STANFORD SEEKS PATH TO CIVIC LEARNING
When his school finished 31st out of 50 for civic knowledge gained by its students in the first American civic literacy survey, Prof. Terry Moe, chairman of Stanford’s political science department, acknowledged that the survey had uncovered a problem that needs solving.
|STANFORD UNIVERSITY RESULTS FROM SPRING 2007 Average Percent Correct for Freshmen and Seniors|
|Test Section||Freshman Mean||Senior Mean||Value Added|
|American Political Thought||69.64%||69.50%||-0.10%|
|America and the World||63.19%||64.36%||+1.20%|
|The Market Economy||60.80%||64.59%||+3.80%*|
|* The difference between the freshman and senior means is statistically significant with confidence of 95% or greater.|
“The results of this study to me are pretty troubling in the sense that here you have a set of very basic questions that they have asked,” he said on KQED radio. “They are about when was the Civil War. They have questions about the New Deal, about Reconstruction, women’s suffrage, Roe v. Wade and so on. These are pretty basic kinds of things, and the results show that both freshmen and seniors don’t know very much.” Stanford, to its credit, mandates that students complete an “Education for Citizenship” requirement. Despite this requirement, however, a special case study conducted in spring 2007 reaffirmed that Stanford students gain little knowledge about America’s history and institutions during their undergraduate years.
In the original survey, Stanford freshmen scored an average of 62.21% and Stanford seniors scored an average of 63.06%, giving Stanford students an average civic-knowledge gain of only 0.85 percentage points.
In spring 2007, the civic literacy exam was again administered to a randomly selected representative sample of freshmen and seniors. (This spring semester testing, focusing on Stanford alone, was done with the support of the San Francisco-based Koret Foundation and was conducted separately from the second nationwide survey of 50 schools done in fall 2006.) The new results at Stanford were consistent with the results from the original survey. Freshmen scored an average of 66.1% and seniors scored an average of 66.9%. That gave Stanford students an average civicknowledge gain of 0.80 points, almost identical to the previous year’s 0.85.
- Stanford seniors, on average, did not break 70% in any of the four areas tested, including America’s history, government, international relations, and market economy.
- Many Stanford seniors did not know basic facts of American history. Only 53.4% knew Yorktown was the battle that ended the Revolutionary War.
- Many Stanford seniors did not know America’s founding documents. Only 52.3% knew the line “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal” comes from the Declaration of Independence.
Stanford’s experience and the response of educators, such as Professor Moe, provide an opportunity for constructive engagement on the question of where the study of America’s history and institutions should fit into the curriculum of an American college.
While the average senior at the 50 schools in the main survey reported taking four civics-related courses (history, political science, and economics) by fall of senior year, the average Stanford senior had taken 5.4 such courses by spring of senior year. But while the average student in the main survey gained about one point in civic knowledge per course, the average Stanford student gained only one tenth of one point per course.Stanford’s experience and the response of educators provide an opportunity for constructive engagement on the question of where the study of America’s history and institutions should fit into the curriculum of an American college.
One hypothetical explanation for this merits deeper examination by Stanford faculty, administrators, alumni, and trustees. Ironically, evidence for this explanation can be found in the nature of Stanford’s “Education for Citizenship” requirement, which mandates students complete two courses in two of four designated subject areas, including Ethical Reasoning, the Global Community, American Cultures, and Gender Studies. Based on a listing of applicable courses offered in the Autumn quarter of 2006, a student could have completed half of this two-course requirement by taking either “Colonial and Revolutionary America” in the American Cultures category or “Sex and Love in Modern Society” in the Gender Studies category.
The questions are: Which of these courses do students enroll in, and are these classes truly of equal value in fulfilling a distribution requirement aimed at developing student citizenship?