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The Civics Education Initiative

October 6, 2014  |  Share

By Reid Wilson September 17

Name one of the authors of the Federalist Papers. How many justices are on the Supreme Court? What do we call the first 10 amendments to the U.S. Constitution?

Students in seven states may soon be required to know the answers to those questions and more before they graduate from high school. A group aimed at boosting civics education in U.S. schools is using today, the 227th anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution, to begin pushing state legislatures to require high school graduates to pass the same exam that immigrants applying for U.S. citizenship must pass.

The Civics Education Initiative will introduce legislation in Arizona, Louisiana, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota and Utah to require students to take the test at any point during their high school careers, and to pass it before receiving a high school diploma or a general equivalency degree.

Public surveys show they have a long way to go. A 2011 survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found just 15 percent of Americans could correctly identify the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Roberts, while 27 percent knew Randy Jackson was a judge on American Idol. Only 13 percent knew the Constitution was signed in 1787. And just 38 percent were able to name all three branches of government.

In each of the seven states, CEI has prominent co-chairs who will back the legislation. Former senators Dennis DeConcini (D-Ariz.) and Jon Kyl (R-Ariz.) will push legislation in Phoenix. Sen. Tom Coburn (R) is supporting the measure in his home state of Oklahoma. And former South Carolina governors Jim Edwards (R), Dick Riley (D) and Jim Hodges (D) will advocate for the test in Columbia.
Their goal: To implement similar requirements in every state by Sept. 17, 2017, the Constitution’s 230th birthday.

If they succeed, students graduating from high school will already know the answers to the three questions above: That John Jay, James Madison and Alexander Hamilton wrote the Federalist Papers, that there are nine members of the Supreme Court, and that the first 10 amendments are known as the Bill of Rights.

How would you do on the U.S. Citizenship Quiz? Test yourself here:
View Photo Gallery —The Smithsonian’s National Museum of American History and the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services partnered to create a Web site to help immigrants study for the civics portion of the naturalization test. The questions below are samples from their preparation materials. During a naturalization interview, you would be asked up to 10 civics questions from a list of 100. You must correctly answer six questions to pass the civics portion of the naturalization test. The exam requires you say the answers aloud.
Reid Wilson covers state politics and policy for the Washington Post’s GovBeat blog. He’s a former editor in chief of The Hotline, the premier tip sheet on campaigns and elections, and he’s a complete political junkie.


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