Does Knowledge of Constitutional Principles Increase Support for Civil Liberties in the United States?
Last registered on April 20, 2017

Pre-Trial

Trial Information
General Information
Title
Does Knowledge of Constitutional Principles Increase Support for Civil Liberties in the United States?
RCT ID
AEARCTR-0001703
Initial registration date
April 19, 2017
Last updated
April 20, 2017 10:22 AM EDT
Location(s)
Region
Primary Investigator
Affiliation
Columbia University
Other Primary Investigator(s)
PI Affiliation
Yale University
PI Affiliation
Yale University
PI Affiliation
Yale University
PI Affiliation
Michigan State University
PI Affiliation
Yale University
Additional Trial Information
Status
Completed
Start date
2006-09-01
End date
2009-06-01
Secondary IDs
ISPS ID: D035
Abstract
For decades, scholars have argued that education causes greater support for civil liberties by increasing students' exposure to political knowledge and constitutional norms, such as due process and freedom of expression. Support for this claim comes exclusively from observational evidence, principally from cross-sectional surveys. This paper presents the first large-scale experimental test of this proposition. More than 1000 students in 59 high school classrooms were randomly assigned to an enhanced civics curriculum designed to promote awareness and understanding of constitutional rights and civil liberties. The results show that students in the enhanced curriculum classes displayed significantly more knowledge in this domain than students in conventional civics classes. However, we find no corresponding change in the treatment group's support for civil liberties, a finding that calls into question the hypothesis that knowledge and attitudes are causally connected.
External Link(s)
Registration Citation
Citation
Aronow, Peter et al. 2017. "Does Knowledge of Constitutional Principles Increase Support for Civil Liberties in the United States?." AEA RCT Registry. April 20. https://www.socialscienceregistry.org/trials/1703/history/16745
Experimental Details
Interventions
Intervention(s)
Researchers, in collaboration with the Bill of Rights Institute (BRI), created a curriculum which stressed civil liberties and constitutional norms called The Bill of Rights for Real Life (BRRL). Semester-long civics courses within high schools could be assigned to one of the following interventions:

1) Treatment: Teachers supplemented their civics curriculum with the BRRL curriculum.
2) Control: Teachers taught their civics curriculum with no curricular guidelines. Control teachers were instructed NOT to use the BRRL curriculum.
Intervention Start Date
2006-09-01
Intervention End Date
2007-05-01
Outcomes
Outcomes (end points)
Civil Liberties Knowledge Index, General Political Knowledge Index, support for civil liberties
Outcomes (explanation)
Civil Liberties Knowledge Index: Knowledge of the Bill of Rights, the Constitution, and government; capacity to understand and apply constitutional principles.
Experimental Design
Experimental Design
In the ten participating high schools, students were randomly assigned to exposure to a BRRL-enhanced civics course or to a control group in which civics was taught in its usual manner. This process created 19 distinct sets of classrooms (strata), where each stratum is composed of all classes in a single school that were in the same randomization pool.

Both treatment and control students completed a precurriculum questionnaire. Three postcurriculum surveys served as the primary evaluation tool for the study. These surveys included questions testing students' knowledge of the Bill of Rights and students' knowledge of other aspects of the Constitution and government.
Experimental Design Details
Randomization Method
The three options for randomization were: (1) a teacher teaching more than one civics class or section allowed us to randomly assign at least one class to the treatment group and at least one to the control group; (2) a teacher willing to teach either all classes as treatment classes or all classes as control classes allowed us to randomly pick which experimental group the teacher would be assigned to; or (3) students were assigned by their school's registrar to one civics class or another in a manner that was effectively random.
Randomization Unit
civics courses
Was the treatment clustered?
Yes
Experiment Characteristics
Sample size: planned number of clusters
59 civics courses
Sample size: planned number of observations
1,215 high school students
Sample size (or number of clusters) by treatment arms
30 courses with 627 students treatment; 29 courses with 588 students control
Minimum detectable effect size for main outcomes (accounting for sample design and clustering)
IRB
INSTITUTIONAL REVIEW BOARDS (IRBs)
IRB Name
Yale University Human Subjects Committee
IRB Approval Date
Details not available
IRB Approval Number
Details not available
Post-Trial
Post Trial Information
Study Withdrawal
Intervention
Is the intervention completed?
Yes
Intervention Completion Date
May 01, 2007, 12:00 AM +00:00
Is data collection complete?
Yes
Data Collection Completion Date
June 01, 2009, 12:00 AM +00:00
Final Sample Size: Number of Clusters (Unit of Randomization)
Across all of the strata, 30 courses with the treatment group, and 29 courses with the control group.
Was attrition correlated with treatment status?
Final Sample Size: Total Number of Observations
Final Sample Size (or Number of Clusters) by Treatment Arms
Across all of the strata, 30 courses with 627 students were assigned to the treatment group, and 29 courses with 588 students were assigned to the control group.
Data Publication
Data Publication
Is public data available?
Yes
Program Files
Program Files
Yes
Reports and Papers
Preliminary Reports
Relevant Papers
Abstract
For decades, scholars have argued that education causes greater support for civil liberties by increasing students' exposure to political knowledge and constitutional norms, such as due process and freedom of expression. Support for this claim comes exclusively from observational evidence, principally from cross-sectional surveys. This paper presents the first large-scale experimental test of this proposition. More than 1000 students in 59 high school classrooms were randomly assigned to an enhanced civics curriculum designed to promote awareness and understanding of constitutional rights and civil liberties. The results show that students in the enhanced curriculum classes displayed significantly more knowledge in this domain than students in conventional civics classes. However, we find no corresponding change in the treatment group’s support for civil liberties, a finding that calls into question the hypothesis that knowledge and attitudes are causally connected.
Citation
Green, Donald P., Peter M. Aronow, Daniel E. Bergan, Pamela Greene, Celia Paris, and Beth I. Weinberger. 2011. "Does Knowledge of Constitutional Principles Increase Support for Civil Liberties? Results from a Randomized Field Experiment." The Journal of Politics 73(02): 463-476.