About three-quarters of eighth grade students—the only grade for which trend data are available—were not “proficient” in geography in 2014, according to GAO’s analysis of nationally representative data from the Department of Education (Education). Specifically, these students had not demonstrated solid competence in the subject, and the proficiency levels of eighth grade students have shown no improvement since 1994 (see figure). Geography is generally taught as part of social studies, but data show that more than half of eighth grade teachers reported spending a small portion (10 percent or less) of their social studies instruction time on geography. Further, according to a study by an academic organization, a majority of states do not require geography courses in middle school or high school.
A basic understanding of geography is a prerequisite for any informed citizen, and globalization means that is even more important than ever. This report is not a ‘pick-me-up’ but a sobering reminder of the task that lays before us. There has been some improvement, but so much more is needed.