"Civic education" describes efforts to prepare students for effective, principled citizenship. Civic education can include instruction in history and government, civics lessons on the rights and duties of citizens in a democracy, discussion of current events, service-learning, mock trials and elections, character education, and other approaches. Civic education can also take place through student government, extracurricular and co-curricular activities, and by involving students in school, district, and community decisionmaking.
While most Americans agree on the importance of preparing young people for citizenship in a democracy, civic education has received less and less attention in schools over the past few decades. During that time, schools have focused their attention first on preparing students for college and jobs, and more recently on responding to increasing accountability demands, primarily in mathematics, reading, and writing. Experts believe a decline in civic engagement - such as the decline in voting rates among young voters since 18-year-olds were given the right to vote in 1972 - may be a direct result of the decrease in emphasis placed on civics.
In one response to this decline in civic engagement, most states developed content standards in civics or government in the 1990s and early 2000s to ensure that students acquired a basic understanding of how government works, of the documents on which American democracy is based, and of basic democratic values. Unlike state efforts to improve instruction in the core academic disciplines, however, most states have not established statewide assessments aligned with their civics standards. A number of states recently have established legislative committees or task forces to examine their civic education practices and make recommendations to the legislature, the state education agency, and their public schools.