American government is divided into three branches. Can you name them? If so, you’re in the minority. National polling finds that only 26 percent of Americans can name all three branches of the government. This is down from 38 percent in 2011.

Worse, 33 percent of Americans surveyed were unable to name even one branch of government.

The reality and importance of our civic literacy crisis is no longer subject to partisan debate. In 1983, the Reagan Administration published A Nation at Risk, which detailed the decline of American public education. The report was criticized for being “conservative.” In 1987, when Allan Bloom’s Closing of the American Mind argued that “higher education has failed democracy and impoverished the souls of today’s students,” it too was greeted by someas a “conservative” critique.

No more. Concern over Americans’ civic illiteracy has gone bipartisan: The title of a op-ed by Chris Cillizza screams its conclusion: “Americans know literally nothing about the Constitution.” Cillizza draws evidence for his contention from the most recent poll from the University of Pennsylvania’s Annenberg Public Policy Center, the results of which constitute, in Cillizza’s words, a “bouillabaisse of ignorance.”

Among other things, the Annenberg Center survey found that 37% of those polled could not name even one right protected by the First Amendment.

Sad to say, the Annenberg poll is not alone in its conclusions. A new study finds that most Americans would fail the U.S. Citizenship test. The Woodrow Wilson National Fellowship Foundation gave native-born respondents a series of multiple-choice questions based on the test administered by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Only 13 percent of respondents could identify the year that the U.S. Constitution was written (1787).

The U.S. Citizenship test requires a score of only 60 percent to pass. But the Wilson Foundation study found that only 36 percent of the 1,000 citizens they surveyed could achieve a passing score.

Commenting on the survey results, Wilson Foundation President Arthur Levine observed, “Unfortunately, this study found the average American to be woefully uninformed regarding America’s history and incapable of passing the U.S. Citizenship Test.”

Wilson went on to label it an “error to view these findings as merely an embarrassment. Knowledge of the history of our country is fundamental to maintaining a democratic society, which is imperiled today.”

The Wilson Foundation study also reveals an age gap in civic literacy. Fully 74% of senior citizen respondents answered a sufficient number of questions correctly to pass the test. However, only 20% of those under the age of 45 could reach the needed 60% score needed to pass.

What can be done? Duly alarmed over these results, a growing number of state legislatures are taking on the civic literacy crisis. According to a recent report, “more than half of the states in their last legislative sessions — 27 to be exact — have considered bills or other proposals to expand the teaching of civics.”

The Keystone State is the latest to pass such legislation. In June, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, a Democrat, signed a bill mandating civics testing for all students. The bill passed with a supermajority in the Pennsylvania state House. It will require students in grades seven through 12 to be tested in “U.S. history, government and civics.”

Although Pennsylvania students need not pass the exam in order to graduate, those who earn a perfect score will receive a certificate of achievement from the state’s Department of Education. In addition, schools will be required to report how many students passed the test.

Although Pennsylvania chose not to require passage of the exam as a precondition of graduation, eight states now require students to pass a civics test to graduate from high school. This information comes from an Education Commission of the States report updating the Civics Education Initiative, a two-year project overseen by the Joe Foss Institute.

Texas may become the ninth state to require passage of the USCIS test to graduate from high school. In its last legislative session in 2017, the Texas House passed HB 1776 (aptly numbered!), which would include a civics test in the graduation requirements for public high school students. It would replace the current United States history end-of-course assessment.

Although the bill passed in the House, it died in the Senate. Its authors and co-authors are signaling that they will be back with the bill this coming session, which starts in January.

They are right to do so. Jefferson warned us that “no nation” can expect to be “both ignorant and free” (emphasis mine). We expect immigrants to this country to pass the USCIS test in order to become citizens. Yet four out of five native-born Americans under 45 cannot fulfill this minimal condition.

At a time when both the Left and the Right in this country are decrying “fake news” and voter manipulation generally, there is no better antidote to these ills than to ensure that our future voters, now in high school, emerge not only with a diploma, but also armed with the civic knowledge that is indispensable to their becoming more informed and effective citizens.

But is making passage of the USCIS citizenship test as a condition of graduation asking too much of our high-school students? Not in the slightest. To see this, spend five minutes taking the practice test yourself, which can be found here. After you’ve done so, and if you have children in grades 8-12, have them take the test. My wager is that you’ll wish the test was more difficult, as I do.

That said, requiring the USCIS test for graduation is a far better civic education strategy than what passes for it in most states today.