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Civic education and charter schools: current knowledge and future research

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Photography for the Mystic Valley Charter Schools.The Center on Education Policy at George Washington University has just released a new report that provides a good overview of current research on civic education in charter schools and suggests opportunities for further research. (In regard to this latter point about future research opportunities, as Maria Ferguson, the head of the Center, notes, “The most interesting finding from our analysis is that the research that exists about civic education in any kind of school (charter, traditional public, or private) is limited at best.”)

In the report, “Civic Education and Charter Schools: Current Knowledge and Future Research Issues,” the Center set out to explore three main questions:

  • How does the civics achievement of charter school students compare with that of students in traditional public schools?
  • Do charter schools typically offer different types of civics instruction than traditional schools?
  • How can the current body of research about civic education and charter schools be strengthened?

By analyzing data from the 2010 civics assessment of the National Assessment of Education Progress (NAEP)–the most recent NAEP civics assessment and the only one that breaks out data for charter schools and traditional public schools–the Center found some interesting results:

  • Overall, civics achievement was similar for students in charter and traditional schools.
  • Statistically significant differences between charter and traditional public schools were evident for a few student groups. For example, Hispanic 8th graders in charter schools scored higher in civics than those in traditional schools.
  • Some differences were evident in the civics topics studied by students in charter and traditional public schools. At grade 8, for example, significantly higher percentages of charter school students than of traditional school students reported studying the U.S. Congress, how laws are made, the court system, and the U.S. Constitution.

It’s important to note that the NAEP results are only available for the nation as a whole and are not broken out by urban, suburban, or rural locations–so these data are only comparing a representative sample of all charter schools and all traditional public schools in the nation. This is one area, the report points out, where further research is needed.

To learn more about civic education and charter schools, read the Center on Education Policy’s report here.

Related: Be sure also to check out the Program’s work, mentioned in the report, on Teaching Citizenship in Charter Schools.