Education Letter to the Editor

Add Civic Understanding to the Common Standards

March 02, 2010 1 min read

To the Editor:

Two hurrahs to Kentucky for being the first state to adopt the common standards put forth by the Common Core State Standards Initiative, defining what it means to be a graduate from high school ready for college or a career (“Kentucky Is First State to Adopt Common Academic Standards,” Feb. 24, 2010).

More will be needed, however, if the state is to earn the third hurrah, because the Jeffersonian rationale for public education is missing in these standards. Wisely, the design created by the National Governors Association and the Council of Chief State School Officers leaves room (15 percent) for the state to add something.

The Pew Research Center recently surveyed American’s civic knowledge. Only one in four of the respondents knew that it takes 60 senators to break a filibuster. The average score on Pew’s test of 12 questions of comparable difficulty was 44 percent. Those with no college had fewer than four right answers out of 12. But higher education was no solution: College graduates “failed” with an average score of 60 percent.

The ignorance of 18- to 29-year-olds was appalling. Fewer than one in five knew that the Dow Jones Industrial Average is currently holding at around 10,000 points, or that no Republican senators voted for the health-care-reform bill. Only 14 percent of young adults got the filibuster question right, while just 16 percent knew that Democrat Harry Reid of Nevada is the Senate majority leader.

The leaders of education reform must ensure that high schools and colleges do better, and that their graduates are able to become the informed citizenry this country needs if our democracy is to function.

Arnold Packer

Baltimore, Md.

The writer was the executive director of the U.S. Department of Labor’s Secretary’s Commission on Achieving Necessary Skills, known as the SCANS commission.

A version of this article appeared in the March 03, 2010 edition of Education Week as Add Civic Understanding to the Common Standards