(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
In the end more than they wanted freedom, they wanted security. When the Athenians finally wanted not to give to society but for society to give to them, when the freedom they wished was freedom from responsibility, then Athens ceased to be free.
Today, more details about the results. The Goldwater Institute randomly drew 10 questions from the United States citzenship exam item bank. We hired a survey firm to interview a sample of both Arizona public and private school high school students.
The questions for neither the citizenship test nor our survey were multiple choice. When you are asked “Who was the first President?” you must answer “Washington” in order to receive credit. Applicants for citizenship must get six out of the ten questions correct to pass. A recent trial of a slightly reformatted exam found that 92.4% of citizenship applicants passed the test on the first try.
From this nation’s earliest days, leaders such as Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, and John Adams recognized that even the well-designed institutions are not sufficient to maintain a free society. Ultimately, a vibrant democracy must rely on the knowledge, skill, and virtues of its citizens and their elected officials. Education that imparts that knowledge and skill and fosters those virtues is essential to the preservation andimprovement of American constitutional democracy and civic life.
Paul D. Houston, the executive director of the American Association of School Administrators, also put the issue in focus:
If you look back in history, you will find the core mission of public education in America was to create places of civic virtue for our children and for our society. As education undergoes the rigors of re-examination and the need for reinvention, it is crucial to remember that the key role of public schools is to preserve democracy and, that as battered as we might be, our mission is central to the future of this country.
Here are the 10 questions randomly selected, and their answers:
1.What is the supreme law of the land?Answer: The Constitution
2. What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution?
Answer: the Bill of Rights
3. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?
Answer: Senate and House
4. How many Justices are on the Supreme Court?
5. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
6. What ocean is on the East Coast of the United States?
7. What are the two major political parties in the United States?
Answer: Democratic and Republican
8. We elect a U.S. Senator for how many years?Answer: Six
9 . Who was the first President of the United States?Answer: Washington
10. Who is in charge of the Executive Branch?Answer: The President
Twenty three percent of Arizona public high schoolers identified the House and Senate as the chambers of Congress. Nine point four percent that the Supreme Court has nine justices. Only 25% of students correctly identified Thomas Jefferson as the author of the Declaration of Independence. An almost majority of 49.6 percent identified the two major political parties, only 14.5% answered that Senators are elected for six year terms. Finally, only 26.5% of students correctly identified George Washington was the first President. Other guesses included John F. Kennedy, Ronald Reagan, George Bush and Barack Obama.
Only 26% could identify the President as being in charge of the Executive Branch. All in all, only 3.5% of public school students passed the test by getting six or more items correct. That’s 40 students out of a sample of 1,134 district students.
There were no major differences in performance based on grade (Seniors did approximately as poorly as Freshmen) nor by ethnicity. Profound ignorance is quite equally distributed in large measure across students in the public school system.
Two obvious questions to ask: is it fair to give this test? In order to answer, I examined the Arizona state standards for 8th grade social studies, which all or nearly all of these students will have taken. These standards are included as an Appendix in the study. What they show is that students are supposed to have learned about John Locke, the Mayflower Compact, the Articles of Confederation, the Constitution, Checks and Balances, Seperation of Powers, etc. etc. etc.
Everything they ought to have needed, in other words, to have passed this test. If, that is, they had actually learned any of that material in practice, which they obviously did not.
Second, I gave the test to my own 1st and 2nd grade sons. They both got 3 answers correct. We’ll be working on that. In so doing, they outscored about 40% of the Arizona high school sample, and tied or exceeded about 60 percent.
Charter school kids performed far better but still terribly- with a passing rate about twice as high as the public school kids. Private school students passed at a rate four times higher, which ultimately is both much better and still pathetic.
I had a very difficult time writing a conclusion to this study. More on that for the next post, but you tell me: if you were an Arizona lawmaker what would you do about this?