Revitalizing Young-Adult Citizenship: An Analysis of High-School Predictors on Civic Engagement

By Kari Lorentson
Clocks and Clouds
2016, Vol. 6 No. 2 | pg. 2/2 |

Classroom Climate

The next multiple regression analysis involved classroom climate variables. The first variable measured participants' responses to the statement "in general, students could disagree with teachers, if respectful." The second classroom climate indicator statement measured was "in general, students were encouraged to express their opinions." For both, responses were measured on a five-point scale from "1" coded as "strongly disagree" to "5" coded as "strongly agree."

As seen in Table 3, the predictor related to disagreement with teacher produced significant results, but the variable relating to the expression of opinion was not significant. Although the disagreement with teachers variable did yield a positive significant result at the p < 0.05 level, the coefficient size of 0.06 is relatively small compared to every demographic variable coefficient except for race. Furthermore, the "encouraged to express opinions" did not have a significant coefficient, and the relationship was even negative.

Table 3: Level of Civic Engagement following the 2012 Presidential Election among 18-24 year-old US Citizens with Classroom Climate Predictors

Table 3: Level of Civic Engagement following the 2012 Presidential Election among 18-24 year-old US Citizens with Classroom Climate Predictors

When looking at the coefficient sizes, the effect of classroom climate on civic engagement is small compared to other variables in this equation. Given the insignificance of the second variable, it is difficult to reject the null hypothesis of no relationship when only one of the two classroom climate variables served as a significant predictor of civic engagement. These findings do not suggest the strength of relationship found in Campbell (2008).

In this regression analysis, the same three demographic variables that were significant in the previous two analyses remained significant. Socioeconomic status and expected education were positively and significantly related to respondents' civic engagement outcome. Like previous regressions indicated, public high school attendance also was a significant variable, but the correlation was negative.

Community Service

Of the participants in this survey, 2,923 were asked if they worked on a service project in high school. 49.7 percent (n=1454) indicated that they had worked on a such a project, while 50.3 percent (n=1469) stated they did not participate in a service project for school. Of the students who did complete a service project, they were asked whether they served as part of a voluntary act (n=671) or as a requirement (n=783). As shown in Table 4 below, participation in both voluntary and required service projects led to significant results.

For the initial multiple regression analysis with community service project predictors, as shown in Table 4, the participation in community service was a significant predictor, both for required community service and voluntary community service at the p < 0.01 level. For students who performed voluntary community service, their average civic engagement score was 2.31, and the average civic engagement score for students completing required community service was 2.19. These were both higher than the average score of 1.73 for those students performing no service. Since both required and voluntary service had significant results, this suggests that participating in service, regardless of one's motives behind the involvement, contributes to higher civic engagement scores.

Table 4: Level of Civic Engagement following the 2012 Presidential Election among 18-24 year-old US Citizens with Community Service Predictors

Table 4: Level of Civic Engagement following the 2012 Presidential Election among 18-24 year-old US Citizens with Community Service Predictors

What would be helpful to further investigate this relationship would be to know what types of service the students performed. The data does not differentiate between those who committed to ongoing service projects versus one-time events, and the length of commitment (or lack thereof) to service activities could make a difference. But, by having the required service category with significant results, we are able to see results for those who do not self-select into the activity.

Similar to the previous regressions, too, socioeconomic status and expected education were both significant, with a positive correlation. Public high school attendance was significant too, but the coefficient was negative, again suggesting that students who attended private, religious, and non-traditional schools may have exhibited stronger civic engagement levels.

Comprehensive Multiple Regression

For the final multiple regression analysis performed, all of the independent variables and demographic factors were included in the same equation. The results are below in Table 5.

Discussion of Comprehensive Multiple Regression Analysis

In this multiple regression analysis, both some independent variables and some of the demographic variables yielded significant outcomes as predictors. High quality civic education, community service involvement, and some extracurricular activities served as positive predictors for higher levels of civic engagement.

Table 5: Level of Civic Engagement following the 2012 Presidential Election among 18-24 year-old US Citizens with all included Predictors

Table 5: Level of Civic Engagement following the 2012 Presidential Election among 18-24 year-old US Citizens with all included Predictors

For the two classroom climate variables, neither of the two predictors yielded significant results in this analysis. Even though the variable "disagreement with teachers allowed" was significant at the p < 0.05 level in the regression that included only classroom climate and demographic variables, this significant relationships disappeared when in a model that included all of the variables. With the weak effects of classroom climate demonstrated here, other more tangible aspects of the educational experience such as community service, extracurricular involvement and a high quality civics class were of greater impact as predictors in the comprehensive multiple regression analysis.

For civic education predictors, high quality civic education produced a significant coefficient value, but low quality education was not significant in this analysis. As noted in the earlier discussion of civic education variables, it is not necessarily important that a student took a class related to civics or American government for high civic education levels. What was important was that the course provided high quality instruction. In fact, relative to all of the other variables in this analysis, and excluding the control coefficient, the high quality civic education predictor produced the largest coefficient of 0.29.

