By Matthew Ladner. Ph.D.
When the Goldwater Institute gave a version of the United States Citizenship Test to Arizona public high school students, only 3.5 percent of Arizona public school students got six or more questions correct, the passing score for immigrants. After seeing the results, the Oklahoma Council of Public Affairs wanted to know how Oklahoma high school students would fare on the exam, so we gave them precisely the same set of questions.
Perhaps I was too hard on Arizona students. They passed at a rate that was 25 percent higher than their peers in Oklahoma. That’s right: The passing rate for Oklahoma high school students was 2.8 percent. They underperformed Arizona’s abysmal performance.
Just for the record, Oklahoma’s state standards for civics read:
Oklahoma schools teach social studies in Kindergarten through Grade 12…A social studies education encourages and enables each student to acquire a core of basic knowledge, an arsenal of useful skills, and a way of thinking drawn from many academic disciplines. Thus equipped, students are prepared to become informed, contributing, and participating citizens in this democratic republic, the United States of America.
That all sounds great, except Oklahoma high school students know about as much about American history and government as they know about quantum physics or ancient Sanskrit.
I have an empty metal coffee can in my office marked “Sweden Civics Survey Fund.” Please drop by with anything you can afford to give. Once I get a couple thousand bucks, I’ll retain the pollster to give this exact same survey on American civics to high school students in Sweden. They couldn’t do much worse than kids in Arizona and Oklahoma. Sadly, I suspect they might do much better.
Dr. Matthew Ladner is vice president for research at the Goldwater Institute.