New national educational tests results arrived this month — this time for civics — and again the news is bleak. We all know the storyline. The pandemic hit hard. Students lost ground. And civic learning in America has been eroding for some time.
Yes, but, sorry to say, it’s worse than that.
This story isn’t just about students’ loss of knowledge. It’s also about their loss of connection to this country. Even bleaker than the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) results are the findings of a January survey by Morning Consult that revealed generation-by-generation declines in a sense of pride in America. About three-quarters of baby boomers say they’re proud to live in the United States, but only 54 percent of Gen Xers, 36 percent of millennials and 16 percent of Gen Z members do.
For the past three decades, NAEP results have shown a need to turn things around for civic education. The results come out, and cries go up for more investment in civic learning. But nothing has changed. And now the slope of learning is headed down.
But our problem isn’t just underinvestment. It’s that, for three decades, adults have been fighting bitterly about what to teach by way of civic education, and the result is that the kids don’t get taught much at all.
I believe we can. Because while many people have been taking sides — 1619 vs. 1776, anyone? — others have been getting on with rebuilding a solid foundation for civic learning. It has taken hard work and meaningful compromise, but we now have available to us a consensus statement with national support about what should be in a civic education — and how we should teach.
I’m referring to the Educating for American Democracy Roadmap, which I worked on as a principal author and investigator. Funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the U.S. Education Department, the road map is designed to achieve excellence in history and civics learning for all K-12 learners, and it bears the distinction of having been funded by both the Trump and Biden administrations. Six former education secretaries, three from each party, spoke up on its behalf when it was released in 2021. Implementation is underway in nine states, including both conservative Oklahoma and liberal Massachusetts, and we are currently advertising a grant program for pilot implementations in kindergarten through grade 5. This month’s data ought to inject urgency into that work.