Making Wisconsin The Heart of the American Dream

THE PROBLEM: Too few Wisconsinites know their rights and responsibilities as citizens of our state and nation.  Our republic is dependent on an educated citizenry and thorough understanding of the foundational principles of our government.

  • A recent report by the Fordham Institute, gave Wisconsin the worst possible rating, an F, for both its history and civics standards. Wisconsin is also one of only “a handful of states that don’t specifically require high school students to take courses in U.S. History and Civics.”
  • A recent poll found that only 51% of Americans could name the three branches of the federal government, the highest ever recorded by the survey.

POLICY SOLUTION: Assembly Bill 563, led by Speaker of the Assembly Robin Vos and  Senator Kathleen Bernier would begin to address this challenge by requiring the state to upgrade what is taught in Wisconsin classrooms and ensuring that high school students’ social studies courses include at least a half year of civics.  Specifically, the bill would require that students learn about Wisconsin’s founding principles, the rights and responsibilities of citizenship, and a comparison between representative democracy and other systems like communism.

It goes to the Assembly floor on Tuesday for a vote.

TALKING POINTS: 

  1. Our republic is dependent on an educated citizenry and thorough understanding of the foundational principles of our government.
  2. Unfortunately, Wisconsin lags far behind other states in teaching students civics and American history. A recent Fordham Institute’s report shows that Wisconsin is at the very bottom nationally when it comes to the expectations it sets for students in civics and American History.  Wisconsin was one of only 10 states to receive an F in both subjects.  Wisconsin is also one of only “a handful of states that don’t specifically require high school students to take courses in U.S. History and Civics.”
  3. With more than 75% of students not proficient in civics and only half of Americans able to identify the three branches of government, something needs to change. Wisconsin can lead the way and move from some of the nation’s worst standards in civics and American history to the best.
  4. Wisconsin’s legislature is taking action by upgrading Wisconsin’s standards and ensuring that every Wisconsin high schooler receives at least half a year of civics instruction included in their social studies courses. Speaker Vos and the Legislature should be commended for trying to solve a real crisis in our K-12 education system.

BACKGROUND:

Recent evidence points to a lack of instruction and literacy in civics across the nation and in Wisconsin especially.  A recent poll found that only 51% of Americans could name the three branches of the federal government, the highest ever recorded by the survey.  And a recent report by the Fordham Institute gave Wisconsin the worst possible rating, an F, for both its history and civics standards.  Wisconsin is also one of only “a handful of states that don’t specifically require high school students to take courses in U.S. History and Civics.”

The report specially noted that:

  • “Wisconsin’s civics standards provide almost no content guidance, focusing instead on important but overly broad themes.”
  • “With few exceptions, Wisconsin’s standards for civics are too vague and broad to provide educators or other stakeholders with useful direction.”
  • “Notably, Wisconsin is one of a handful of states that don’t specifically require high school students to take courses in U.S. History and Civics, though students are required to earn at least three credits of social studies including state and local government.”

Assembly Bill 563, led by Speaker of the Assembly Robin Vos and  Senator Kathleen Bernier would begin to address this challenge by requiring the state to upgrade what is taught in Wisconsin classrooms and ensuring that high school students’ social studies courses include at least a half year of civics.  Specifically, the bill requires students to learn:

  1. Their responsibilities and rights as citizens of Wisconsin and the United States.
  2. A sense of civic pride and desire to participate regularly with government.
  3. An understanding of the process for effectively advocating for change.
  4. What it takes to be a good citizen and to defend the liberties guaranteed by
    the U.S. Constitution.
  5. How freedom and representative democracy compare with other approaches, including communism, socialism, and totalitarianism.

This bill builds upon efforts to improve civics instruction and literacy in the state.  Wisconsin now requires all students to pass a civic literacy assessment in order to graduate high school.  Beginning in 2017, all students in the state must pass a test of 100 questions that is similar to the test required of new U.S. Citizens.  IRG continues to support improved civics education and other important reforms to benefit Wisconsin students.