June 1, 2021
SALT LAKE CITY—This week Sutherland Institute released the findings from a major statewide study on the topic of civics education. In an effort to understand more about the state of civics education in Utah – its connection to societal distress and to other relevant education topics – Sutherland commissioned a multi-part study conducted by Heart+Mind Strategies in March and April 2021.
The study included an online survey of Utahns 18 and over, including parents of children age 5-17, to reflect U.S. Census data for the state of Utah. A qualitative portion was conducted as well through in-depth discussions held separately with groups of parents and teachers.
“We are realizing the consequences of a lost baseline of the knowledge needed for civic participation,” said Rick Larsen, Sutherland Institute president and CEO. “Rather than respond to every symptomatic problem – and there are many – the data suggest that we move toward rediscovering, reviving and reprioritizing civics and history education. Our goal is to engage, instruct and empower every Utahn to be involved in this critical effort for the rising generation.”
Key findings summarized from Utah’s general population:
- Half of Utahns, and nearly two-thirds of parents, give Utah schools high marks overall. Only one in five says schools are poor.
- People in Utah are generally satisfied with schools, including teachers, curriculum, and adaptations during COVID. Parents tend to be more positive than the public generally.
- Civics education is a top three priority for subjects covered in K-12, along with math and English.
- Most Utahns believe schools do not place a priority on teaching civics compared with other subjects. How civics is currently taught was rated significantly lower than how math and English are taught.
- Utahns want to see more civics lessons that help develop lifelong skills.
- An understanding of laws and individual rights should be the key focus of civics education, followed by responsibilities and expectations of citizens, tolerance for others, historical context of government, and the powers and limits of government.
- Activism should come later, at the end of the civics education process.
- There is a high level of support for “restoring a robust civics education curriculum in our schools.”
- Over half want state guidelines on civics education curriculum provided to teachers.
- Over four in 10 believe that a lack of civics education has led to civil unrest, fueling misperceptions on how democracy – and specifically our democratic system – works.
- As we seek civics education reform, testing is seen as less critical than transparency for parents in what is being taught in the educational system.
- Utahns prefer participation in capstone activities or programs over standardized testing or individual work portfolios for the purpose of evaluating civics education.
- A majority of Utahns support a variety of reforms, including requiring a full year of civics education in high school and establishing a formal curriculum for grades K-6.
- Half of parents are very/extremely likely to look up a specific curriculum being taught at their local school.
Data were adjusted to match U.S. Census data for the state of Utah on age, gender, ethnicity, and adults who have school-age children. The margin of error is +/- 4% with a 95% confidence level.
Additional parts of this research will be released in the coming weeks. In-depth discussion with Utah teachers (over a five-day period) will reveal how K-12 educators feel about the state of social studies and civics education today.
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