Civics Education Resource Site

The Civic Empowerment Gap

Meira Levinson, in her widely acclaimed 2012 book Leave no Citizen Behind, outlines a "...profound civic empowerment gap...between ethnographical minority, naturalized, and especially poor citizens, on one hand, and white, native-born, and especially middle-class and wealthy citizens on the other." This gap is caused or exacerbated, at least in part, by our system of education. There is "...incontrovertible evidence that poor and non-white students are receiving demonstrably less and worse civic education than middle-class and wealthy white students."

For example:

For both 8th and 12th grade students taking the 2010 NAEP Civics Assessment, white students and those with high socioeconomic status are more likely to be exposed to current events, discussion, debates and panels, and simulations (Kawashima-Ginsberg, 2013).

African-American students report fewer civic-oriented government classes, and Latinos are afforded fewer community service opportunities and open classroom environments (Kahne and Middaugh, 2008)

"Not only are white and wealthy students more likely to receive recommended civic education experiences in school, but the content and topics they discuss and the way these are presented are often tailored to white and middle-class students rather than students of color and poor students" (CIRCLE, 2013).

These disparities lead to differences in civic participation in areas such as voting, volunteering, contacting elected officials, and donating to charitable causes. They also affect levels of political and social trust. The civic empowerment gap thus "weakens the quality and integrity of our democracy." It is therefore imperative that schools make certain that all students have access to high-quality civic learning opportunities throughout their educational careers in an effort to close the civic empowerment gap.



Center for Information Research on Civic Learning and Engagement: All Together Now: Collaboration and Innovation for Youth Civic Engagement. The Report of the Commission on Youth Voting and Civic Knowledge. 2013.

Kahne, Joseph, and Middaugh, Ellen: Democracy for Some: the Civic Opportunity Gap in High School. CIRCLE Working Paper 59. 2008.

Kawashima-Ginsberg, Kei: Do Discussion, Debate, and Simulations Boost NAEP Civics Performance? CIRCLE Fact Sheet. 2013.

Levinson, Meira: No Citizen Left Behind. Cambridge, MA: Harvard U. Press, 2012. Download the PDF

Sporte, Sue E., and Kahne, Joseph: Educating for Democracy: Lessons from Chicago. Chicago, IL: Consortium on Chicago School Research. 2007.