Bar chart: Black and Latino Youth Are Less Likely to Take High School Civics Courses and to Consider them Impactful Data at

Unequal opportunities for voice in high school civics classes

In CIRCLE’s 2024 national survey of youth, about 40 percent of the 18-24-year-old Americans who were polled recalled having “experiences in class, in student groups, or with school leaders where they felt their voice and opinion mattered” while they were high school students. “White (41%) and Latino youth (40%) were more likely to say they remembered such student voice experiences compared to Black and Asian youth (both 34%).”

White youth were also more likely to recall taking a course labeled “civics,” “American government,” or just “government” in high school (77% of Whites versus 64% of Blacks). After controlling for race/ethnicity, gender, college experience and age, CIRCLE finds strong positive relationships between experiencing voice in high school and planning to vote in the 2024 election. Of those who had positive experiences of voice, 81% say they are “extremely likely to vote,” as compared to 44% of those who did not.

This relationship is probably not entirely causal, with experiences of voice completely explaining the higher intentions to vote. To some extent, people who want to vote now may have sought out high school experiences or may remember those experiences when they are surveyed in the present. Some communities may both support voice in schools and encourage voting later on. Nevertheless, the correlations are stark and apply across demographic groups, which suggests that voice has a substantial impact.

We need two aspects of policy: ensure that every student takes courses on civics, government, and history, and make sure that meaningful discussion of current issues is part of those curricula.

Voting is an indicator here, not necessarily the goal. We teach civics to prepare and enourage young people to engage in many ways, not only at the ballot box. Still, voting is a clear measure of engagement.

See Kelly Siegel-Stechler, Naraya Price, Alberto Medina (with Abby Kiesa, Noorya Hayat, and Sara Suzuki), “Youth Who Develop their Voice in High School Are More Likely to Vote,” March 12, 2024