- - Tuesday, September 8, 2015

The National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP), known as the Nation’s Report Card, recently released the 2014 testing results of a representative sampling of 29,000 eighth graders across the country in the subjects of history, geography, and civics. The results were disappointing, yet not surprising.

According to the NAEP test, given every four years, our nation’s eighth graders have shown no significant improvement since 2010 in their knowledge of history, geography, and civics. In U.S. history, 18 percent of students scored at or above proficient, compared with 17 percent in 2010. In geography, 27 percent scored at or above proficient, compared with 24 percent in 2010. In civics, 23 percent scored at or above proficient, compared with 22 percent in 2010. We’ve flat-lined as a country.

Why haven’t we been able to move the needle? For the last decade, the focus in our schools has been on standardized testing in the core academic subjects and on STEM education (science, technology, engineering and math). Clearly, that’s critical learning. But our schools are failing to prepare young people for citizenship, the original purpose of public education.

Without a basic understanding of our government, the ideals on which our country is founded (as enshrined in the Declaration of Independence, Constitution, and Bill of Rights), and the sacrifices that were made to build America into the greatest nation on Earth, kids are missing out on a big part of what it means to be American. They must know their rights and freedoms as citizens, the one thing that we all have in common and that unite us as a nation despite the many differences in our society over age, race, income, politics, and religion.

This is our future, the next generation of leaders, the people whose votes will decide the direction of this country for decades to come. We have to “teach democracy” to ensure our kids understand how self-governance works, and leave school prepared to do their part as informed, engaged citizens.



In a democratic republic, civics isn’t optional.

That’s why I’m so passionate about closing the civics education gap and preparing America’s youth for civic engagement. Imagine a world where injustices are met with civic engagement instead of violence. The adage “The pen is mightier than the sword” has never been more important than it is today. The classroom is the place where tomorrow’s leaders must learn how our system of government was created, and more importantly, how it provides them with the tools and opportunities to express their viewpoints and work toward meaningful change.

In January, Arizona became the first state in the nation to pass legislation that requires high school students to pass the U.S. Citizenship Civics Test in order to graduate and receive a diploma, starting with the class of 2017. Students will first be able to take the test in 8th grade, and will have opportunities to pass the test all the way up until graduation from the 12th grade. This is ample time to learn the same basic knowledge about our country’s history and government that must be mastered by legal immigrants who pass the naturalization test to become U.S. citizens.

Since Arizona passed this requirement, it has been joined by eight other states. North Dakota, South Dakota, Utah, Idaho, Tennessee, Louisiana, South Carolina, and Wisconsin have all shown their commitment to a renewed focus on civics education as a staple of the curriculum. Many more states are or will soon be considering this legislation as educators, policymakers, and concerned citizens become increasingly aware of our national civics education deficit.

Through the Joe Foss Institute’s Civics Education Initiative, we hope to have this requirement adopted by all 50 states by September 17, 2017—making it the “a law of the land” by the 230th anniversary of the signing of the Constitution.

Let’s make the Civics Education Initiative goal of creating a basic standard and baseline measurement for the teaching and learning of civics in America’s 30,000-plus high schools a national priority. The future of our Republic depends on it.

• Frank Riggs, President and CEO of the Joe Foss Institute of Scottsdale, AZ, is a former three-term U.S. Congressman from Northern California.

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