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Study concludes Arizona civics education needs resuscitation

September 17, 2009

A state civics coalition has concluded that civics education is in need of resuscitation and Arizona public schools have focused energy and resources on preparing students for high-stakes testing at the expense of teaching foundational principles of our democracy.

The Arizona Civic Education Study, which was authored by the Arizona Civics Coalition and The Center for Civic Education and Leadership, states that standardized testing is taking away from civics education because it is not a tested topic; the subject is being taught without relevance to students’ lives and teachers are already overstretched and overstressed by existing mandates to beef-up scores in reading, writing and math.

“We live in an era where everybody is teaching sustainability, which is wonderful, but what about the sustainability of democracy?” says Sherman Elliott, director of the Center for Civic Education and Leadership in ASU’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership. “The foundation of democracy starts in our public schools, and our findings prove that Arizona has pushed civics education to the backburner. We need to teach our children how to participate fully and responsibly as a citizen.”

The study was released a day before Constitution Day and Citizenship Day, a combined event that commemorates the formation and signing of the Constitution of the United States on Sept. 17, 1787. It also recognizes all who, by coming of age or by naturalization, have become U.S. citizens, which is celebrated nationally on Sept. 17.

Tom Horne, Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction, agreed in spirit with the study’s findings.

“A country that does not know its civics is like an individual who has lost his memory – he does not know where he has been, he does not know where he is going, and he does not know who he is,” Horne says. “Knowledge of civics is critical to the ongoing vitality of our great democratic republic."

Elliott said the Arizona Civic Education Study was administered in 2006 for the purposes of evaluating the perception of civic education within the Arizona public school curriculum and identifying the civic education needs of Arizona schools and districts. To achieve this goal, a working group of the Arizona Civics Coalition, in partnership with ASU, compiled a comprehensive measure of civic engagement policy and practice in Arizona public schools. The study was supported by grants from the national Campaign for the Civic Mission of Schools and the Arizona Community Foundation.

Key study recommendations include integration of civics education in reading and writing curriculums; creation of a standards-based social studies test or the addition of a category for AIMS; provision of opportunities for voluntarism, service learning and civic participation in schools; encouragement of students to be politically and civically active in their communities; and the engagement of students in relevant, meaningful curriculum with active learning strategies that stimulate democracy in action.

The crafters of the study are hopeful policymakers can find a solution to introduce the subject back into public school curriculum.

Go to to view an electronic copy of the study.  

The Center for Civic Education and Leadership (CCEL) is an initiative of Arizona State University’s College of Teacher Education and Leadership. Through partnerships with university, community and civic organizations throughout the region and world, CCEL hopes to increase civic engagement through research and education. CCEL was created to address the need for inquiry and action in order to increase the quantity and quality of participation in a civil society. For more information, visit

Sherman Elliott, Ed.D, 
College of Teacher Education and Leadership
(602) 999-1533