I knew our country was in trouble when we started hiring history teachers on the basis of what sport they could coach, and not on the basis of the ability to inspire students. My kids' history teachers were a succession of authoritarian, right-wing coaches, much to my dismay. I thought it was just our school district, but the more I talked to other people, the more I heard the same complaint:
Fewer than half of American eighth graders knew the purpose of the Bill of Rights on the most recent national civics examination, and only one in 10 demonstrated acceptable knowledge of the checks and balances among the legislative, executive and judicial branches, according to test results released on Wednesday.
At the same time, three-quarters of high school seniors who took the test, the National Assessment of Educational Progress, were unable to demonstrate skills like identifying the effect of United States foreign policy on other nations or naming a power granted to Congress by the Constitution.
“Today’s NAEP results confirm that we have a crisis on our hands when it comes to civics education,” said Sandra Day O’Connor, the former Supreme Court justice, who last year founded icivics.org, a nonprofit group that teaches students civics through Web-based games and other tools.
The Department of Education administered the test, known as the nation’s report card, to 27,000 4th-, 8th- and 12th-grade students last year. Questions covered themes like how government is financed, what rights are protected by the Constitution and how laws are passed.