Mourning Constitutional- OK kids score even worse than AZ

(Guest Post by Matthew Ladner)

Regular JPGB readers will recall that the Goldwater Institute gave a version of the United States Citizenship Test to Arizona high school students, only to learn that they were profoundly ignorant regarding American government, history and geography. Only 3.5% of Arizona public school students got six or more questions correct, the passing threshold for immigrants.

The Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs wanted to know how Oklahoma high school students would fare on the exam- so we surveyed them and gave them precisely the same set of questions we asked Arizona students.

Perhaps I ought not to have been so hard on Arizona students. After all, they passed at a rate that was 25% higher than their peers in Oklahoma!

That’s right: the passing rate for Oklahoma high school students was 2.8%. They somehow underperformed Arizona’s already abysmally pathetic performance.

My favorite part of writing this paper was poking around in the Oklahoma state standards for civics. Here’s a quote:

Oklahoma schools teach social studies in Kindergarten through Grade 12. … However it is presented, social studies as a field of study incorporates many disciplines in an integrated fashion, and is designed to promote civic competence. Civic competence is the knowledge, skills, and attitudes required of students to be able to assume ‘the office of citizen,’ as Thomas Jefferson called it.

A social studies education encourages and enables each student to acquire a core of basic knowledge, an arsenal of useful skills, and a way of thinking drawn from many academic disciplines. Thus equipped, students are prepared to become informed, contributing, and participating citizens in this democratic republic, the United States of America.

That all sounds swell, except for the part where despite being taught social studies from K-12, Oklahoma high school students come out knowing about as much about American history and government as they know about Quantum Physics or ancient Sanskrit.

These kids wouldn’t do much worse if the pollster asked them questions in Sanskrit instead of English. The pollster would say “I am going to ask you some questions about American civics in Sanskrit. Answer as best you can.  Question 1: संस्कृता वाक् संस्कृता वाक् संस्कृता वाक् संस्कृता वाक् ?”

There is some small chance they would answer “George Washington” after all.

I have an empty metal coffee pot in my office marked “Sweden Civics Survey Fund.” Please drop by a give what you can afford. Once it gets to a couple of thousand bucks, I’ll retain the pollster to give this exact same survey on AMERICAN civics to high school students in Sweden.

They couldn’t do much worse than the kids in Arizona and Oklahoma. Sadly, I suspect they would do much better.

(Edited for Clarity)

14 Responses to Mourning Constitutional- OK kids score even worse than AZ

  1. Larry Sheldon says:

    In an article like this, you really should edit for and correct the most egregious errors.

    For example, what does “so we gave surveyed them and gave them precisely the same set of questions.” mean?

  2. Patrick says:

    I assumed it meant the same questions as the state standards say the students are required to learn.

  3. Greg Forster says:

    Hey, Matt, what’s with the 18th century technology for collecting your Swedish survey fund? Set up a PayPal button and I’ll donate.

  4. matthewladner says:


    I hope that makes it clearer.


    Sadly I’m a crumudgeon! Your modern ways confuse and frighten me, but I know this: civic education in AZ and Ok is really pathetic.

  5. Minnesota Kid says:

    I think that Larry was simply pointing out one of two typos/grammatical errors in the post. You either “gave” it to them or “surveyed” them, but it makes no sense to say that you “gave surveyed” them. Also, “they passed at a rate that was 25% than their peers in Oklahoma.” Huh?

    Better fix those before your next blog about the poor writing skills of today’s children. I’m just saying…

  6. Larry Sheldon says:

    Thanks. M writing skills seemed to be deficient.

    That is exactly what I wanted to convey.

  7. Matthewladner says:

    Tough crowd!

    Ok fine- I’ll stop trying to write and drink Shiner Bock at the same time.

  8. Jeffery Dean says:

    And the shameful ignorance continues in higher education and adulthood:

    I’m not sure how much civics knowledge per se contributes to citizenship: neighborliness, basic morality, gainful employment, and paying one’s taxes do not require a knowledge of the signers of the Declaration. But civics knowledge probably is a proxy for pride in one’s country, which, taken rightly, should have all sorts of positive spillover effects, and which today we are the worse for lacking.

  9. Minnesota Kid says:

    Yes, Matt, you should be carefull not to grammar-goggle in the future.

  10. […] or more questions correct on a version of the United States Citizenship Test.  Matthew Ladner of Jay Greene’s blog thought that was pretty pathetic–new immigrants to the U.S. have to answer six or more […]

  11. […] but things get grimmer still. When high school students in Oklahoma took the exact same test, only 2.8 percent got 6 or more questions […]

  12. Jason says:

    The “don’t know” responses are indicative of what is really going on. These kids don’t care about your test. Offer then $5 for a passing grade, and I guarantee the passage rates will rise. Civic education is deplorable, but your “survey” overstates the problem.

    My source: I was a teenager not so long ago. Could have answered 100%. Would have blown this survey off. Actually, if you didn’t offer an incentive to pass, I would blow it off now too!

  13. […] the blog post “Mourning Constitutional- OK kids score even worse than AZ” (Jay P. Greene’s Blog, Thursday, September 17th, 2009 at 10:52 am), Mr. Greene […]

  14. Claus says:

    Respected statistician Nate Silver is quite convinced that this poll is either deeply flawed or downright fraudulent: I have always thought the results of this survey–and the Arizona survey–stretched credulity.

    Have the raw data been made public?

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