Working Papers

Democracy for Some: The Civic Opportunity Gap in High School

Joseph Kahne and Ellen Middaugh

Date: Jan 31, 2008

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In our study of high school civic opportunities, we found that a student’s race and academic track, and a school’s average socioeconomic status (SES) determines the availability of the school-based civic learning opportunities that promote voting and broader forms of civic engagement. High school students attending higher SES schools, those who are college-bound, and white students get more of these opportunities than low-income students, those not heading to college, and students of color.

The study is based on surveys of more than 2,500 California juniors and seniors over a two-year period (2005-2007) as well as on analysis of a nationally representative data set of more 2,811 9th graders. Students were surveyed about how their high school civic learning experiences aligned with civic education best practices. This summary details those findings and suggests ways policymakers and educators can respond.