December 9, 2010

Maryland’s “civic health” is good but not great

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Maryland’s “civic health” – the engagement of citizens in public life – compared to other states is good, but not outstanding, according to a new study released Tuesday.

“Maryland is ahead of the national average on every important measure of civic health,” said Brad Rourke of the Mannakee Circle Group, who did the report for the National Conference on Citizenship, Maryland Common Cause and the state Department of Education.  But for all the advantages Maryland has – top-ranked public schools, pioneering civic literacy programs in its schools, the nation’s highest per capita income, and proximity to the national capital — “we would think we are further ahead,” Rourke said

Based on Census data and surveys, the study found Marylanders ranked high in voting participation (11th) and registration (18th), memberships in groups (15th) and particularly in talking about politics with friends and family (5th), which is the only aspect of the study where Maryland was in the top 10.

Volunteering was slightly above the national average (23rd), with 29% of adults participating in volunteer activity. About 9% of Marylanders work with neighbors to improve the community (ranking 26th) and 16% exchange favors with neighbors (27th).

But the numbers for volunteer activity were not outstanding in a state that was the first and only one to require 75-hours of community services as a condition of high school graduation.

Maryland did not score well in what was considered an important measure of civic health – eating dinner with a member of the household a few times a week.  Maryland ranked 47th in that category with almost 87% saying they did, compared to 89% nationally.

A panelist responding to the reporting, Wanda Speede, director of the science, technology, engineering and math program at the Maryland Higher Education Commission, said that may reflect families who’d like to eat together, but can’t because of the demands of jobs.

The study was funded in part by the Center for Civic Education in California.

–Len Lazarick