A new study commissioned by a New York City charter school shows students who attended the school were significantly more likely to vote, a reality officials credit to a focus on civics engrained in the school's culture.
The Democracy Prep charter school network commissioned independent researchers to examine city charter school admissions data to determine what, if any, impact applying to and attending Democracy Prep schools has on civic participation later in life, and the results were not surprising.
Looking at more than a thousand students who applied between 2007 and 2015 who were old enough to vote in 2016, the researchers found that just being selected in the admissions lottery was correlated with a slight increase in voting rates. Students who were chosen voted 6 percent more often than students who were not.
The impact was much greater on students who were chosen and actually enrolled.
“Democracy Prep provides a test case of whether charter schools can successfully serve the foundational purpose of public education – preparation for citizenship – even while operating outside the direct control of elected officials,” researchers wrote. “With respect to the critical civic participation measures of registration and voting, the answer is yes.”
It is not surprising that a school so named and infused with civic education across the curriculum has a lasting impact on the behaviors of its students. While charter schools are diverse in their core emphases, researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture found that since “Students and their families must choose that school, there is power in wanting to see one’s choice as correct.” Students at these schools came to believe in the school’s values over time.
Democracy Prep officials contend the results show the charter network’s approach to civics is effective. Seth Andrew, who founded the first Democracy Prep in Harlem in 2006, told Chalkbeat civic participation is weaved into the school’s culture and academics. Students are required to conduct their own “Change the World” project and pass a citizenship exam to graduate.
“This idea of ‘change the world’ was very central to what we were trying to get our kids prepared and excited to do,” he said.
Democracy Prep CEO Katie Duffy explained that the charter network goes well beyond a simple civics class to get kids involved by volunteering the schools as polling stations on election days, as well as student-led “Vote for Somebody” campaigns to encourage participation in the primary election.
“The more you talk about the importance of voting, the importance of elections, the importance of advocacy,” she said, “the more it becomes ingrained in our kids.”
Teachers and principals working to strengthen moral and citizenship formation in their students can find information and strategies at the UK's The Jubilee Centre. In The Jubilee Centre's own words, the following illustrates how the centre views its work. "The Jubilee Centre is a pioneering interdisciplinary research centre on character, virtues and values in the interest of human flourishing. The Centre is a leading informant on policy and practice through its extensive range of projects contributes to a renewal of charter virtues in both individuals and society."