Dec 14, 2019

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

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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The first-time Latino voters

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios. Photo: Bettmann/Getty Contributor

The 2020 election marks the first time in history that Latinos will be the largest minority ethnic or racial group in the electorate, with 32 million eligible voters.

Why it matters: A surge in Latino voters could help Democrats up and down the ballot. But since 1996, most eligible Latino voters have not voted in presidential elections, according to the Pew Research Center.

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Deep Dive: 2020's new voters will usher in an age of demographic transformation

Data: Census Bureau 2017 Population projections. Note: Data includes non-citizens, who would not be eligible to vote; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

First-time 2020 voters will usher in a wave of demographic transformation — a remaking of the American identity that's projected to crest in the 2040s.

What’s happening: Millions of Generation Z Americans— those born after 1996 —will be able to vote for the first time next year. The 2020 census, redistricting and elections will begin to reveal population changes that will empower new voices and reshuffle the swing-state map and both parties' bases.

Young people are outnumbered and outvoted by older generations

Data: Census Bureau; Chart: Andrew Witherspoon/Axios

Despite the hype around young Americans' civic activism and record voter turnout in 2018, the voting power of young people is shrinking.

The big picture: On top of young adults being less likely to show up at the polls, the number of people under 25 who are even eligible to vote has fallen, according to a Census data analysis by Brookings Institution's William Frey.

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