Low scores on national civics test of public schools

Is a focus on other subjects squeezing out civics education?
Is a focus on other subjects squeezing out civics education?
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Results are in for a national test of civics knowledge in public schools, and they’re not good. Now some Southland educators are calling for action.

The National Assessment of Educational Progress tested knowledge about the branches of government and the responsibilities of citizens among other topics. About three-quarters of the elementary, middle and high school students who took the test failed to demonstrate proficient knowledge about civics and government. That’s bad news for democracy’s future, says Michelle Herczog, with the L.A. County Office of Education.

“If young people don’t understand how that works and don’t have the skills to engage in that,” says Herczog, “then we’re limiting the audience as to who is really going to be involved in our nation’s policy-making, rules and responsibilities, and how we affect policy here and abroad, who gets elected to public office.”

Herczog says most young people who receive good civics instruction attend public schools in well-off neighborhoods that are predominantly white or Asian.

The focus on reading and math testing is partly to blame, she says, because it’s forced low-performing schools to focus on those subjects to the detriment of civics instruction. Herczog and other advocates want the state legislature to help prioritize civics instruction.