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REL Midwest Ask A REL Response

October 2018


How has research defined and operationalized outcomes of civic education for middle and high school students?


Following an established Regional Educational Laboratory (REL) Midwest protocol, we conducted a search for research reports and descriptive studies on outcomes of civic education for middle and high school students. In particular, we focused on identifying resources that defined and operationalized outcomes of civic education. For details on the databases and sources, keywords, and selection criteria used to create this response, please see the Methods section at the end of this memo.

Below, we share a sampling of the publicly accessible resources on this topic. References are listed in alphabetical order, not necessarily in order of relevance. The search conducted is not comprehensive; other relevant references and resources may exist. For each reference, we provide an abstract, excerpt, or summary written by the study’s author or publisher. We have not evaluated the quality of these references, but provide them for your information only.

Research References

Bennion, E. A., & Laughlin, X. E. (2018). Best practices in civic education: Lessons from the “Journal of Political Science Education.” Journal of Political Science Education, 14(3), 287–330. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The ‘Journal of Political Science Education (JPSE)’ provides over a decade of research on political science pedagogy, featuring empirical research documenting best practices in the field. This article provides an overview of ‘JPSE’-published research on the topics of civic education and engagement. It summarizes the number and scope of articles on this topic and highlights key findings from the journal’s first 12 years. This comprehensive overview of past research is designed to facilitate high quality future research. A detailed exploration of past research provides a useful ‘jump start’ for teacher-scholars eager to advance the scholarship and pedagogy of engagement.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Callahan, R. M., Muller, C., & Schiller, K. S. (2008). Preparing for citizenship: Immigrant high school students’ curriculum and socialization. Theory and Research in Social Education, 36(2), 6–31. Retrieved from Full text available at

From the ERIC abstract: “Immigrant adolescents are one of the fastest growing segments of our population, yet we know little about how schools prepare them for citizenship. Although prior research suggests that high school civics education, academic achievement, and a sense of connection increase political participation in early adulthood, we do not know if these processes apply to immigrant youth. Using longitudinal, nationally representative data from the Adolescent Health and Academic Achievement study (AHAA) and the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (Add Health), we employ multilevel models to investigate the effects of formal and informal school curricula on early adult voting and registration. We find that children of immigrant parents who take more high school social studies coursework have higher levels of reported voter registration and voting. In addition, attending a high school where students have a greater sense of connection or where parents have more education are important predictors of registration and voting, regardless of immigrant status.”

Clark, C. H. (2017). Examining the relationship between civic education and partisan alignment in young voters. Theory and Research in Social Education, 45(2), 218–247. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “As American politics becomes more polarized, it is increasingly necessary for teachers to understand the relationship between education and partisan behavior. Using data from a 2012 CIRCLE survey of 18-24-year-olds, I examine the relationship between students’ educational experiences (focusing on exposure to high-quality civics instruction and high school democratic climate) and their propensity to exhibit alignment between party identification, ideology, issue opinions, and candidate choices as young adults. I find that participants who report both a high number of quality civic education experiences and a highly democratic school climate show a reduced likelihood of extreme political alignment. I discuss the implications of this finding and highlight directions for further investigation.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Cohen, A., & Chaffee, B. (2012). The relationship between adolescents’ civic knowledge, civic attitude, and civic behavior and their self-reported future likelihood of voting. Education, Citizenship and Social Justice, 8(1), 43–57. Retrieved from Full text available at

From the ERIC abstract: “A long-standing objective of American public education is fostering civically engaged youth. Identifying characteristics associated with likelihood of future voting, a measure of democratic participation that predicts future voting behavior, might yield targets for education programs to increase civic participation. Survey data from urban adolescents were analyzed to elucidate how civic knowledge, civic attitudes and civic behaviors are associated with self-reported likelihood of future voting. In a multivariable ordered logistic regression model with latent constructs for civic knowledge, attitudes and behavior, two civic knowledge constructs and two civic attitude constructs maintained a positive, statistically significant independent association with future voting likelihood after adjusting for race/ethnicity and advanced coursework: knowledge of American governance, current events knowledge, general self-efficacy and skill-specific self-efficacy. Further research is necessary to determine whether education programs can intervene upon these civic knowledge and civic attitude factors to increase voting participation later in life.”

