Discussion: (0 comments)
There are no comments available.
A public policy blog from AEI
View related content: Education
This month, lackluster reading and math scores from the 2017 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) were released. Often called “The Nation’s Report Card,” NAEP showed that fourth- and eighth-graders have made little to no gains in either subject since 2015. Indeed, the stalled NAEP scores, along with a widening gap between the highest- and lowest-performing students, are cause for concern, but schools have more to teach than the three Rs.
Our schools also play an important role in developing engaged and informed citizens. Especially in an increasingly toxic political climate, we continue to hope that our schools are preparing students and future voters to engage in more reasoned discourse. Unfortunately, along the civics dimension — just as in reading and math — progress is lacking. For instance, NAEP’s most recent social studies assessment, administered in 2014, reported that just 23% of US eighth graders scored at or above proficiency in civics, and showed precious little improvement since 1998. This dearth of knowledge continues into adulthood; a 2016 Annenberg Public Policy Center survey found that only 26% of adults can name the three branches of government, down from 38% in 2011.
But a new report shows some progress in civics education worthy of celebration. The Mathematica Policy Research report, released last Thursday, examines the impact Democracy Prep, a public charter school network, had on students’ civic participation during the 2016 election. Indeed, Democracy Prep’s coherent focus on civic engagement appears to pay handsome dividends in the form of a remarkable increase in voting rates. Amid Millennials’ disappointingly low voter-turnout rates nationwide, we can take heart in a school system that is displaying civic progress.
To assess Democracy Prep’s impact on voter registration and participation, Mathematica used the network’s admissions lottery data, which create a natural random experiment that allow researchers to compare students from families that won that lottery from those that did not. The sample for this study included students who entered lotteries to attend any Democracy Prep school in New York City from 2007–2008 through 2015–2016. The sample included 1,060 students, each of which was a first-time applicant in the family (35% were lottery winners) and at least 18 years old by the 2016 election.
Mathematica’s researchers found, using a conservative (Bayesian) estimate, that “Democracy Prep [charter schools] increase the voter registration rates of its students by about 16 percentage points and increase the voting rates of its students by about 12 percentage points.” The raw numbers were even stronger, a 24-point increase in both, which suggest Democracy Prep doubled its students’ likelihood to register and vote.
Now, as its name might suggest, Democracy Prep isn’t your average charter school when it comes to civics education. Avoiding a civics of abstract ideals, the network of schools explicitly defines the dimensions of citizenship that it seeks to cultivate. Its curriculum and assessment involve three areas of focus: civic knowledge, applied civic skills, and lifelong civic disposition.
While many schools offer opportunities for civic engagement, Democracy Prep goes further by requiring students to demonstrate civic competencies. For instance, each high school graduate senior is required to pass the civics portion of the United State Citizenship test. Students are also required to apply their civic skills through “Get Out the Vote” campaigns, oral testimonies, volunteer work, or other similar activities. The emphasis on civics permeates the culture; Democracy Prep even holds nationwide professional development sessions with the explicit purpose of discussing the civic mission of its school network.
Of course, it’s never wise to seize on one study’s result and suggest we have found a one best solution to scale up. But in the midst of disappointing school report cards and a dearth of constructive political engagement, it is an encouraging reminder that a coherent, focused emphasis on civics can do significant good, and help buck the decline of civility in public discourse. There is still a civics crisis nationwide, but Democracy Prep’s work is one example of how schools can do something about it.
There are no comments available.
1789 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036
© 2018 American Enterprise Institute