- The Washington Times - Friday, October 13, 2006

The Intercollegiate Studies Institute recently conducted a national survey to find what colleges and universities are teaching students about American history. The report, published Sept. 26, is titled “The Coming Crisis in Citizenship: Higher Education’s Failure to Teach America’s History and Institutions” — an unfortunate and alarmingly accurate name. ISI randomly selected more than 14,000 freshmen and seniors from 50 colleges to take a 60-question civic literacy survey which covered four subjects: 1) American history; 2) government; 3) American and the world; and 4) market economy. The results speak for themselves — a crisis, indeed.

The study shows that American colleges and universities do not increase students’ civic knowledge. The average score for seniors on the exam was 53.2 percent — an F by most grading scales, and only 1.5 percent higher than their freshmen counterparts. At several schools, seniors scored lower than the freshmen — what the ISI referred to as “negative learning.” In other words, “seniors apparently forgot what is known by their freshman peers or — more ominously — were mistaught by their professors.”

The study also shows that more prestige does not translate into better academics. ISI ranks schools based on the improvement of scores from freshman to senior. Students at elite schools performed significantly worse than those at non-elite schools; the highest-ranked Ivy League school in the study is Princeton, which comes in at number 18; Harvard ranks 25th. The schools with high rankings in the U.S. News and World Report ranked lowest in the ISI study, the worst scores coming from Cornell University, the University of California-Berkeley and Johns Hopkins University, with learning scores of -3.3, -5.6 and -7.3 respectively. This represents negative learning from freshman to senior year.

Another major finding was that schools “where students took or were required to take more courses related to America’s history and institutions outperformed those schools where fewer courses were completed.” At ISI’s highest-ranked school, Rhodes College, students took an average of 6.72 survey-related courses. At Johns Hopkins, the average was less than 4. Students at the schools which scored highest were more likely to vote, participate in community service and get involved in politics.

It is disheartening that more than half of the seniors did not know when the first American colony was established or that the Bill of Rights prohibits an official religion of the United States. College students need to take more American history, and the quality of these courses needs drastic improvement.

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