Coley, R. J., & Sum, A. (2012). Fault lines in our democracy: Civic knowledge, voting behavior, and civic engagement in the United States. Princeton, NJ: Educational Testing Service. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “As the 21st century unfolds, the United States faces historic challenges, including a struggling economy, an aging infrastructure and global terrorism. Solutions will have to come from educated, skilled citizens who understand and believe in our democratic system and are civically engaged. This incisive new report examines these fault lines and offers ideas about how to keep our democracy vital and strong.”

Dávila, A., & Mora, M. T. (2007). Civic engagement and high school academic progress: An analysis using NELS data (Part 1 of an assessment of civic engagement and high school academic progress). College Park, MD: Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), University of Maryland, School of Public Policy. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Using panel data from the National Education Longitudinal Study of 1988 (NELS), this study empirically analyzes the relationship between two forms of civic engagement—student government and community service—and educational progress made after the eighth grade by addressing the following questions. Does civic engagement affect academic progress in mathematics, reading, history, and science? Does voluntary community service differently influence scholastic progress compared to involuntary service, and does the frequency of this engagement matter? Are teenagers involved in civic activities more likely to acquire higher education than their peers? In general, the authors’ findings indicate that civically-engaged high school students tend to make greater academic progress and are more likely to graduate from college than their peers several years later.”

Flanagan, C. A., Syvertsen, A. K., & Stout, M. D. (2007). Civic measurement models: Tapping adolescents’ civic engagement (CIRCLE Working Paper 55). College Park, MD: Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), University of Maryland, School of Public Policy. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “The goal of this project was to produce a set of civic measures with sound psychometric properties appropriate for use with young people ages 12-18. Measures selected tap aspects of adolescent civic behaviors, opinions, knowledge, and dispositions. The measures are easy to administer and can be used by educators, staff of community-based organizations, program evaluators, and scholars. The data used to derive the civic measures were gathered from two waves of surveys with 1,924 students ages 12-18 from 88 social studies classes in the Northeastern United States. These data were collected during the 2004 election campaign with the pre-survey occurring 4-6 weeks prior to the election and the post-survey occurring 4-6 weeks after the election. All constructs in the report are based on student self-assessments. It is also important to highlight the future orientation of many of the items in the constructs. Several of the questions ask students to estimate the likelihood that they will engage in various community and political activities after high school. Other items ask students to rate their perceived ability to respond to a hypothetical scenario. The constructs were created by either calculating the mean score of the individual items or by summing the frequency. In this project summary, authors note the psychometric properties of constructs, item stems, response formats and, where appropriate, the sources from which items in scales were derived or adapted. The constructs included in this report were evaluated both for face and measurement validity: constructs were created so as to maximize the meaning of the scale and the statistical reliability.”

Gill, B., Tilley, C., Whitesell, E., Finucane, M., Potamites, L., & Corcoran, S. (2018). The impact of Democracy Prep Public Schools on civic participation: Final report. Princeton, NJ: Mathematica Policy Research. Retrieved from

From the summary: “Democracy Prep is a charter school network that seeks to prepare students for effective citizenship. The clearest indicators of Democracy Prep’s success in promoting civic engagement are the registration and voting rates of its students after they become adults. Many students who were offered admission to Democracy Prep’s middle and high-school grades in its early years of operation were old enough to register and vote in time for the 2016 election. In this study, we match records from Democracy Prep’s admissions lotteries to a national database of registration and voting. Using the admissions lotteries to conduct a randomized experimental analysis, we find that Democracy Prep produces substantial positive effects on voter registration and election participation.”

Gingold, J. (2013). Building an evidence-based practice of action civics: The current state of assessments and recommendation for the future (CIRCLE Working Paper, No. 78). Medford, MA: Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University. Retrieved from

From the summary: “Gingold assembles evidence for ‘action civics’ as a field and describes the organizations that engage youth in (or assess) action civics programs. She examines 27 evaluation tools that they use, uncovering their common framework and implicit theory of change, which includes six outcomes:”

  • Civic and cultural transformation
  • 21st century positive youth leadership
  • Active and informed citizenship
  • Youth civic participation
  • Youth civic creation
  • An academically successful student

Over the past two decades, youth development organizations and civic education leaders have adopted action-centered approaches to teach civic and leadership skills. In 2010, six groups came together (including CIRCLE) to form the National Action Civics Collaborative (NACC) with a common interest in promoting experiential civic learning, especially for under-served and marginalized youth. Recently, we released a new report on Generation Citizen, which is another founding member of NACC.

