Can you spare some change for a civics survey in Sweden?

By Matthew Ladner. Ph.D.
Goldwater Institute 
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.


  1. auntiefederalist says

    What does that really mean though? When you’re giving tests to high schoolers that don’t count for their final grade, I wonder just how many of them give random, silly answers or, if it’s multiple choice, make a pattern out of the fill-in bubbles on their answer cards.

  2. Judging by the adult bodies present in classroms performing nothing more than classroom supervision who have titles of “teachers,” not at all surprised.

    Kids are issued books the “teachers” don’t reference, and most classwork is do-it-yourself, with hours of empty busywork homework. Hours and hours and learn zip.
    Arizona was dead last in the USA for education the last national ranking. There are no words up to the task of conveying how busted out education system is. Tenure/unions have destroyed it.

  3. wanumba,

    If unions are the problem then one would think that state education rankings would show that states with strong union laws and unions would rank last and those with weak union laws rank first. This is completely opposite from the reality.

    The same is true for country comparisons.

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