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Ezekiel White
Ezekiel White

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(NCES 97-906) Ordering information IntroductionThis report presents data on the civic involvement of adults in the United States, including sources ofinformation, community and political participation, and attitudes toward government and democraticprinciples. The data are from the 1996 National Household Education Survey (NHES:96), Adult CivicInvolvement component.HighlightsSources of InformationAdults were asked about regular reading activity, that is, reading a newspaper at least once a week,reading magazines on a regular basis, or reading any books during the last months. They also reportedon their sources of national news.Highest level of education is associated with reading activity. Adults who did not complete a highschool program are less likely to read a newspaper at least once a week (71 percent) than thosewith a high school diploma (85 percent), some college (89 percent), or a bachelor's degree orhigher (91 percent, table 1). The same pattern exists for reading at least one magazine on a regularbasis. The percentage of adults who reported having read any books in the past 6 months increasedsignificantly with each level of education. Percentages ranged from 42 percent of adults with lessthan a high school diploma to 83 percent of adults with a bachelor's degree or above (table 1).U.S. adults are more likely to receive news about national issues on a daily basis from television orradio than from a newspaper or news magazine (table 2). Thirty-one percent said they read thenational news in a newspaper or news magazine almost every day, while 75 percent said theywatched the national news on television or listened to the national news on radio almost every day.The percentage of adults who read the national news in a newspaper or news magazine almost dailyincreased with each age category, from those 18 to 24, to people 25 to 39, to those 40 to 54, toadults 55 or older. The Nation's younger and middle-aged adults, those 18 to 24, 25 to 39, and 40to 54, also were less likely to report that they watched the national news on television or listened onthe radio than were older Americans (table 2).A lower percentage of adults who were parents with children 18 years old or younger living in thehousehold (25 percent) reported reading about the national news in a newspaper or news magazineon a daily basis compared with those adults who had no children in that age range living with them(34 percent, table 2).Knowledge of GovernmentTwo five-item sets of questions about government were included in the survey. Each respondent wasrandomly selected to receive one set of questions.On a five-item index of knowledge about government, about half of American adults (55 percent)answered three or more questions correctly (table 3).A greater percentage of men (65 percent) than women (46 percent) and a greater percentage ofpeople who are white and not Hispanic (61 percent) than people of other racial/ethnic groups (36percent) scored three or more on the knowledge index (table 3).An adult's highest level of education was also related to his or her score on the knowledge index.Fifteen percent of adults with less than a high school education, 43 percent of those with a highschool diploma or equivalent, 67 percent of adults with some college, and 84 percent of those witha bachelor's degree or above answered at least three questions correctly (table 3).Community ParticipationIndicators of community participation included membership in an organization, attending religiousservices on a regular basis, and participating in community service.Fifty-nine percent of adults belong to a community or professional organization, 50 percent attendreligious services once a month or more, and 39 percent participate in ongoing community service(table 4).Younger adults, those 18 to 39 years old, are less likely to belong to an organization or attendreligious services regularly than are their elders, but they are just as likely to do community serviceon a regular basis (table 4).More highly educated adults are more likely to participate in community service than those lesseducated. Approximately half of those with a bachelor's degree or above versus about 40 percentof adults with some college reported that they do community service work (table 4), and both ofthese groups are more likely than adults with a high school diploma or less to participate in thattype of activity.Adults who report that they read about or watch or listen to the national news nearly every day aremore likely than adults who neither read about nor watch or listen to the national news on a dailybasis to participate in more ways in their communities by belonging to an organization, attendingreligious services once a month or more, or doing community service (table 6).Political Participation and AttitudesVoting and five other types of political participation were measured, as well as skills related to civicparticipation. In addition, adults were asked their opinion about statements related to political efficacyand democratic values.Persons who are white and not Hispanic are more likely than others to have said that they voted inthe past 5 years. Eighty percent of white, non-Hispanics reported voting in contrast to 57 percentof those of another race/ethnicity (table 5).Low scores on a five-item knowledge of government index are associated with low levels ofpolitical participation (table 6).Thirty-seven percent of American adults believe that politics and government are too complicatedto understand, and 42 percent perceive that their own families have no say in what the governmentdoes (table 7).Eighty-three percent of U.S. adults agreed with a statement endorsing freedom of speech (table 7).Adults who have more education than a high school diploma were more likely than those having ahigh school diploma or less to agree that a speech against religion should be allowed. Thepercentages of adults endorsing a right to make such a speech ranged from 70 of those with lessthan a high school diploma to 93 percent of those with a bachelor's degree or higher.Most American adults believe