Federal

Youths’ Civic Engagement Seen to Rise

By Debra Viadero — April 21, 2009 3 min read
  • Save to favorites
  • Print

The good news, according to researchers presenting findings here last week, is that after waning for years, civic participation among young people appears to be on the rise.

The bad news is that students who are members of racial or ethnic minorities, who live in poor neighborhoods, or who are tracked into low-achieving classes get fewer opportunities to exercise their civic muscles than their better-off peers.

The mixed findings comes from research presented April 15 during the annual meeting of the American Educational Research Association, a Washington-based group with 25,000 members.

The scholars said studies have documented a steady rise this decade in the percentages of young people who vote in primaries and general elections.

The percentage of 18- to 29-year-olds who voted in national elections, for example, rose from 37 percent in 1996 to 52 percent in 2008, according to Joseph E. Kahne, an education professor at Mills College, in Oakland, Calif. And, in some states, such as Georgia and Iowa, the youth vote in presidential primaries tripled over the same period.

Statistics also show that a majority of young people report having spent some time volunteering while in high school—and doing so at much higher rates than their parents ever did.

“And the number-one predictor of volunteering for students is whether anybody ever asks them,” Mr. Kahne added.

Still, many disadvantaged and low-achieving students never get “asked” to take part in volunteer or civic-learning opportunities in their schools, according to Mr. Kahne’s research, as well as some other studies.

Life Imitates School

That’s important to know, he said, because students are more likely to be active in civic and political life after they leave school if they take part during their school years in civic education activities. Those experiences include service-learning opportunities, debates, classroom simulations of civic processes such as mock trials and elections, volunteer activities, and classroom discussions of current events.

“Classroom-based activities have a statistically significant impact on students’ civic and political involvement and their intent to vote,” Mr. Kahne said. “What you do in school is strongly related to what you do in life.”

Mr. Kahne and his research partner, Ellen E. Middaugh of the University of California, Berkeley, base their findings on an ongoing study of more than 2,500 former high school students from 19 California school districts.

The researchers periodically surveyed the students between 2005, when the young people were juniors and seniors, and late 2008, following the November presidential election.

While the results are preliminary, they point to an “opportunity gap” that translates later on to gaps in young people’s rates of involvement in civic and political life.

For example, 80 percent of the students in Advanced Placement government classes said they had taken part in simulations of civic processes—an activity that has been linked to later civic participation—compared with only 51 percent of the students in lower-track government classes.

Peter Levine, a research scholar at the University of Maryland College Park’s Institute for Philosophy and Public Policy, said his review of the research points to some of the same trends in unequal rates of political participation among young people and adults.

Young people and adults with some college education, for example, are far more likely to be politically active than those with no college education.

Mr. Levine said one reason that higher percentages of young people voted or volunteered in the most recent national election was that they were directly contacted by President Barack Obama’s campaign.

Many of those contacts came through the campaign’s use of Web sites and social media to solicit young people’s support, other scholars at the meeting noted.

“The lesson is that asking young people ... to contribute in a positive way can be an effective way to get them involved,” Mr. Levine said.

A version of this article appeared in the April 22, 2009 edition of Education Week as Youths’ Civic Engagement Seen to Rise

Events

This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Classroom Technology Webinar
Seamless Integrations for Engagement in the Classroom
Learn how to seamlessly integrate new technologies into your classroom to support student engagement. 
Content provided by GoGuardian
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Recruitment & Retention Webinar
Be the Change: Strategies to Make Year-Round Hiring Happen
Learn how to leverage actionable insights to diversify your recruiting efforts and successfully deploy a year-round recruiting plan.
Content provided by Frontline
This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Sponsor
Equity & Diversity Webinar
Critical Ways Leaders Can Build a Culture of Belonging and Achievement
Explore innovative practices for using technology to build an environment of belonging and achievement for all staff and students.
Content provided by DreamBox Learning

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Teacher Jobs
Search over ten thousand teaching jobs nationwide — elementary, middle, high school and more.
View Jobs
Principal Jobs
Find hundreds of jobs for principals, assistant principals, and other school leadership roles.
View Jobs
Administrator Jobs
Over a thousand district-level jobs: superintendents, directors, more.
View Jobs
Support Staff Jobs
Search thousands of jobs, from paraprofessionals to counselors and more.
View Jobs

Read Next

Federal Conservatives Hammer on Hot-Button K-12 Education Issues at Federalist Society Event
The influential legal group discussed critical race theory, gender identity, and Title IX.
6 min read
Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos speaks at the Phoenix International Academy in Phoenix on Oct. 15, 2020.
Former U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos was among a phalanx of conservatives addressing K-12 issues at a conference of the Federalist Society.
Matt York/AP
Federal Cardona Back-to-School Tour to Focus on Teacher Pipeline, Academic Recovery
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona will spend a week traveling to six states to highlight a range of K-12 priorities.
2 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona answers questions during an interview in his office in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, August 23, 2022.
U.S. Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona continues a tradition of on-site visits by the nation's top education official as the school year opens.
Alyssa Schukar for Education Week
Federal Biden's Student Loan Forgiveness: How Much Will It Help Teachers?
Advocates say Black educators—who tend to carry heavier debt loads—won't benefit as much.
5 min read
Illustration of student loans.
alexsl/iStock/Getty
Federal Q&A U.S. Education Secretary Cardona: How to Fix Teacher Shortages, Create Safe Schools
In an exclusive interview with Education Week, the secretary looks ahead to the challenges of this school year.
10 min read
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona answers questions during an interview in his office in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday, August 23, 2022.
Secretary of Education Miguel Cardona answers questions during an interview in his office in Washington on Aug. 23.
Alyssa Schukar for Education Week