Social Studies Teachers' Perspectives on Key Civic Outcomes in 2010 and 2019

Civic Development in the Era of Truth Decay

by Laura S. Hamilton, Julia H. Kaufman, Lynn Hu

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Research Questions

  1. How have high school social studies teachers' perspectives on students' civic development changed from 2010 to 2019?
  2. How have high school social studies teachers' perceptions regarding challenges to teaching social studies changed from 2010 to 2019?

High school social studies teachers play an important role in fostering the civic knowledge, skills, and dispositions that students need to thrive after graduation. These efforts can also help counter Truth Decay—the diminishing role of facts and analysis in American public life. Although several factors, such as state standards and assessments, influence public-school teachers' decisions about what civic content to cover, individual teachers typically have some degree of autonomy over what happens in the classroom. Given the lack of consensus about how schools should promote civic development, it is valuable to hear from social studies teachers themselves about what aspects of civic development they prioritize and how their views on the subject have changed over the past decade as societal factors (e.g., the media landscape, political polarization) have changed. This Data Note, one in a series, draws on a 2010 American Enterprise Institute report and 2019 data from RAND's American Teacher Panel to describe changes in high school social studies teachers' perspectives regarding the importance of teaching various topics related to students' civic development, their confidence that students would learn these topics before high school graduation, and their perspectives on the role of social studies instruction more generally.

Key Findings

  • In both 2010 and 2019, majorities of high school social studies teachers rated numerous aspects of civic development (e.g., tolerance, work habits) as absolutely essential. Knowledge of facts (i.e., U.S. history) was the lowest-rated item.
  • Although high school social studies teachers were less likely in 2019 to rate some civic concepts as absolutely essential than they were in 2010, teachers' confidence in the likelihood that students would learn civic concepts before leaving high school increased.
  • Teachers' support for some aspects of media and information literacy appears to have declined.
  • Majorities of high school social studies teachers in both 2010 and 2019 reported accountability pressure and student lack of enthusiasm as challenges.

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