that they possess some skills that are useful for participating inpolitical life. Ninety-two percent said that they could write a letter to a government official thatclearly states their opinion, and 85 percent reported that they could make a comment or statementat a public meeting (table 8).Improving Public EducationAdults gave their opinions on four potential actions that might improve public education.When Americans were asked their opinions about possible actions that might improve publiceducation, the two that received endorsement from the highest percentage were evaluating teachersaccording to high performance standards (69 percent) and not promoting students until they metstrict academic standards (63 percent, table 9).The National Household Education SurveyThe National Household Education Survey (NHES) is a data collection system of the National Centerfor Education Statistics (NCES), which has as its legislative mission the collection and publication ofdata on the condition of education in the Nation. The NHES is specifically designed to ssupport thismission by providing information on educational issues that are best addressed by contactinghouseholds rather than schools or other educational institutions. The NHES provides descriptive dataon the educational activities of the U.S. population and offers policy makers, researchers, and educatorsa variety of statistics on the condition of education in the United States.The NHES is a telephone survey of the non-institutionalized, civilian population of the United States.Households are selected for the survey using random-digit-dialing (RDD) methods, and data arecollected using computer-assisted telephone interviewing (CATI) procedures. From 45,000 to 64,000households are screened for each administration, and individuals within households who meetpredetermined criteria are sampled for more detailed or extended interviews. The data are weighted topermit estimates of the entire U.S. population. The NHES survey for a given year typically consists ofa set of screening questions (Screener), collecting household composition and demographic data, andextended interviews on two substantive components addressing education-related topics. In order toassess data item reliability and inform future NHES surveys, each administration also includes dataquality studies such as reinterviews with a subsample of respondents.The primary purpose of the NHES is to conduct repeated measurements of the same phenomena atdifferent points in time, although one-time surveys on topics of interest to the Department of Educationare also conducted. Throughout its history, the NHES has repeatedly collected data in ways that permitestimates to be tracked across time. This includes repeating topical components on a rotating basis inorder to provide comparative data across survey years. In addition, each administration of the NHEShas benefited from experiences with previous cycles, resulting in improvements to the surveyprocedures and content. Thus, while the survey affords the opportunity for tracking phenomena acrosstime, it is also dynamic in addressing new issues and including conceptual and methodologicalrefinements.A new design feature of the NHES program implemented in the NHES:96 is the collection ofdemographic and educational information on members of all screened households, rather than just thosehouseholds potentially eligible for a topical component. In addition, this expanded screening featureincludes a brief set of questions on an issue of interest to education program administrators orpolicymakers. In 1996, the topic was public library usage. The total Screener sample size is sufficientto produce state estimates of household characteristics for the NHES:96.The NHES has been conducted in 1991, 1993, 1995, and 1996. Topics addressed by the NHES:91were early childhood education and adult education. The NHES :93 collected information about schoolreadiness and school safety and discipline. The 1991 components were repeated for the NHES:95,addressing early childhood program participation and adult education. Both components underwentsubstantial redesign to incorporate new issues and develop new measurement approaches.The NHES:96Parent and Family Involvement in Education and Civic Involvement were the two major topicalcomponents of the NHES: 96. Each topic addresses aspects of the National Education Goals. TheParent and Family Involvement component was guided by Goal 1, concerning children's readiness forschool, and Goal 8, which encourages parental participation in education by recommending schoolpromotion of partnerships with parents in the education of their children. The sample population forthis component of the NHES :96 was children age 3 years through 12th grade. Their parents wereinterviewed about types and frequency of involvement with the school, student experiences that may becorrelates of family involvement, school practices to involve and support families, and learningactivities that take place in the home, including helping with homework. Older youth, that is, those ingrades 6 through 12, also responded to some questions about family involvement in their education.The Civic Involvement component was inspired by two other National Education Goals. Goal3, dealing with student achievement and citizenship, states that students in America's schools will learnto "use their minds well, so they may be prepared for responsible citizenship ...," and Goal 6 says thatadults should possess " . . the knowledge and skills necessary to... exercise the rights and responsibilitiesof citizenship. " There were three populations of interest for the Civic Involvement component of theNHES:96: students in grades 6 through 12, parents of those students, and U.S. adults. Adults weredefined as persons 18 years or older, not currently enrolled in grade 12 or below, and not on activeduty in the armed forces. This random sample of adults, some of whom were parents, was included inthe Civic Involvement component to provide information on civic involvement that would berepresentative of the entire noninstitutionalized, civilian population.The data in this report are from the Adult Civic Involvement component of the NHES:96. Inthis component, there were questions measuring general reading activity, as well as items focused onobtaining information about the national news from the media. Other items measured participation inthe community and participation in a range of political activities. The Civic Involvement componentincluded measures of attitudes and skills related to civic life. There were also two versions of a five-itemtest of knowledge of government; each was administered to one of two randomly selected split halfsamples of adults. Items asked in the Adult Civic Involvement component were similar to civicinvolvement items asked of parents and students. See the Technical Notes, page 14, for moreinformation on the Adult Civic Involvement component and the NHES:96. Researchers who areinterested in obtaining the data may do so by contacting NCES. (Contact information is on page ii.)