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Calling for increased civics education

Much like our bridges and roads, America’s civic infrastructure — the practices and policies that enable a nation to solve its communal problems — has been allowed to crumble. This has allowed truth decay to set in.

Michael Rich and Jennifer Kavanagh – RAND
Truth Decay in America – Jennifer Kavanagh and Michael D. Rich | The Open Mind

Teachers’ Civics Instructional Materials


In a 2019 survey, many teachers reported lacking resources and materials to effectively provide civics instruction to children — and our adult population has fewer and fewer common civic experiences or opportunities for civic development.

Research Questions

  • Where are public-school social studies teachers getting most of their instructional materials?
  • How much time do social studies teachers report that they spend searching for or developing their own materials to teach civics?
  • What are teachers’ perceptions of their social studies materials?

Kaufman, Julia H., Laura S. Hamilton, and Lynn Hu, Teachers’ Civics Instructional Materials: Civic Development in the Era of Truth Decay, Santa Monica, Calif.: RAND Corporation, RR-A112-3, 2020. As of November 21, 2020:

Key Findings

  • Higher percentages of teachers reported using instructional materials that they have found themselves (rather than using materials provided by their district or school).
  • Majorities of secondary social studies teachers (for grades 6–12) reported spending three or more hours per week searching for or developing their own materials to teach civics.
  • Although most teachers had positive perceptions of the social studies and civics materials provided by their school or district, 27 percent to 40 percent of teachers did not perceive these items to be engaging or effectively promoting students’ civic development.


  • State or school system leaders might examine what materials they have required or recommended that teachers use to teach civics—and social studies more broadly—and investigate the extent to which teachers are using those items versus creating or finding their own.
  • Researchers could consider digging deeper into how teachers are using materials and how those behaviors might be related to more-robust student learning.
  • Providers of instructional materials might consider ways to provide better and more-engaging social studies tools and resources to support teachers’ instruction.

Civic education and development activities can help children and adults better understand the foundations of democracy, how the government works and what it provides. It can also bridge divides, creating a sense of belonging and responsibility among people of all generations.

Michael Rich and Jennifer Kavanagh – RAND

Now Is A Good Time To Talk To Kids About Civics


A primer from “Life Kit – NPR” on how to talk with your kids about this election.

Reconstructing this infrastructure will require concerted effort across many areas, starting with increasing government transparency, promoting expertise in the executive branch, assembling an inclusive administration and investing in civic education.

Michael Rich and Jennifer Kavanagh – RAND

Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools

Carnegie Corporation |

At a time when the nation is confronting some of the more difficult decisions it has faced in long time, a lack of high-quality civic education in America’s schools leaves millions of citizens without the wherewithal to make sense of our system of government. Reasons for concern are reflected in the answers to our Annenberg Public Policy Center surveys elicited from national samples of the U.S. population in the past decade.

These were among our findings:

  • Only one-third of Americans could name all three branches of government; one-third couldn’t name any.
  • Just over a third thought that it was the intention of the Founding Fathers to have each branch hold a lot of power, but the president has the final say.
  • Just under half of Americans (47%) knew that a 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court carries the same legal weight as a 9-0 ruling.
  • Almost a third mistakenly believed that a U.S. Supreme Court ruling could be appealed.
  • When the Supreme Court divides 5-4, roughly one in four (23%) believed the decision was referred to Congress for resolution; 16% thought it needed to be sent back to the lower courts.

Jonathan, Kathleen Hall Jamieson, Peter Levine, Ted McConnell, and David B. Smith, eds. Guardian of Democracy: The Civic Mission of Schools. Rep. Philadelphia: Leonore Annenberg Institute for Civics of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania, 2011.

While civic learning has been essential throughout American history, in this age of growing polarization and rising civic deserts, it should be considered an essential component of a 21st-century education.

Rebecca Winthrop – Brookings Institute

The need for civic education in 21st-century schools

Brookings Institute |

A movement for 21st-century skills that does not include in a meaningful way the cultivation of democratic values is incomplete and will not prepare young people to thrive in today’s world. Given what is at stake in terms of civic engagement in America, uniting the powerful push for 21st-century skills with the less well-resourced but equally important movement for civic learning could prove to be an important strategy for helping schools fill the civic desert vacuum and renew the social norms that underpin our democratic form of government.


In the words of Chief Justice John Roberts, “Civic education, like all education, is a continuing enterprise and conversation. Each generation has an obligation to pass on to the next, not only a fully functioning government responsive to the needs of the people, but the tools to understand and improve it.”

Rebecca Winthrop is Co-director – Center for Universal Education and Senior Fellow – Global Economy and Development at the Brookings Institute.

Michael D. Rich is president and chief executive officer of the nonprofit, nonpartisan Rand Corp. Jennifer Kavanagh is a senior political scientist at Rand and leads its Countering Truth Decay initiative, which explores the diminishing reliance on facts and analysis in the U.S.

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