Washington, DC- The Hatch Center-the policy arm of the Orrin G. Hatch Foundation has released Commonsense Solutions to Our Civics Crisis, a nonpartisan report that establishes strong links between poor civic education and a number of ills plaguing our democracy, including depressed voter turnout, low trust in institutions, and decreasing faith in the free market. To reverse these trends, the report calls on policymakers across all levels of government to devote increased state and federal resources to address the civics crisis. In doing so, it outlines a policy blueprint to recenter civics at the heart of America’s public-school system.
Following the report’s release, Hatch Foundation Chairman Emeritus Orrin G. Hatch and Executive Director Matt Sandgren released the following statements:
“2020, if nothing else, has been a stress test for our democracy,” said Hatch. “The events of one of the most tumultuous years in American history have pushed our fragile experiment in representative government right up to the breaking point-but importantly, it has not broken. The question is: How can we fortify our weakened democracy to ensure it doesn’t break in the future? We can start by restoring civic education to its proper place in our schools. This is essential to revitalizing civil society and preserving the American experiment for future generations.”
“Our civics crisis can be traced back to a steep drop-off in funding that has left the younger generation ill-prepared to take over the reins of our democracy,” said Sandgren. “In 2010, annual federal funding for civic education stood at $150 million; today, it stands at a mere $5 million. That’s why we call for a 100-fold increase in federal funding for civics. We also call for an increased emphasis on civics testing and instruction, especially in the elementary and middle school years. Revitalizing American civic education requires bipartisan action from Congress, and this report offers a roadmap to reform.”
The civics report is the first installment of the Hatch Center Policy Review, a yearly policy journal that outlines commonsense solutions to the most pressing problems facing American government and society. It was written by Hatch Foundation Visiting Scholar David Davenport, a research fellow at the Hoover Institution and the former President of Pepperdine University. David has authored three books on politics and public policy and is a well-recognized expert on civic education issues. After the report’s publication, David offered the following statement.
“We’ve reached a fork in the road on civic education,” said Davenport. “If we continue down the current path, the problems associated with civic illiteracy-including low trust in government, civil unrest, and increasing polarization-will only get worse. That’s why we must reclaim the priority of civics in our schools and make it a central part of our young people’s education. If we fail to act, we will continue to see erosion in our political and institutional life. Can we trust the future of the republic to people who do not even know what a republic is?”
Below are key findings from the report. For an executive summary, click HERE. To read the report in its entirety, click HERE.
Our Civics Crisis at a Glance:
* The Nation’s Report Card test shows that only 24 percent of students are “proficient” in American history, and a mere 15 percent are proficient in civics. Meanwhile, only one in three Americans could pass the citizenship test, which immigrants pass at better than a 90 percent rate.
* The Hatch Center report connects poor civic education to low civic engagement and declining trust in public institutions, with only 17 percent of Americans trusting the government to “do what is right” most of the time.
What’s Causing the Crisis:
* Our civics crisis can be traced back to a precipitous decline in funding for civic education over the years that has left the next generation ill-equipped for the responsibilities of democratic citizenship.
* Consider that, in the last decade alone, annual funding for civic education has dropped from $150 million in 2010 to a paltry $5 million today.
* All the while, annual federal funding for STEM has reached new heights. Today, the US government spends approximately $54 per student to further STEM learning and a paltry $0.05 per student for civics.
How to Fix It:
* To reprioritize civics in our schools, the Hatch Center calls for a 100-fold increase in federal funding for civic education. This includes a commitment of more than $500 million annually to improve teacher development in civic education, coupled with grants of $1 million a year or more from the National Endowment for the Humanities.
* Increased testing is necessary to improve teaching of civics in the classroom. That’s why the Hatch Center proposes mandating testing in US history and government for grades 4, 8, and 12, and reporting these results both nationally and by state. And the Center wholeheartedly endorses the creation of a civics exam as a requirement for graduating high school.
* The Hatch Center calls for a significant increase in civics instruction across all grade levels, but especially in high school, where the subject often takes a backseat to STEM. The gold standard is a strong presence of civics in the elementary and middle school curriculum culminating in a year-long course in civics in high school.
* The Hatch Center likewise proposes a reshaping of civics curriculum to emphasize civic knowledge before civic action and to encourage the teaching of history through primary documents.
To learn more about the Hatch Foundation’s work on civics, watch our webinar with David Davenport and other education and community leaders this Thursday, October 29, from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. MDT.