Center for Civic Education

Research and Evaluation

We the People... Program Validated by Educational Researchers

The Program Effectiveness Panel of the U.S. Department of Educations National Diffusion Network examined the reports of numerous research studies on the Center for Civic Education's We the People...The Citizen and the Constitution program. The Panel validated the results of the studies and confirmed the powerful educational effects of the program on students' civic knowledge and attitudes. This formal validation recognizes the We the People... program's "contributions to excellence in education. A summary of these studies follows."

Students Performance Superior to Peers

Independent studies by Education Testing Service (ETS) in 1988, 1990, and 1991 revealed that students enrolled in the We the People... program at upper elementary, middle, and high school levels "significantly outperformed comparison students on every topic of the tests taken." Based on the superior performance of students at all levels, ETS characterized the We the People... program as a "great instructional success" and concluded that the "program achieved its major instructional goal of increasing students knowledge of the Constitution and Bill of Rights."

Participating High School Students Outperform University Students

Even more impressive were the findings of a subsequent test in which ETS compared scores of a random sample of 900 high school students who studied We the People... with 280 sophomores and juniors in political science courses at a major university. The high school students outperformed the university students in every topic area and on almost every test item. The greatest difference was in the area of political philosophy where the participating high school students scored 14% higher than the university students.

Students Show Marked Increase in Commitment to Democratic Values and Principles

A 1994 study entitled Secondary Education and Political Attitudes: Examining the Effects on Political Tolerance of the We the People... Curriculum, demonstrated that high school students taking part in the We the People... program develop a stronger attachment to political beliefs, attitudes, and values essential to a functioning democracy than most adults and other students. In the first study to look systematically at the effects of the We the People... program on students civic attitudes, Professor Richard Brody of Stanford University focused on the concept of political tolerance. The significance of this concept is that while majority rule is a basic principle of democracy, without attention to the rights of those in the minority, it can degenerate into tyranny. Political tolerance refers to citizens respect for the political rights and civil liberties of all people in the society including those whose ideas they may find distasteful or abhorrent. Thus, a goal of civic education is to increase students political tolerance.

Professor Brody's research was conducted during the spring of 1993. The study was designed to determine the degree to which civics curricula in general, and the We the People... program in particular, affect students political attitudes. The report was based on analysis of survey responses of 1,351 high school students from across the United States.

Professor Brody's results demonstrate that students involved in the We the People... program display more political tolerance and feel more politically effective than most adult Americans and most other students. Findings reveal that these students exhibit more political tolerance in a number of ways including (1) placing fewer restrictions on the press, speech, and the advocacy of radical or unorthodox ideas; (2) being more willing to grant freedom of assembly to groups with diverse opinions; (3) placing fewer restrictions on due process; and (4) displaying a willingness to grant others wide latitude to speak and act politically.

Professor Brody concludes that the We the People... program is effective in promoting political tolerance because students in the program are more interested in politics, feel more politically effective, and perceive fewer limits on their own political freedom.

Another important finding from this study is that the more involved a student is in We the People... competitive hearings, the more politically tolerant he or she is likely to become. For example, participating in the simulated congressional hearings encourages students to support the right to freedom of assembly to unpopular groups and to extend due-process and freedom of expression rights to groups and individuals that are "odd" and/or "threatening."

Case Studies Highlight Major Program Effects

In 1994 the Council for Basic Education (CBE) conducted case studies of the effects of the We the People... program, especially those effects that might elude quantification. CBE researchers reported that "teachers feel excited and renewed.... Students are enthusiastic about what they have been able to accomplish, especially in terms of their ability to carry out a reasoned argument. They have become energized about their place as citizens of the United States." This report also notes that "without exception, teachers asserted that the [simulated congressional hearing] competition had a significant effect on student learning. If it was decided early on that only one of a teachers several classes would be entering the competition, the students in that class outstripped the others in motivation, extent of research, and depth of learning."

Students Show Increased Interest in Participating in Government

Program Exemplary Model for Performance Assessment

The results of a study supported by the Office of Technology Assessment of the U.S. Congress and conducted by the Council for Basic Education confirmed the effectiveness of the We the People... program in goal attainment and potential use as a model for assessing higher levels of student learning. In her book based on that study, Testing for Learning (1992) author and principal investigator Dr. Ruth Mitchell states:

The competition and the preparation for it have lasting effects on the students' learning. Teachers assert that the knowledge learned from the curriculum and the competition is drawn on all year. One teacher responded when asked if her students quickly forget the material once the competition is over, "Oh no, it becomes a background for the Advanced Placement U.S. history class. Over and over again they refer back to such concepts as civic virtue or right to revolution in order to explain and put in context certain historical and modern events."

The competition has enormous potential as a model for the evaluation of history/social studies and government classes. It is the most imaginative and well-organized social studies assessment I know of—more impressive than current ideas at the state level.

For more information contact: Department of Research and Evaluation

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