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EDITORIALS

GUEST EDITORIAL: Civics literacy a must for Florida students

Staff Writer
Walton Sun
Walton Sun

Gov. Ron DeSantis is concerned about civics illiteracy, particularly among Florida high school students.

The governor, like many Americans, is rightly embarrassed by the general ignorance about our government, its structure and the laws behind it. And he believes he has a solution that will make high school students better informed citizens: a civics test, one similar to the exam immigrants take to become naturalized U.S. citizens.

“Survey after survey, it paints the same dismal picture,” DeSantis said during a Naples news conference earlier this month. “Younger Americans, people who are 25 and under, they lack basic knowledge of the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, broader civics.”

It’s not the first time DeSantis has called out civics as a problem area of study for high schools, but it is the first mention of a testing requirement and a promise to work on several ideas to “make civics important again.”

To be sure, the governor’s frustration comes from a very real place. Too many Americans can’t say how many men and women serve on the U.S. Supreme Court, can’t name their U.S. senators or identify the five “rights” protected by the First Amendment. A recent survey by the Annenberg Public Policy Center found that only 2 in 5 adults could name the three branches of government – the highest rate for correctly answering the question in five years. (The answer is executive, legislative and judicial, by the way.)

But if DeSantis is serious about improving civics education, he needs to offer up a more comprehensive curriculum that will help Florida’s high school students better understand the way local, state and federal governments operate.

Truth is, Florida already leads most other states in civics requirements. It is one of only 16 states to require a stand-alone civics class and a state middle school exam in the course, according to data gathered by Center for American Progress.

The good news: roughly 71 percent of middle school students who took the test last year passed it, according to state Department of Education data.

Whatever new initiative(s) the governor adopts, it needs to build off of this relative success to boost civics education. For example, it must include students at every school that receives Florida taxpayer support — including private and charter schools. The problem of civics illiteracy is too pervasive to justify exempting particular students to suit a political ideology.

DeSantis said he wants to do a soft roll-out of the exam at the end of this school year, but he hopes to have all school districts testing their seniors by the end of the next academic year.

Before that, already overburdened local school officials deserve to see more specifics from DeSantis about how best to make that happen.

This guest editorial was originally published by The Palm Beach Post, a sister newspaper within Gannett.