What to Look for in the Early Caucuses and Primaries

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

The new year brings an opportunity to use the upcoming elections to engage students in the proven practices of civic education outlined in 6-12th grade civic course mandates. IllinoisCivics.org will provide a plethora of resources and lesson plans to support this important work.

Last week, Dr. Shawn Healy, Director of the Democracy Program at the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, hosted our first #Election2020 after school webinar that examined the candidates, polling data, the mechanics of caucuses and primaries in delegate selection, and what to look for with your students in early 2020. If you missed the 45-minute webinar, you can access a recording.

Register today for our next after school webinar on Tuesday, February 18th from 3:45 to 4:30 p.m. on Super Tuesday and the Illinois Primary. Those who register can join live or receive a link to view the recorded presentation and accompanying resources.

Each webinar concludes with classroom resources you can use with your students to engage them in current and societal issue discussions, simulations of democratic processes, and service learning during this election year. Here are some of the resources shared in the last webinar:
  • There are Iowa Caucus classroom simulations from the Iowa Secretary of State, one for Democrats and another for Republicans.
  • A brief video from Why Tuesday? illustrates how the Iowa Caucuses work.
  • PBS Learning Media has a lesson that explores the history of the Iowa Caucus and the benefits of being “first in the nation.”
  • PBS NewsHour Extra has a lesson called “What are Primaries and Caucuses?”
  • The Bill of Rights Institute has resources for “The Iowa Caucus and Beyond.”
  • iCivics has a curricular unit on Politics and Public Policy that includes a lesson on the election process.
  • Civics 101 has an episode devoted to explaining primaries and caucuses.
  • The Five Thirty-Eight podcast has launched a special series called The Primary Project. Its first episode features the 1968 Convention in Chicago and its impact on current events.
  • Stranglehold from New Hampshire Public Radio explores the history, personalities, and challenges of being the site of the first in the nation primary election.
  • Caucus Land from Iowa Public Radio explores, “Where the road to the White House begins!”
What resources are you using to engage your student in #Election2020? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare ALL students for college, career and civic life.

Guest Blog: Needing New Lesson Plans for the New Year? Check out Street Law

by Jane Hicks, Edwardsville High School

On New Year’s Eve 2019, Chief Justice John Roberts issued a warning in his year-end statement when he observed, “We have come to take democracy for granted and civic education has fallen by the wayside.” Many civics teachers across the country heartily agree. Thankfully the State of Illinois now requires both middle school and high school civics education. More social studies departments across the state are re-examining the importance of teaching about government and seeking ideas to help their students. In addition to Illinois Civics, what is another great resource for political science teachers? Where can they find numerous lesson plans that help teach democratic simulations and controversial topics? Street Law.

While attending Street Law’s Supreme Court Summer Institute in 2019, I gained incredible insight on the workings of the Court, met teachers from across the U.S., and walked away with meaningful activities for my students. Street Law’s mission, since 1972, has been to provide teachers of the law and government free materials in order to help students with these difficult topics. Their materials are easily accessible to anyone on their website. Their shopping cart format might initially give the impression that you have to pay. But do not worry, most materials have a price of $0.00. The cart system helps keep track of the lesson plans that are of interest to educators.

Two activities that really stood out for me were the moot courts and deliberations. A moot court is a simulation of an appellate court. It is not a mock trial. Students act as attorneys making oral arguments in front of the Supreme Court for a real case. The classroom should be divided into three groups: the petitioners bringing the case, the respondents defending the previous ruling, and the justices asking questions of each. The Street Law website has numerous and step by step instructions. Full moot courts may take a few class periods, but their mini-moot courts might only take a day.

Street Law’s 2019 Summer Institute practicing a moot court in a Georgetown Law classroom.

Another Street Law activity that I brought into my civics class is a deliberation. A deliberation helps students to grapple with controversial topics by examining various points of view. The concluding piece is to come to a consensus. At the summer institute, we deliberated a federal ban on assault weapons. We were given readings to sift through and then applied quotes from the readings to both sides of the argument. My group had a very engaging conversation and we were provided time afterward for individual reflection. In the end, I was surprised to realize I had slightly altered my own long-held opinion on this topic.

As our society grows in complexity, so the job of the social studies teacher becomes increasingly more challenging. Thankfully there are many professional development resources like Street Law and Illinois Civics to help educators wrestle with the times and help students to do so also.

