January 1, 2007
John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University
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From America’s earliest days, its public schools have been charged with both educating students and making them into citizens. Some observers believe that civic education in the United States is being compromised by the push for mandatory testing, with its emphasis on language, math, and science skills. Based on a recent national survey of 1,262 social studies, civics, and government teachers, this report examines the effect of mandatory testing on the classroom use of current affairs news. The evidence shows that standardized tests do inhibit classroom use of news, including student discussion. The effect is particularly pronounced in schools with large numbers of lower-income and English-as-a-second-language (ESL) students, who are precisely the students that would benefit most from a vigorous civic education. The report concludes with recommendations on how teachers, school administrators, and policymakers can mitigate the effects of mandatory testing on civic education in America.
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