The NCSL Blog


By Megan McClure and Patrick Potyondy

Millions of American students and adults continue to be unfamiliar with how their government works, leading experts to sound the alarm about a civics education crisis and call for its revitalization.

Children at capitolState legislators, educators and civic-minded organizations are working to reverse this trend with the hope of reinvigorating American civics.

Just how little does the general public know? For example, a survey of 1,416 adults by the Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) indicated that only one-third of those surveyed could name the three branches of government. And one-fifth of respondents think that a 5-4 Supreme Court ruling is sent back to Congress for consideration.

Schools are faring little better. Less than 30 percent of fourth-, eighth- and 12th-grade students were proficient in civics, and a significant gap persists among racial and ethnic groups, according to the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress civics report. However, it's unclear how much worse this state of affairs is compared to earlier eras.

If you’re interested in learning more about this crucial national issue, be sure to catch NCSL’s upcoming webinar at noon (ET) Wednesday—"Revitalizing Civics Education in American Schools”—that will explore the state of civics knowledge and education in the United State and highlight some of the work state legislators are undertaking to address the civics education and engagement in their states.

Our first speaker, Elizabeth C. Matto, associate research professor and director of the Center for Youth Political Participation at the Rutgers University Eagleton Institute of Politics, will cover the state of civics education.

“Over the past 10 to 15 years, there’s been a growing body of scholarship about how colleges can, in a nonpartisan, evidence-based way, include lessons in civic engagement,” she said recently in The New York Times. Matto is the co-editor of “Teaching Civic Engagement Across the Disciplines and the author of Citizen Now: Engaging in Politics and Democracy.”

You will also hear from NCSL expert Ben Williams on what the states have been up to on increasing civics education requirements. And next, Bryan Barash, deputy chief of staff for policy and general counsel of Massachusetts State Senator Harriet Chandler’s (D) office will present details about Senate Bill 2375, which recently became law.

Finally, you’ll have the chance to ask our speakers questions. Be sure to register for free here.

For more, see NCSL’s LegisBrief “Tackling the Civics Education Crisis.”

Megan McClure is a senior staff assistant in NCSL's Legislative Staff Services program. Patrick Potyondy is a legislative policy specialist and Mellon-ACLS public fellow in NCSL’s Elections and Redistricting Program.

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About the NCSL Blog

This blog offers updates on the National Conference of State Legislatures' research and training, the latest on federalism and the state legislative institution, and posts about state legislators and legislative staff. The blog is edited by NCSL staff and written primarily by NCSL's experts on public policy and the state legislative institution.