2019 Was a Very Good Year for Civic Learning in Illinois

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

With Winter Break in sight and the books on 2019 about to close, this year-end retrospective recaps what was a very good year for civic learning in Illinois.

2019 began with the promise of a renewed push for middle school civics, culminating in the #CivicsInTheMiddle Campaign. Representative Camille Lilly (D-Oak Park) sponsored legislation to require a semester of civics in middle school beginning with the 2020-2021 school year, embedding proven civic learning practices (direct instruction, discussion, service learning, and simulations).

The legislation sailed through the House by Spring Break, gaining a bi-partisan supermajority, and moved to the Senate under Senator Jacqueline Collins (D-Chicago). The formula repeated itself in the upper chamber, although the Senate committee hearing was more contentious, but by May 23, middle school civics cleared the Illinois General Assembly, once more with a filibuster-proof, bi-partisan vote. Teachers and students provided critical outreach to undecided legislators down the stretch.

Governor Pritzker signed Public Act 101-0254 on August 9th, and the Illinois State Board of Education followed with guidance for teachers, schools, and districts, permitting desired flexibility in implementation.

Simultaneously, the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition (ICMC), convened by the McCormick Foundation, launched a three-year implementation plan informed by both its previous experiences with the high school course requirement and survey data gathered from middle school teachers and administrators. Highlights include in-person and online teacher professional development, complementary unit and lesson plans, instructional coaching by region, and support from civic learning partners. Online professional development will take the form of content-specific webinars and a three-course microcredential course series centered on proven civic learning practices, titled “Guardians of Democracy.”

It should also be noted that high school course implementation concluded in 2019. Since October 2015, nearly 9,000 teachers attended ICMC workshops, and McCormick staff and teacher mentors provided more than 1,300 hours of professional development. The aforementioned middle school interventions are not exclusive, but rather intended to support middle and high school civics teachers, providing supports to sustain the latter implementation effort.

Beyond the middle school breakthrough, the Democracy Schools Initiative successfully piloted new assessment instruments, still measuring civic learning opportunities and school culture, but through a racial equity framework. Eleven Network schools reupped their commitment to the equitable pursuit of their civic mission, with a larger group set to do the same in 2020, including prospective new members. The Democracy Schools Network currently numbers 74 high schools reflective of the state’s geographic and demographic diversity.

Finally, the McCormick Foundation hosted a convening this fall on the state of student discipline and restorative justice in Illinois schools. In 2015, Illinois passed a law (Senate Bill 100) limiting exclusionary discipline practices in schools; requiring districts to track suspensions, expulsions, and alternative placements by race, gender, and grade; and recommending use of restorative practices in their stead.

While exclusionary discipline declined modestly, stark racial disparities remain, and restorative practices are rarely employed. Our convening identified both barriers to implementation, but also opportunities, and we intend to leverage them through a series of 2020 grants and continued convening of the Transforming School Discipline Collaborative, among other partnerships.

To our trusted teachers and administive colleagues in the trenches, please take a bow at the end of a banner year for civic learning in Illinois. While much work remains, we have emerged as a national leader and have much to be proud of. It is the honor of my lifetime to work by your side to transform the civic trajectory of the Land of Lincoln. Our long-term salvation rests in the hearts and minds of the students you touch every day.

#NCSS2019 Recap Blog

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

Last month, thousands of educators throughout the United States convened in Austin, Texas, for the 99th Annual National Council for the Social Studies conference. We asked a few of our colleagues in the Land of Lincoln to share their top takeaways for those who were not able to attend. Here are some ideas and resources for your consideration.



Dan Fouts from Maine West High School in Niles recommends the Drafting Table from the National Constitution Center for, "resources on how the language of the Constitution—within articles and amendments—was adapted before being put in final form. Great teaching moments await!"

