Thomas Kelly in National Review: “To Reverse the K–12 Civics Crisis, We Must Reform Higher Ed”
JMC vice president of civics initiatives Thomas Kelly writes for National Review on higher ed, civics knowledge, and the impact on America’s K-12 students:
Civics education in America is in bad shape. Every four years, the Department of Education administers a National Assessment of Educational Progress exam that tracks students’ scores in civics and history. The 2022 scores released a few months ago are grim, demonstrating significant declines for eighth-graders from four years ago. In fact, after a small increase, civics scores have returned to 1998 levels, showing that — despite over two decades of civics reform — little progress has been made.
Those of us in the civics space frequently hear about the dire state of civic knowledge of students and average citizens, accompanied by a call to action. The solution that civics-education reformers typically provide is to focus on civics practices that foster engagement, including classroom instruction, service-learning, and discussion of current issues. Given the results, however, it seems worth considering what might be missing from current reform efforts, and whether anything can be done to save us from pushing the boulder up a hill, only for it to roll back down again.
We should be clear about one thing: The poor results cannot be attributed simply to a failure of states to take action on civics. An organized national movement to reform civic education has been afoot for at least 20 years, going back to the Civic Mission of Schools report in 2003. In the last ten years, 19 states have passed legislation establishing civics courses or strengthening K–12 civics requirements. Twenty-two states have passed laws requiring students to take a civics test, typically based on the test offered by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services…
Thomas Kelly is vice president of civics initiatives at the Jack Miller Center. He received his A.B. from the University of Chicago, where he studied international relations, and he earned his J.D. from the University of Notre Dame. He practiced as a commercial litigator in Chicago prior to his return to JMC, where he was previously programs officer. Thomas directs all JMC efforts on behalf of K-12 education, including the Founding Civics Initiative. His writing on civic education has appeared in Newsweek, The Hill, National Review, The Philadelphia Inquirer, and RealClear Public Affairs.
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