Education and Policy Leaders Urge Better Civics Education

By Billups, Andrea | The Washington Times (Washington, DC), May 10, 2000 | Go to article overview

Education and Policy Leaders Urge Better Civics Education


Billups, Andrea, The Washington Times (Washington, DC)


Education officials and public policy leaders - outraged over a growing civics illiteracy among America's youth - have formed a collaborative group to improve the quality of civics education and student engagement at the nation's public schools and universities.

More than 80 organizations, including the American Federation of Teachers and the American Political Science Association, along with several college professors and prominent foundation heads, endorsed a declaration yesterday founding the National Alliance for Civic Education (NACE). The group hopes to use research to drive civics reform at the state and local levels.

"Numerous recent surveys point to a common conclusion: Americans believe that we are economically prosperous but civicly impoverished," said Bill Galston, director of the University of Maryland's Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, in announcing the NACE partnership at a news conference.

"If our young people are disengaged from public life, it is not they who are failing our country, it is we who are failing them by not providing suitable opportunities for civic learning and practice and by not sending clear messages about its importance," said Mr. Galston, who is also a professor at the University of Maryland School of Public Affairs.

"We believe that it is time to end a generation of neglect and to give civic education its rightful place of honor in our national life," he said.

While student volunteerism is high, most have little understanding of the basic fundamentals of democracy, research shows.

The latest round of scores from the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) found that many of the nation's fourth-, eighth- and 12th-grade students failed to post even "proficient" scores on a test of civic knowledge and skills. About a fourth, the 1999 NAEP report said, failed to demonstrate a "basic" understanding of political institutions and practices.

That, said Charles S. White, president of the Social Science Education Consortium, should serve as "a canary in a coal mine" for the nation.

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