In addition to describing a theory of change and related outcomes, this report identifies assessment challenges that NACC members face and offers recommendations for strengthening assessment.”

Guilfoile, L., & Delander, B. (2016). Guidebook: Six proven practices for effective civic learning. Denver, CO: Education Commission of the States. Retrieved from

From the description: “This report reviews the ‘Six Proven Practices for Effective Civic Learning’ and serves as a resource for education leaders who want to put the practices in place.”

Hansen, M., Levesque, E., Valant, J., & Quintero, D. (2018). The 2018 Brown Center report on American education: How well are American students learning? Washington, DC: Brookings Institution. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This year’s Brown Center Report (BCR) on American Education is the 17th issue overall since its beginning in 2000. The 2018 edition focuses on the state of social studies and civics education in U.S. schools. Like previous editions, which were authored by Tom Loveless, the report comprises three studies: The first chapter examines student performance on the National Assessment of Educational Progress; the second examines state policy related to civics education; and the third provides a look at the nation’s social studies teachers. Individual chapters contain references.”

Hutchens, M. J., & Eveland, W. P., Jr. (2009). The long-term impact of high school civics curricula on political knowledge, democratic attitudes and civic behaviors: A multi-level model of direct and mediated effects through communication (CIRCLE Working Paper 65). Medford, MA: Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE), Jonathan M. Tisch College of Civic Life, Tufts University. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This report examines the effects of exposure to various elements of a civics curriculum on civic participation, two forms of political knowledge, internal political efficacy, political cynicism, news elaboration, discussion elaboration and various forms of interpersonal and mediated political communication behaviors. The data are based on a longitudinal study of high school students in a challenged large urban school district in Ohio. Two approaches to instruction are contrasted: stimulating political communication by discussing media sources and engaging in political debate; and rote learning of traditional civics content. Both approaches correlated ‘negatively’ with civic outcomes, but there could be several interpretations of that correlation.”

Kahne, J. E., & Sporte, S. E. (2008). Developing citizens: The impact of civic learning opportunities on students’ commitment to civic participation. American Educational Research Journal, 45(3), 738–766. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “This study of 4,057 students from 52 high schools in Chicago examines the impact of civic learning opportunities on students’ commitments to civic participation. The study controls for demographic factors, pre-existing civic commitments, and academic test scores. Unlike prior large scale studies that found limited impact from school based civic education, but often did not focus on what and how students were taught, the focus is on a set of specific civic learning opportunities and it is found that they foster notable improvements in students’ commitments to civic participation. Discussing civic and political issues with one’s parents, extra-curricular activities other than sports, and living in a civically responsive neighborhood also appear to meaningfully support this goal. Other school characteristics appear less influential.”

Pasek, J., Feldman, L., Romer, D., & Jamieson, K. H. (2008). Schools as incubators of democratic participation: Building long-term political efficacy with civic education. Applied Development Science, 12(1), 26–37. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Despite a growing consensus that civic education is an important aspect of political socialization, little research has prospectively examined how gains made during civics courses are maintained after high school. This study used a quasi-experimental design to examine longer-term effects of the Student Voices program, which was originally evaluated in Philadelphia public high schools during the 2002-2003 school year. Following the 2004 presidential election, researchers recontacted students who had participated in the program for one or two semesters and students who had been in control civics classrooms. A structural equation model indicated that students who experienced two semesters of the program reported greater self-efficacy for political participation and that this effect carried over to increased political attentiveness as well as to knowledge of candidate positions. In addition, political attentiveness increased knowledge and voting in the election. However, neither knowledge nor efficacy had direct effects on voting once attentiveness was controlled. The results suggest that a supplementary civics education program such as Student Voices can increase subsequent participation in politics by building long-term gains in political self-efficacy and skills in using the news media to follow government and political affairs.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Van Camp, D., & Baugh, S.-A. (2016). Encouraging civic knowledge and engagement: Exploring current events through a psychological lens. Journal of the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 16(2), 14–28. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Engagement with political, social, and civil issues is a fundamental component of an educated population, but civic knowledge and engagement are decreasing among adolescents and young adults. A Psychology in Current Events class sought to increase this engagement and key skills such as critical thinking. A one-group pretest-posttest quasi-experimental design was used to assess changes in key measures after taking the class. The findings indicate that the students significantly increased their civic engagement, civic knowledge, multicultural sensitivity, applied thinking skills, as well as skills such as their ability to consider alternative viewpoints, appreciate diversity, monitor current events, and think critically.”