However the data in this study does not control for whether students self-selected into the civics courses due to a prior interest in politics or whether they were required to take a course. If the students chose to take the civics course out of a personal interest, it is likely that they would enjoy the content of the course and also have high levels of civic engagement after attending high school. In other words, despite the large coefficient relative to the others, this relationship may not indicate a causal link, but rather indicates that students who rank civics courses as "high quality" may be predisposed to having high civic engagement.

As for extracurricular activity involvement, the number of extracurricular groups a respondent was involved in during high school yielded significant results at the p < 0.01 level. There was a positive correlation between the number of groups a student was involved in and the student's civic engagement score, with a coefficient of 0.20. Relative to the high quality civic education mentioned above, this is a slightly smaller coefficient. Also, relative to both required and voluntary community service predictors, the effect the number of extracurricular activities was smaller.

Whether any of these extracurricular groups were related to social or political issues mattered, too. Similar to the multiple regression that focused solely on extracurricular activities, there was a negative, significant correlation between non-political extracurricular activities and civic engagement. But this time, relative to the impact of all the other categories of predictors, involvement in activities related to social or political issues was not significant.

As mentioned above, for the community service predictors, positive and significant coefficients were the results for both the voluntary and mandatory dummy variables. With both types of service being significant predictors, the act of community service, regardless of the motivation behind the service, appears to be the driving force behind the significance in these variables. Interestingly, the coefficient was slightly larger for required service (0.28) over voluntary service (0.21). These community service results support Hart et al.'s findings (2007) that service can promote civic engagement, even when mandatory. In fact, besides the coefficient of the constant, required community service was the second largest positive coefficient at 0.28, only behind high quality civic education, which had a significant coefficient of 0.29. As such, this weakens and disagrees with Snyder & Clary's hypothesis that mandatory service projects fosters resentment, and in turn, counteracts civic engagement (1999).

Additionally, because the mandatory community service variables help to control for the self-selection issue that presented itself with the civic education and extracurricular variables, there exists a stronger argument for a causal relationship between community service and future civic engagement. Even for students who did not self-select into community service, community service served as a significant predictor of civic engagement compared to those who engaged in no community service whatsoever. With this considered, these results support the hypothesis that community service would be one of the strongest predicting variables in the comprehensive multiple regression analysis.

Finally, the constant, and a few of the demographic variables, also yielded significant results in this analysis. Type of high school, socioeconomic status, and expected education were all significant at the p < 0.05 level. Similar to previous analyses, the correlation between public high school attendance and civic engagement was negative. However, high socioeconomic status and an expected college education were both positively correlated with the mean civic engagement of 1824 year-olds.

Conclusion

From the analysis in this study, several important observations can be made for educators and policymakers alike. First, the importance of community service as a predictor of civic engagement is evident in the final regression analysis. Regardless of whether the service was performed voluntarily or as a requirement, both variables were significant. Incorporating service into the high school experience may serve as a way to foster civic engagement in students.

For civic education, only high quality education was significant amongst the civic education variables. With this information, educators may consider focusing on civic education best practices to ensure the education is providing students with adequate knowledge and tools about American government and means to participate in civic life.

Limitations to this study include the inability to account for selection bias with the civic education classes and extracurricular activities. It is unknown whether these students opted into take a course about civic education, or whether it was required by school policies. Additionally, the data did not provide for whether students optionally engaged in extracurricular activities, whether at least some activities were required, or whether students had the choice to self-select or opt-in to political and nonpolitical activities. Furthermore, the respondents self-reported the information about their experiences, and the survey included no mechanism to verify the responses. Respondents may have over-reported involvement in high school functions, and with this being a retrospective analysis for many of the participants, it may have been difficult to recall all of this information. With that, it is difficult to be certain of the accuracy of this data to the true experiences of US citizens ages 18-24.

In the future, it would be of interest to further investigate the role of community service with civic engagement. With both required and voluntary community service yielding being significant predictors in the final regression analysis, there is reason to consider investigating commitments to community service. For example, I would recommend studying whether there is difference in outcome between sustained, long-term service versus shortterm community service activities. Time investment in community service activities may enrich students' interests, knowledge, and engagement levels with social and community issues, which may, in turn, help develop stronger tendencies to be civically engaged.

Additionally, another avenue for research could be an investigation of why students who reported attending traditional public schools were associated with a negative, significant coefficient in the regression equation. It would be worthwhile to study the qualities and practices of private and nontraditional schools in order to research why the discrepancy exists between school type and civic engagement levels.


Author

Kari Lorentson was a student of Political Science. She graduated in December of 2015. School of Public Affairs (SPA), American University.


References

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