NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Poor Marks In Civics For Students Approaching Voting Age

November 19, 1999

Only 26 percent of high school seniors are considered well versed enough in civics to make reasonable, informed choices at the polls, based on their answers to questions in the civics section of the National Assessment of Educational Progress. One-third of them lack even a basic understanding of how American government operates.

Diane Ravitch, an education researcher who is on the board which administers the test, warns that the nation "cannot be content when so many young voters are so poorly prepared."

  • Only 30 percent of the 12th-graders who took the test agreed that the Supreme Court's power of judicial review helps protect minorities.
  • Just 45 percent said that the President and the State Department have the greatest authority in foreign policy.
  • Sixty percent identified a legitimate way to protest local government policies.
  • But 90 percent said that Social Security is an issue of primary concern to the elderly.

The test -- with questions appropriate to their grade levels -- was also administered to eighth- and fourth-graders.

  • While 81 percent of eighth-graders identified Martin Luther King Jr. as someone who was concerned by the injustice of segregation laws, only 6 percent could describe two ways that countries benefit from having a constitution.
  • Although 93 percent of fourth-graders identified Bill Clinton as president of the United States, only 15 percent could name two services that government pays for with taxes.

Source: Associated Press, "Test Shows Students Lack Basic Civics Knowledge," Washington Times, November 19, 1999.


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