by Matthew Ladner, Ph.D.
Just in time to celebrate Independence Day, the Goldwater Institute will release its new report, “Freedom from Responsibility: A Survey of Civic Knowledge Among Arizona High School Students,” which reveals only 3.5 percent of Arizona high school students have learned the basic history, government and geography necessary to pass the U.S. Citizenship test.
To conduct the survey, we hired a firm to interview 1,140 Arizona high school students and ask 10 questions drawn at random from the exam given to applicants for United States citizenship. Applicants for citizenship must get six out of 10 questions correct to pass. A recent trial found that 92.4 percent of citizenship applicants passed the test on the first try.
Below are the survey questions, the correct answers, and in parentheses the percentage of public school students providing the correct answer for each question.
1. What is the supreme law of the land?
Answer: The Constitution (29.5%)
2. What do we call the first 10 amendments to the Constitution?
Answer: The Bill of Rights (25%)
3. What are the two parts of the U.S. Congress?
Answer: Senate and House (23%)
4. How many Justices are on the Supreme Court?
Answer: Nine (9.4%)
5. Who wrote the Declaration of Independence?
Answer: Jefferson (25.3%)
6. What ocean is on the East Coast of the United States?
Answer: Atlantic (58.8%)
7. What are the two major political parties in the United States?
Answer: Democratic and Republican (49.6%)
8. We elect a U.S. Senator for how many years?
Answer: Six (14.5%)
9. Who was the first President of the United States?
Answer: Washington (26.5%)
10. Who is in charge of the Executive Branch?
Answer: The President (26%)
Only 3.5 percent of traditional public high school students passed the test. That’s 40 students out of a sample of 1,134 district high school students.
Arizona’s 8th grade social studies standards require that students learn about everything from John Locke to the Mayflower Compact to the Articles of Confederation and the Constitution before high school. It isn’t clear what, if anything, Arizona students are learning in these classes, but it is abundantly clear what they are not learning–U.S. civics, history and geography.
In the report, I recommend that all Arizona high school students be required to pass a version of the U.S. Citizenship exam in order to graduate. Since then, one of our supporters came up with an even better idea: Make the exam a requirement for receiving a driver’s license. Interesting thought…
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.