Nanny State: Civic Literacy...Take the test

02 October 2009

Civic Literacy...Take the test

This year, ISI sought to learn more about the real-world consequences of this collegiate failure. ISI crafted a study to measure the independent impact of college on the acquisition and maintenance of civic literacy over a lifetime. First, a random sample of 2,508 American adults of all backgrounds was surveyed, allowing comparisons to be made between the college and non-college educated. They were asked 33 straightforward civics questions, many of which high school graduates and new citizens are expected to know. Respondents were also asked several questions concerning their participation in American civic life, their attitudes about perennial issues of American governance, and other behaviors that may or may not contribute to civic literacy. Finally, the results were run through multivariate regression analysis, allowing ISI to compare the civic impact of college with that of other societal factors.

Do Americans possess the knowledge necessary to participate wisely in the affairs of the nation?

Major Findings

Finding 1:
Americans Fail the Test of Civic Literacy

Finding 2:
Americans Agree:
Colleges Should Teach America’s Heritage

Finding 3:
College Adds Little to Civic Knowledge

Finding 4:
Television—Including TV News—Dumbs America Down

Finding 5:
What College Graduates Don’t Know About America

Additional Finding
Elected Officials Score Lower than the General Public

A Call to Reform

ISI calls on administrators, trustees, donors, faculty, parents, and elected officials to reevaluate curricula and standards of accountability so that colleges can better prepare their graduates for the responsibilities of informed citizenship.

* Do colleges require courses in American history, politics, economics, and other core areas?
* Do colleges assess the civic or overall learning of their graduates?
* Do elected officials link college appropriations to real measures of civic or overall learning?
* Do parents make college selection choices based upon a school’s actual academic performance?

After all the time, effort, and money spent on college, students emerge no better off in understanding the fundamental features of American self-government.


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