The development of political attitudes and civic engagement during the elementary and secondary school years has been studied by few educational psychologists compared to other subject areas. However, a chapter on civic education prepared by specialists in history education and developmental psychology appeared in the Handbook of Educational Psychology (Carretero, Haste, & Bermudez, 2016). The authors emphasized three issues: first, the importance of contexts at the national, community, and school levels; second, how students construct an understanding of civic and political concepts within their country’s context; and, third, the motivation and skills they acquire to become civic participants. This entry addresses those issues and focuses on what has been learned from a series of large-scale cross-national assessments in civic education standing at the intersection of educational psychology and political psychology (especially political socialization research).

While interest in political socialization research has declined during the past two decades, studies of civic education and civic engagement inside and outside school have increased. Researchers in anthropology, youth studies, communications studies, sociology (including critical approaches), political science, educational and developmental psychology, social studies curriculum, and teacher preparation have published studies. Although some educators learn about these research studies during pre- or in-service training, their preparation focuses on curricular approaches.

To illustrate continuing interest in this area we describe five civic education studies undertaken with representative samples from different countries between 1971 and 2016 and summarize selected results focused on two of those studies. These were international large-scale assessments in which students from nationally representative samples of schools in more than 30 countries were tested on civic knowledge and surveyed on civic attitudes. The studies were coordinated by the International Association for the Evaluation of Educational Achievement (IEA), a cooperation among national research institutions that is headquartered in Amsterdam and Hamburg. Their focus was on cross-cutting themes such as students’ understanding of basic principles of democratic institutions and their willingness to participate in civic activities in their own countries, to name just two topics. Teachers and principals (headmasters) also were surveyed in these studies. Summary reports contained country comparisons and examined associations of civic knowledge with home educational background and students’ gender within countries, for example. Then these data were made freely available to researchers.

Well-supported findings about civic learning within individual countries can be gleaned from these studies. They provide a basis for understanding young people’s knowledge about their own country’s political system and attitudes toward it, as well as pointing to effective components of civic education. These studies demonstrate that the following aspects of civic learning can be measured reliably: knowledge of principles of democracy and the role of citizens, skills in interpreting political messages, social/political attitudes (e.g., toward the rights of immigrants or about trust in governmental institutions), and students’ inclinations to participate in both conventional political activities in the future (e.g., voting or becoming a candidate for political office) and social movement activities (e.g., taking action on social problems). Aspects of the civic education process were also measured reliably: the degree to which the climate of the classroom is experienced as open and respectful, as well as the participatory atmosphere of the school. In this entry, we will describe how political socialization and civic education topics became part of IEA’s large-scale international studies, and propose seven premises based on analysis of data from the 1999 and 2009 studies that can inform conclusions about programs and future research. First we examine some history.