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Archive for Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Who’s the father of the Constitution?

Pilot program seeks to improve student knowledge

August 24, 2005

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— A nonprofit group plans seminars for teachers across the state this fall under a pilot project designed to improve students' knowledge about the U.S. Constitution and its Bill of Rights.

And the Bill of Rights Institute, of Arlington, Va., has evidence that young Kansans need some additional help. A survey released in June that tested the knowledge of more than 380 Kansas high school seniors indicated the students' knowledge is spotty.

The institute, founded in 1999, provides instructional materials to about 25,000 teachers nationwide and has conducted seminars in some 30 states. However, institute officials said Tuesday the seminars in Kansas represent the first time it has concentrated on a single state to measure how well its seminars and materials improve students' knowledge.

The institute hopes to have about 250 teachers at eight seminars, starting with one at Pittsburg State University on Sept. 26. Seminars also are scheduled for Lawrence, Topeka, Manhattan, Wichita, Salina and Hays, and end in Garden City on Oct. 7.

"We want to move the needle and show growth in knowledge about the Constitution and the Bill of Rights," said Victoria Hughes, the institute's president, a former teacher.

Interest in civics education has grown nationally in recent years, particularly since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, said Lynn Stanley, social studies coordinator for the Kansas Department of Education.

"We tend to live in the CNN, sound-bite society," she said. "I think that programs like this reiterate what good civic discourse is."

Kim Ash, the institute's marketing director, said it chose Kansas because the state's social studies standards are stronger than other states' and because the state's size allows the institute to track its results effectively.

Also, the institute found a sponsor in a Wichita nonprofit foundation established by the founder of Koch Industries.

"If we have success in Kansas, hopefully we'll be able to take this model to other states," Ash said. "With all programs, someone has to be the pilot."

As for Kansans' knowledge of the Constitution, the high school seniors surveyed in June generally scored better than college seniors who were surveyed in 1997 and 2000.

But that doesn't mean their knowledge is solid.

For example, about half identified Thomas Jefferson as the father of the Constitution - even though Jefferson didn't participate in its drafting. The correct answer was James Madison.

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