In my current speaking travels on education reform around the state, I am often asked about the purpose of the phrase in our organization’s mission statement that, in addition to college and workplace readiness, our high schools should produce graduates fully prepared for “responsible citizenship”. In a recent research report commissioned by the Intercollegiate Studies Institute entitled “The Coming Crisis in Citizenship”, the explanation should be very clear. Called the largest statistically valid survey ever conducted to determine what our colleges and universities are teaching their students about America’s history and institutions, the results are not only that these institutions are failing to increase knowledge about these basics, but that the most prestigious of our colleges are often at the low end of the “value added” scale on them. So you ask, what does this have to do with our high schools? Here’s what: as bad as our higher education institutions are in adding value, the base knowledge from which entering freshmen begin is even more embarrassing. On 60 questions asked of entering college freshmen and seniors in four subject areas—history, government, world affairs, and the market economy—the average of the freshmen scores was an appalling 52%! So the fact that higher education added an average of only 1.5% over the next four years (to 53.5%) is terrible, but it is clear that the cultivation of civic literacy, the foundation of responsible citizenship, must begin much earlier if we are to have any hope of sustaining a free republic.
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