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Distrust of government, decline in voting linked to poor knowledge of civics

PRINCETON, N.J. -- Young people with weak knowledge about civics are more distrustful of government, less likely to vote, and less apt to volunteer, according to a new study by the Educational Testing Service.

“Fault Lines in Our Democracy: Civic Knowledge, Voting Behavior and Civic Engagement in the United States” provides an in-depth look at civic knowledge, voting and civic engagement.  It also examines civic awareness among Americans based on age, level of education and skills, and race and ethnicity.

The report indicates that many students in public schools lack acceptable levels of knowledge about civics, even as the nation confronts major challenges, including a struggling economy, a growing national debt, health care issues, an aging infrastructure, and global terrorism.

Among the top findings are:

• Only about one-quarter of students reached the “proficient” level, demonstrating solid academic 


• Only 27 percent of 4th graders could identify the purpose of the U.S. Constitution.

• Only 22 percent of 8th graders could recognize a role for the U.S. Supreme Court.

The authors recommend that a National Commission on Civic Engagement be created to address low civic involvement among young people, particularly those from low-income and less-educated households. Voter turnout rates would improve, the authors say, if high schools could boost graduation rates, expand opportunities for students to participate in civic activities, and encourage students of voting age to register to vote as a prerequisite for high school graduation.

The authors also call on colleges and universities to provide more opportunities for community service and leadership-development courses for students. The report  was written by Richard J. Coley of the ETS Center for Research on Human Capital and Education and Andrew Sum of Northeastern University’s Center for Labor Market Studies.

The solutions to the country’s current problems “will have to come from a well-educated, skilled and creative workforce,” Coley says. “For our democracy to function so that we meet these challenges, our nation must have better-educated citizens who understand how our democratic system works, believe in it, and participate by voting and volunteering.”

Information from PRNewswire was used in this report.

Posted: May 24, 2012 - 2:57pm

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