- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 23, 2007

ANALYSIS/OPINION:

On Tuesday, the nonprofit Intercollegiate Studies Institute released its second annual study and found that colleges and universities are not teaching American history. The survey drew the same results last year.

The survey, a 60-multiple-choice question test given to 14,000 seniors and freshmen at 50 schools, covered four topics: American history, American political thought, America and the world, and the market economy. The subsequent report, “Failing Our Students, Failing America: Holding Colleges Accountable for Teaching America’s History and Institutions,” shows that the average college senior scored 54.2 percent — a failing grade — on the civic literacy exam, up only 1 percent from last year. Harvard had the highest senior scores, but a D+ average of 69.56 percent is nothing to be proud of.

Perhaps more worrisome is the data that shows how little students are learning while in college. For example, at top-scoring Eastern Connecticut State University, scores went up from 31.34 percent to 40.99 percent between freshman and senior years, giving the school a “value added” score of 9.65 percent. Likewise, at last-place Cornell University — which is dubbed “a giant amnesia machine” — student scores actually went down from 61.9 percent to 56.95 percent.

Both the 2005 and 2006 surveys showed a correlation between a school’s rank in U.S. News & World Report’s “America’s Best Colleges” and its “value added” score. But the correlation isn’t what you might expect. Indeed, schools that were ranked highest by U.S. News scored lowest on the civics report. Students at elite schools may score higher overall than other students, but they learn far less during four years of college than students at less competitive schools. Furthermore, the “more expensive a college, the less students learn about America,” the report found. For example, private schools such as Duke, Yale and Princeton, which all cost more than $30,000 per year in tuition, showed a negative civic value added, while Murray State, Illinois State and Mississippi State, which cost less than $15,000 per year, all scored more than 7 percent in added civic value.

Additional findings show that family life has a very clear influence on test scores. Seniors who grew up with married parents who spoke English in the home did significantly better on the civics test than did other students. Also, “Seniors whose families frequently discussed current events and history learned more — and had higher overall scores — than seniors whose families rarely discussed current events and history.”

Schools with higher added-value scores consistently require students to take more history and civics courses than others. The students in these educational institutions, whatever the school’s ranking, are tomorrow’s leaders of America. But how can they lead the nation without the full breadth of knowledge of America’s history?

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