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
School & District Management Webinar
Leadership in Education: Building Collaborative Teams and Driving Innovation
Learn strategies to build strong teams, foster innovation, & drive student success.
Content provided by Follett Learning
School & District Management K-12 Essentials Forum Principals, Lead Stronger in the New School Year
Join this free virtual event for a deep dive on the skills and motivation you need to put your best foot forward in the new year.
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
Privacy & Security Webinar
Navigating Modern Data Protection & Privacy in Education
Explore the modern landscape of data loss prevention in education and learn actionable strategies to protect sensitive data.
Content provided by  Symantec & Carahsoft

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 Project 2025 and the GOP Platform: What Each Says About K-12 in a 2nd Trump Term
A side-by-side look at what the two policy documents say on key education topics.
1 min read
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Trump National Doral Miami, Tuesday, July 9, 2024, in Doral, Fla.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Trump National Doral Miami, Tuesday, July 9, 2024, in Doral, Fla.
Rebecca Blackwell/AP
Federal What the 2024 GOP Platform Says About K-12 and What It Would Mean If Trump Wins
We break down what the GOP's 2024 policy platform says about education.
7 min read
Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Trump National Doral Miami, Tuesday, July 9, 2024, in Doral, Fla.
Former President Donald Trump speaks at a campaign rally at Trump National Doral Miami, Tuesday, July 9, 2024, in Doral, Fla.
Rebecca Blackwell/AP
Federal Q&A Ed Research Isn't Always Relevant. This Official Is Trying to Change That
Matthew Soldner, the acting director of the Institute of Education Sciences, calls for new approaches to keep up with classroom tools.
5 min read
USmap ai states 535889663 02
Laura Baker/Education Week with iStock/Getty
Federal Project 2025: What It Is and What It Means for K-12 If Trump Wins
The comprehensive policy agenda proposes eliminating the U.S. Department of Education under a conservative president.
4 min read
Kevin Roberts, president of The Heritage Foundation, speaks before Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at the National Religious Broadcasters convention at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center on Feb. 22, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn.
Kevin Roberts, president of The Heritage Foundation, speaks before Republican presidential candidate former President Donald Trump at the National Religious Broadcasters convention at the Gaylord Opryland Resort and Convention Center on Feb. 22, 2024, in Nashville, Tenn. Democrats are using the Heritage Foundation's Project 2025 agenda to show what could happen in a Trump presidency while the former president distances himself from it.
George Walker IV/AP