Robert Pondiscio is the executive director of CitizenshipFirst, a civic education initiative based in Harlem. He is also the former vice president of the Core Knowledge Foundation and a former 5th grade teacher.
When the alarm is sounded over the poor performance of our schools, we usually hear about children's baleful performance in reading, math, and science. On the most recent round of the National Assessment of Educational Progress, for example, only one in three U.S. 8th graders scored "proficient" or higher in those three essential subjects. But if that's a crisis, our performance in history and civics is near collapse: a mere 22 percent of 8th graders score proficient or higher in civics; in history, only 18 percent.
Last week, the Pioneer Institute released a white paper I wrote with Sandra Stotsky and Gilbert Sewall, Shortchanging the Future: The Crisis of History and Civics in American Schools. It traces a long spiral of decline in curriculum, textbooks, and pedagogy, leading to this present, dispiriting place.
When it came time to make policy recommendations, however, my colleagues and I were flummoxed. Higher standards? High-stakes tests? There are already several sets of perfectly fine state standards, and no shortage of well-funded initiatives over the years, none of which have moved the needle significantly over the past several decades. Ultimately we settled on a modest idea: use the existing U.S. Citizenship Test as a graduation requirement from public high school and admission to college....