Educating for Democracy
Recommendation 1:
Becoming a Democracy School:
Policy Recommendation 1: Instruction

1. Formal Instruction in American Government, History, Law and Democracy

The Problem
In 2006 the U.S. Department of Education reported that only 27 percent of high school seniors were proficient or advanced in Civics, as measured in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) Civics Assessment. While the 1999 International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement's (IEA) Civic Education Study found that U.S. ninth-graders scored significantly higher than the international mean in civic knowledge and skills, it also found wider gaps in civic knowledge and skills among students in the U.S. than in comparable countries.

The Recommendation
Provide Formal Instruction in American Government, History, Law and Democracy in Texas High Schools by:

  • Requiring formal instruction in American government, law, and democracy along with formal instruction in U.S. History as integral to a comprehensive social studies program.
  • Recommending civic knowledge instruction that is interesting, relevant, realistic and interactive, and that favors discussion and critical thinking rather than memorization.
  • Encouraging local school boards to develop clear statements concerning the importance of learning about American government, history, law and democracy and its inclusion in the social studies program.
  • Conducting a meaningful statewide survey of subject-matter that supports civic learning at the secondary level to provide critical information for policymaking.
  • Including civic education experts and advocates on the committee revising the Texas Learning Standards for Social Studies.

Why Change Is Needed
Formal instruction in American government, history and democracy increases civic knowledge. If students learn about democratic systems, history and current events in a well-structured curriculum, they are better positioned to retain that information into adulthood. A 2008 survey conducted by the National Conference on Citizenship found that 67 percent of Americans favored requiring high school students to pass a new test on civics or government.