Civic Skills and Civic Education: An Empirical Assessment

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Participation in public life requires sufficient civic skills. Civic skills include the abilities to communicate with elected officials, organize to influence policy, understand and participate in one's polity, and think critically about civic and political life. One source of civic skill development is civic education coursework, often provided in high school or college. This dissertation tests for a correlation between civic skills (political interpretation skills, news monitoring skills, group discussion skills, communication skills, and English language skills) and civics coursework among fourteen to thirty-year-olds using probit models and propensity score matching methods. Data sources include the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement Civic Education survey (1999), the Civic and Political Health of the Nation: A Generational Portrait survey (2001), the American Citizen Participation Study (1990); and the National Household Education Survey's Civic Involvement study (2001).

Political interpretation skills are almost always correlated with the presence of civic education. According to the IEA/CivEd study, studying the Constitution and the Presidency almost always influences civic skill levels, while other civic education topics sometimes influence civic skill levels. Civic education is not always correlated with news monitoring skills. Civic education is sometimes correlated with the presence of group discussion skills and communication skills. No evidence was found of a correlation between civic education and English language skills. Among minorities, females, low-income respondents, non-college respondents, and non-Hispanic whites, differences exist in civic skill levels and the effect of civic education on civic skill presence.

This dissertation recommends that all American high school students take at least one semester of civics. This dissertation also recommends schools and communities seek to prioritize teaching civic skills in schools, so as to equalize abilities of political participation. Further research is needed to fully understand the relationship between the content of civics courses, the classroom climate of civics courses, and civic skill presence.