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How important is civics education and what can be done to increase students’ knowledge?

Recent civics test scores for eighth graders decline

  • Scott LaMar
Bronze Eagle in front of American Flag

Bronze Eagle in front of American Flag


Test scores in history and civics have declined slightly for eighth grade students in the U.S. and it calls into question what it means in the future for a nation that is deeply polarized.

The results came earlier this month from the National Assessment of Educational Progress. There are some caveats to the results – reading and math scores were also down and the lower scores came after two years of the COVID pandemic when regular classes were disrupted.

However, history and civics scores have been declining for some time.

How important are civics and history and what can be done to better educate American students?

With us on The Spark Thursday was Senior United States circuit judge of the United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit and a former First Lady of Pennsylvania, Marjorie Rendell. In 2014 she co-founded the Rendell Center for Civics and Civic Engagement, a nonprofit corporation that focuses on educating students, especially at the elementary level, regarding the principles and disciplines of democracy.

Judge Rendell described what she thought when she heard about the latest civics and history test scores,”I’m appalled. Obviously, we don’t teach civics anymore. It is not tested. The high stakes testing that goes on in our schools has gone on for the last 30, 40 years, does not focus on does not have anything having to do with social studies or civics. It’s all math literacy. It’s basically STEM. We spend $0.05 per student for civics education compared to $54 per student for STEM in this country. And I’m not against STEM, you know, but there’s room to put civics in there. And we need to do it. You know, if people don’t understand how their government is supposed to work, then they’re not going to realize that when it isn’t functioning and sometimes it isn’t functioning.”

Judge Rendell was asked why civics education is important,”For a people, for a country to know your heritage, to understand the way your government works. And our government is so instrumental in what happens in everyday life. You go into a classroom and you try to ask the kids, well, what is what is government, what is civics? And the law has to do with anything. And you realize the mattress you sleep on is regulated. What you eat is regulated. So often the things that we do day to day life, when you stop and think about it we’re a country of laws. We respect the laws in a way that almost no other country does. And Sandra Day O’Connor used to say the courts really aren’t about the law. The courts are only there if someone needs to know what the law is or needs to enforce the law. But by and large, every day as we live and breathe in this country, we are governed by the rule of law. And it’s special. It’s really very special. We don’t have a corrupt government. We have elections that are fair. And people need to understand this. And they also need to participate. They need to vote. They need to to let their their congresspeople know their views.”




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