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Civic Ignorance Abounds, NCSL Report Concludes

More American 15- to 26-year-olds can name the make-believe city where the Simpson cartoon family lives than can identify the political affiliation of their states' governors or name the party that controls the U.S. Congress, according to a report that decries the poor state of civics knowledge.

Released last week by the Denver-based National Conference of State Legislatures, the report concludes that young Americans don't understand the ideals of citizenship, are disengaged from the political process, lack the knowledge necessary for effective self-government, and don't appreciate or support American democracy.

The report, which is based on a survey of 632 young people, calls on policymakers and teachers to devote more time and energy to civic education.

—Kevin Bushweller

Troubled Neighborhoods

The number of children living in "severely distressed neighborhoods" increased by nearly a million between 1990 and 2000, concludes an analysis of U.S. Census figures by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Population Reference Bureau.

Severely distressed neighborhoods were defined as having at least three of the following four characteristics: a poverty rate of 27.4 percent or higher, more than 37 percent of families headed by a female only, a 23 percent or higher high school dropout rate, and an adult-male unemployment rate of 34 percent or more.

The number of children living in such places has increased from about 3.4 million to 4.4 million, according to the report.

—Kevin Bushweller

School Facilities

A recent report that grades the condition of 12 key areas of American infrastructure gives school buildings a nearly failing mark: D-minus.

The report says that, because of aging facilities and overcrowding, 75 percent of the nation's school buildings are inadequate to meet the needs of children. That is so even though school construction spending has increased in recent years, says the report, which was produced by the Reston, Va.-based American Society of Civil Engineers.

—Kevin Bushweller

Teacher Retention

The biggest challenges facing many public school teachers are motivating students, maintaining classroom discipline, justifying discipline measures to parents, managing lesson plans for short class periods, and dealing with school politics, suggests a recent study based on in-depth interviews of 50 teachers who stuck with the profession and 50 who left.

The former teachers said the major reasons they left the field were lack of support from their administrations, low pay, feelings of being undervalued by society, lack of parental support, and the frustration of dealing with seemingly narrow-minded colleagues, according to the report, which was commissioned by the Washington-based American Association of Retired Persons.

The report offers 10 recommendations for improving teacher retention.

—Kevin Bushweller

History Grades

Just six states earned A's for their U.S. history standards, while 23 others received failing grades, in a study released last week by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation.

The state-by-state analysis rated states' academic guidelines in the subject based on their clarity, emphasis on the nation's European origins, inclusion of specific historical information, and emphasis on historical thinking. The six states that earned the top grade were Alabama, Arizona, California, Indiana, Massachusetts, and New York.

Most of the states' standards, the report by the Washington-based organization says, do not encourage the study of history in chronological fashion, are lacking in historical details, are weak in the early grades, and are dominated by what the authors see as politically correct ideology.

—Kathleen Kennedy Manzo

Vol. 23, Issue 5, Page 12

Published in Print: October 1, 2003, as Report Roundup
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