(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)
I have a new study coming out from the Goldwater Institute called Freedom from Responsibility: A Survey of Civic Knowledge Among Arizona High School Students. You dear reader get a special sneak-peak!
This study employs a straightforward methodology: we designed a telephone survey instrument to test civic knowledge based upon the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) exam items. The USCIS administers a test to all immigrants applying for citizenship and makes the questions public.
USCIS officials choose 10 questions out of the item bank of 100 questions and give them as a citizenship exam. In order to pass, the applicant for citizenship must answer six out of the 10 questions correctly. The questions are not multiple choice, instead requiring applicants to supply an answer. When they ask “Who wrote the Declaration of Independence” the applicant has to answer “Thomas Jefferson” in order to get the question correct.
Recently, the USCIS had 6,000 citizenship applicants pilot a newer version of this test. The agency reported a 92.4 percent passing rate for the test among citizenship applicants on the first try. I did not expect Arizona high school students to do that well of course, given that those seeking citizenship have had the opportunity to prepare for the test. On the other hand, Arizona high school students have some advantages of their own: multiple courses in American history and social studies, hopefully exposure to American history outside of school, etc.
I randomly selected 10 of the USCIS questions and included them in a survey, curious to see how many high school students would pass the test required of immigrants.
Here’s your free sample: One of the questions was “What do we call the first ten amendments to the Constitution?” How many high school students attending public schools answered correctly?
“I don’t know” beat “the Bill of Rights” by almost a two to one margin, and 75% of students got the question wrong.
Notice also that 12% of Arizona students thought that the first ten amendments to the Constitution were called “The Constitution.”
Phoenix, we have a problem…