out, compared to roughly 57% of white voters.

The bottom line: Decades of research shows that less than 25% of middle and high school students are proficient in civics — and that gap widens for students of color, low income students and students with disabilities, groups that are all likely to face additional barriers to civic engagement.

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