It’s graduation time for America’s high-school seniors, many of whom are now old enough to vote. But if the most recent evaluation of what they know about their country’s history and its government is accurate, very few of them are ready for that responsibility. According to the 2010 National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP), just 12 percent of seniors are proficient in U.S. history while only 24 percent measure up in civics.

Such a dismal showing will come as no surprise to most Americans.

Last fall, we asked 1,000 Americans what they believe high schools should be teaching about citizenship and whether students actually learn those things. According to the results, Americans think most high-schoolers lack rudimentary knowledge about American history and government — a low opinion that certainly seems justified by the recent NAEP scores. When we asked respondents to rate their confidence levels about whether students have mastered important content and skills, the numbers never topped 50 percent for any item.

Worse, the more important the public considered a civics topic, the less confident they were that students were learning it. While almost 70 percent of respondents thought teaching students to identify the protections in the Bill of Rights was absolutely essential, barely one-third were at all confident that most high-school graduates can do so. Fewer still thought students had learned basic concepts about U.S. government, such as the separation of powers.

The NAEP results suggest they might be on to something. When asked about the topics they’d studied in civics, 72 percent of twelfth-graders cited the Constitution in 2006, but the rate dropped to 67 percent in 2010. Just 66 percent recalled covering Congress, compared with 69 percent in 2006….

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