Voight, A., & Torney-Purta, J. (2013). A typology of youth civic engagement in urban middle schools. Applied Developmental Science, 17(4), 198–212. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Youth civic engagement occupies a central space in applied developmental science. However, understanding of the processes and contexts in which early adolescents become civically engaged is still limited. This study draws on a sample of approximately 4,000 students from 11 urban middle schools in Tennessee to address several gaps in the civic engagement literature. First, we use latent class analysis to identify types of civic engagement in early adolescence. Second, we explore associations between types of engagement and youth behavioral and academic outcomes. Third, we focus on urban youth. A latent class analysis using survey items suggests a three-class structure for civic engagement in urban middle schools. One distinction is between students who are engaged and those who are not. Another distinction is that, among the engaged groups, one is engaged both behaviorally and attitudinally (social justice actors), whereas another has strong civic attitudes but infrequent civic behaviors (social justice sympathizers).”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Wray-Lake, L., Metzger, A., & Syvertsen, A. K. (2017). Testing multidimensional models of youth civic engagement: Model comparisons, measurement invariance, and age differences. Applied Developmental Science, 21(4), 266–284. Retrieved from

From the ERIC abstract: “Despite recognition that youth civic engagement is multidimensional, different modeling approaches are rarely compared or tested for measurement invariance. Using a diverse sample of 2,467 elementary, middle, and high school-aged youth, we measured eight dimensions of civic engagement: social responsibility values, informal helping, political beliefs, civic skills, environmental behavior, volunteering, voting intentions, and news consumption. We compared correlated unidimensional factors, higher-order factor, and bifactor models and tested for measurement invariance and latent mean differences by age. The correlated unidimensional factors model best fit the data, yet higher-order and bifactor models fit adequately. Metric and scalar invariance was found across models. Latent means varied depending on the dimension of civic engagement and the multidimensional model examined. Findings favored the correlated unidimensional factors model; implications of each model are discussed. This study informs future research on youth civic engagement and has broad relevance for any developmental scientist studying a multidimensional construct.”

Note: REL Midwest was unable to locate a link to the full-text version of this resource. Although REL Midwest tries to provide publicly available resources whenever possible, it was determined that this resource may be of interest to you. It may be found through university or public library systems.

Additional Organizations to Consult

Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement –

From the website: “CIRCLE, the Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning & Engagement, focuses on young people in the United States, especially those who are marginalized or disadvantaged in political life. CIRCLE’s scholarly research informs policy and practice for healthier youth development and a better democracy.”


Keywords and Search Strings

The following keywords and search strings were used to search the reference databases and other sources:

  • civics

  • civics: “citizen participation”

  • civics “civic engagement”

  • civics: “political attitudes”

  • civics: “voter registration”

  • civics voting

Databases and Search Engines

We searched ERIC for relevant resources. ERIC is a free online library of more than 1.6 million citations of education research sponsored by the Institute of Education Sciences (IES). Additionally, we searched Institute of Education Sciences (IES) and Google Scholar.

Reference Search and Selection Criteria

When we were searching and reviewing resources, we considered the following criteria:

  • Date of the publication: References and resources published over the last 15 years, from 2002 to present, were included in the search and review.

  • Search priorities of reference sources: Search priority is given to study reports, briefs, and other documents that are published or reviewed by IES and other federal or federally funded organizations.

  • Methodology: We used the following methodological priorities/considerations in the review and selection of the references: (a) study types—randomized control trials, quasi-experiments, surveys, descriptive data analyses, literature reviews, policy briefs, and so forth, generally in this order, (b) target population, samples (e.g., representativeness of the target population, sample size, volunteered or randomly selected), study duration, and so forth, and (c) limitations, generalizability of the findings and conclusions, and so forth.
This memorandum is one in a series of quick-turnaround responses to specific questions posed by educational stakeholders in the Midwest Region (Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Michigan, Minnesota, Ohio, Wisconsin), which is served by the Regional Educational Laboratory (REL Midwest) at American Institutes for Research. This memorandum was prepared by REL Midwest under a contract with the U.S. Department of Education’s Institute of Education Sciences (IES), Contract ED-IES-17-C-0007, administered by American Institutes for Research. Its content does not necessarily reflect the views or policies of IES or the U.S. Department of Education nor does mention of trade names, commercial products, or organizations imply endorsement by the U.S. Government.