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APPC Joins U.S. Chamber of Commerce Civics Education Initiative

Ken Winneg, the managing director of survey research for the Annenberg Public Policy Center, addressed the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s Civics Forward event in Washington, D.C., about the importance of civics knowledge and education.

Winneg helped to kick off the program by presenting findings from Annenberg Public Policy Center (APPC) Civics Knowledge Survey. “Civics knowledge is important,” Winneg said, “because when people are more knowledgeable on the Constitution and government, they are more likely to support the institutions on which our democracy is built, and are more likely to participate in democratic activities such as voting.”

Winneg said the 2019 Annenberg Constitution Day Civics Survey, released in September, contained good and not-so-good news. The good news: This year, nearly 4 in 10 U.S. adults were able to name the three branches of government, the highest in five years. The not-so-good news? The very same statistic. On average since 2006, when APPC began asking this question, a “woefully low” 33% of Americans have been able to name the three branches, Winneg said.

Ken Winneg talks about civics education at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce's Civics Forward event.
Washington, D.C.: The U.S Chamber of Commerce Foundation hosts Civics Forward. Credit: David Bohrer/©U.S. Chamber of Commerce. (Sept. 27, 2019)

He also noted that in 2017, when APPC asked U.S. adults about the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment, nearly half of those surveyed (48%) named freedom of speech, though more than 1 in 3 (37%) could not name any.

Winneg said there were several challenges facing those seeking to improve the quality and accessibility of civics education: a lack of commitment at both the federal and state levels; inadequate social studies textbooks in schools; evidence that upper-income students are better served than lower-income students; and the fact that funding cuts to schools make implementing improvements difficult. But he also pointed out that a current bill in Congress, the 2019 Civics Learning Act, has bipartisan support and seeks to fund civics education programs in schools.

Civics Forward 2019, on September 27, was a public event that, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation, sought to bring together a nonpartisan group of leaders to talk about the importance of civics to the future success of the nation. Speakers included Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey; Louise Dubé, executive director of iCivics; New York Times columnist Tom Friedman; and Dr. Rod Paige, former U.S. Secretary of Education.