Social Studies

New 50-State Analysis: Most States Don’t Include Civics in Accountability

By Jaclyn Zubrzycki — December 13, 2016 2 min read
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Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia have some sort of law related to civics education, and every state requires students to take courses in social studies or civics in order to graduate high school.

But fewer states—37 — require students to take or demonstrate proficiency on assessments in these subjects, and just 17 states include social studies or civics test results in their accountability systems.

That’s according to a new review of the state of civics education from the Education Commission of the States’ National Center for Learning and Civic Engagement. It comes as states are reconsidering their accountability systems as part of the Every Student Succeeds Act.

“Exploring and understanding how states across the country approach civic learning and citizenship education through policy and curriculum opens the door for opportunities for improving policies and increasing student engagement in civic issues,” said Jan Brennan, the center’s leader, in a press release.

The review finds that states address civics education differently in law and in state policy: Some simply require that students take social studies courses, while others specify that students take civics in particular. (Illinois, for one, newly requires students to take civics classes.) Some states, including Iowa and Indiana, specify that even nonpublic schools must teach American history and government.

Alaska, Missouri, and North Dakota are the only states that don’t specifically address civics, citizenship education, or social studies in law.

U.S. Secretary of Education John King recently highlighted the civic role of public schools. In the wake of a preisdential election that largely played out on social media, schools have been newly focused on teaching media literacy, which a recent study from Stanford University contends is a cornerstone of civic literacy.

The Education Commission of the States also recently highlighted the growth of the Civics Education Initiative, an effort on the part of the Arizona-based Joe Foss Institute to require that students in every state take the U.S. Citizenship Civics Test in order to graduate high school. The initiative launched in 2015, and by September of 2016, 12 states had passed laws adding that requirement. An additional 18 states had failed to pass the initiative.


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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.