----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Table 1.--Percent of U.S. adults reporting reading activity, by selected characteristics: 1996---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Material and frequency -------------------------------------------------------Characteristic Number Read a newspaper Read one or more Read any books in Percent who (thousands) at least once a magazines on a past 6 months reported all three week regular basis types/1 ------------- ------------- --------------- ------------- Percent s.e. Percent s.e. Percent s.e. Percent s.e.----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Total 188,233 85 1.0 86 0.9 661.3 541.3Age 18 - 24 21,345 81 3.4 91 2.1 723.7 564.0 25 - 39 64,157 83 1.7 88 1.7 682.3 552.3 40 - 54 50,442 87 1.7 85 1.7 652.5 552.6 55 - 69 31,396 90 1.9 82 2.3 662.8 563.0 70 and older 20,893 87 2.4 82 2.5 523.7 413.3Sex Female 98,437 84 1.3 85 1.3 711.7 571.8 Male 89,795 87 1.6 87 1.5 591.9 512.0Race/ethnicity White, non-Hispanic 143,297 88 1.0 87 1.0 681.5 561.6 Other race/ethnicity 44,936 78 2.3 82 2.0 582.5 472.4Highest level of education Less than high school 23,823 71 3.6 66 3.7 423.5 303.9 High school diploma/equivalent or vocational education 73,185 85 1.6 86 1.6 572.1 452.1 Some college 47,621 89 1.6 89 1.5 742.3 612.6 Bachelor's degree or higher 43,604 91 1.3 94 1.1 831.7 741.9Household income $15,000 or less 38,583 74 2.9 75 2.9 523.1 373.0 $15,001-30,000 47,833 83 1.9 81 2.3 622.8 472.8 $30,001-50,000 49,502 90 1.4 90 1.4 692.3 592.6 $50,0010r more 52,315 92 1.2 94 1.0 761.8 682.0Parent with child age 18 or younger in household/2 Yes 71,646 85 1.6 86 1.6 662.1 552.2 No 116,587 86 1.2 86 1.1 651.7 531.5----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------/1 Read a newspaper at least once a weekand read one or more magazines on a regular basis and read any books in the past 6 months./2 This question was asked of all respondents whose households contained members age 18 or younger and who were at least 12 yearsolder than those children. "Parent" includes stepparent or guardian.NOTE: s.e. is standard error. Numbers may not add to totals because of rounding.SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, , National Household Education Survey, 1996, AdultCivic Involvement component.-----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Table 2.--Percent of U.S. adults reporting sources and frequency of receiving national news, by selected characteristics: 1996------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Source of daily national ---------------------------------------------------------- National news from Read national news inWatched national news newspaper/news newspaper or newson television or listened magazine and fromCharacteristic Numbermagazine almost everyon national news on radiotelevision/radio almost (thousands) day almost every day every day ------------------- ------------------- ------------------ Percents.e. Percents.e. Percents.e.-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Total 188,233 311.0 75 1.2 261.0Age 18 -24 21,345 92.5 57 4.7 82.3 25 -39 64,157 211.6 67 1.9 161.4 40-54 50,442 332.1 79 1.9 271.9 55-69 31,396 493.1 88 2.1 473.4 70 and older 20,893 503.4 91 2.3 463.5Sex Female 98,437 261.6 74 1.5 231.5 Male 89,795 361.5 77 1.7 301.6Race/ethrticity White, non-Hispanic 143,297 341.2 75 1.4 291.1 Other race/ethnicity 44,936 222.1 76 2.0 192.0Highest level of education Less than high school 23,823 182.8 78 3.0 152.7 High school diplomal/equivalent or vocational education 73,185 271.5 73 1.9 231.4 Some college 47,621 332.1 73 2.6 282.0 Bachelor's degree or higher 43,604 422.4 79 1.7 372.3Household income $15,000 or less 38,583 212.5 76 2.6 172.4 $15,001-30,000 47,833 292.3 75 2.6 252.2 $30,001-50,000 49,502 322.1 73 1.9 271.9 $50,001 or more 52,315 392.3 77 1.8 342.1Parent with child age 18 or younger in household* Yes 71,646 251.6 73 2.0 211.7 No 116,587 341.5 77 1.4 301.4-------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------* This question was asked of all respondents whose households contained members age 18 or younger and who were at least 12 yearsolder than those children. "Parent" includes stepparent or guardian.NOTE: s.e. is standard error. Numbers may not add to totals because of rounding.SOURCE: U.S. Department of Education, , National Household Education Survey, 1996, AdultCivic Involvement component.--------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Table 3.--Percent of U.S. adults who correctly answered selected questions/1 measuring knowledge about government, by selected characterist its: 1996----------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Knowledge items - Set A ------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------ What job or politicalDoes President, Congress Which party has the mostWhat majority is needed Which party is more Numberoffice is now held or Supreme Courtmembers in U.S. Houseto override a conservative at theCharacteristic (thousand) by Al Gore? determine if a law isof Representatives?presidential veto?national level? constitutional? ------------------- ------------------ ------------------- ------------------- ------------------ Percents.e. Percents.e. Percents.e. Percents.e. Percent s.e.----------------


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