Thursday, September 15, 2016

State standards lag in preparing students to be informed voters

The U.S. democratic system relies on informed civic actors, but a new study out today raises questions about whether state K-12 education standards are adequately preparing future voters. Today, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement (CIRCLE)  released an analysis of whether state education standards prepare future voters to understand the basics of contemporary American politics, in particular, the role that parties and ideology play in our democracy.

While U.S. public school systems are not the only institutions that prepare citizens for elections, schools have a broad reach and significant potential influence. Analyzing data from state education standards, the new study and interactive map offer findings in response to important questions about informed voting in the U.S. just months before a presidential election.

 Key findings include:

  • Forty-three states require students to learn about political parties; however, the language in the standards nearly always promotes a simplistic understanding of the role that political parties play in a democracy.
  • Only eight states ask students to study the ideological underpinnings of the two major political parties.
  • Only 10 states ask students to study controversial political issues and their relationship to political parties.
There is very limited support for learning about political ideology. When states do include language about ideology, it is most commonly mentioned in history/social studies standards and very rarely linked to contemporary political parties.

“This generation has grown up in a vitriolic and polarized political climate. In order to sort through the noise, young people need to have a deep understanding of the ideological values that divide us and how those values do, and do not, map onto political parties,” reports Paula McAvoy, lead author of the study and program director for the Center for Ethics and Education at UW-Madison, who completed this study with Rebecca Fine and Ann Herrera Ward.  “Our team’s findings show that state standards stop short of asking students to make meaningful connections between partisanship, ideology, and the issues of the day.  If schools are to fulfill their mission of preparing young people for political participation, teachers need to be encouraged to bring these ideas into the classroom.”

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