Jason Janczak from Grayslake Central High School in Grayslake recommends two civics resources.
  • My Part of the Story by Facing History and Ourselves can be used to "Learn how you can help guide students to find their place in the identity of the United States and how each person’s story contributes to the larger story of the United States."
  • A Seat at the Table from the Edward M. Kennedy Institute helps students "Answer Shirley Chisholm’s call for a seat at the table: 'If you don’t have a seat at the table, bring a folding chair.' Students create chairs that reflect social change, identity, or collective power."
Heather Monson, an Illinois Civics Instructional Coach, from United Township High School in East Moline has a few recommendations.
  • FriEDTECHnology has, "Excellent and refreshing ways to use Google, Google Classroom, and Google Earth in social studies classrooms. Many online pieces of training are available. Also, if your school is buying Chromebooks, they will come to your school and train the staff FOR FREE!"
  • "We have a strong Latino community and are adding a history course focusing on Latin American history." Heather recommends the Center for Latin American Studies (CLAS) because "this included information from Stanford University and Vanderbilt University."
  • Heather also discovered Civics 101 from New Hampshire Public Radio and 60-Second Civics from the Center for Civic Education. "I was seeking out various podcasts for my students to listen to on government/constitutional issues. This is a booth I visited that has some great resources in small bits for kids to listen to."
Did you attend the NCSS conference in Austin? What ideas and resources did you discover? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare all students for college, career, and civic life.

Students Address Daylight Savings Through Service Learning

by Mary Ellen Daneels and Logan Ridenour

This past July, the Civics Is Back newsletter featured Logan Ridenour from Carlinville High School, an Illinois Democracy School, for their service learning project to end Daylight Savings in Illinois. Logan credited he Civics Is Back professional development workshops he has attended over the years, incorporating tools such as Root Cause Tree Analysis to “tweak” his Civic Action Project. Logan explained, “All of my students, including this group, have said they enjoy the project because it is very student-centered, and it allows them to explore their connections to the community and the processes necessary for enacting change. My students learned that they can put things into action by furthering their own understanding of the systems that govern their lives.” At the time, Senator Andy Manar (D-Bunker Hill) took the students’ service-learning project and introduced Senate Bill 533. The students testified at the Capitol and their bill received a unanimous vote out of committee.

Logan has since joined the #CivicsInTheMiddle team as a Civics Instructional Coach to “pay forward” and share what he has learned over the years with teachers in Alexander, Clinton, Franklin, Jackson, Jefferson, Johnson, Marion, Monroe, Perry, Pulaski, Randolph, St. Clair, Union, Washington & Williamson Counties.

Logan describes his service-learning experience below and gives us an exciting update!
Last Spring my students at Carlinville High School embarked on their service learning project for the Senior Civics class. A group of students decided that they wanted to deal with the topic of Daylight Savings Time. These students put together a well-researched presentation and decided that they wanted to reach out to their state senator. Senator Andy Manar made a visit to CHS and sat down with the students. After their presentation, Sen. Manar asked the students if they wanted him to introduce their topic as a bill to be heard by the General Assembly. Senate Bill 533 went through the typical legislative process and the students were invited to Springfield to testify in front of the State Executive committee. The bill was tabled until this fall session and Tuesday, November 12, 2019, it passed the Senate floor with a 44-2 vote. I am proud of the efforts of my students. This is what service-learning looks like at its finest.
The Carlinville Service-Learning project has been featured in both local and Chicagoland news outlets. As the bill heads toward the Illinois House of Representatives, #CivicsInTheMiddle classrooms can join this service learning project by doing their own research and contacting their state legislator to share their thoughts on the bill.

What does service-learning look like in your classroom? Please comment below. Together, we can prepare ALL students for college, career and civic life.

Count Me In: Schools as Critical Partners in #Census2020

by Mary Ellen Daneels, Civics Instructional Specialist

The stakes could not be higher for Illinois in the upcoming census. As Shawn Healy shared in a blog post almost a year ago, “According to the George Washington Institute of Public Policy, $800 billion of federal funding supporting 300 programs is appropriated annually to states based on census counts. Due to Illinois’ undercount in 2010, the state lost $952 per person of federal funding. In 2015 alone, Illinois lost $122 million for every 1% of the population we failed to count.”

Shawn continues to explain, “It’s widely known that Illinois is losing population in recent years, with losses most pronounced outside of metropolitan Chicago. In fact, 89 of Illinois’ 102 counties experienced population loss from 2010 through 2017. Rockford, Kankakee, Decatur, and Metro East (suburban St. Louis) have been particularly hard hit, while Lake County is the only Chicago area county with a shrinking population. Given the stakes of Census 2020, it’s imperative that we identify and mobilize HTC (hard to count) communities in Illinois.”

IllinoisCivics.org is hosting a free webinar this Tuesday, November 12th from 3:45-4:30 p.m. to explore how your school can play a critical role in helping all stakeholders in your community to understand the importance of an accurate count and how to navigate difficult questions your students, staff, and parents may have concerning participation.

In this webinar, we will explore how the 2020 census will play an important role in addressing essential questions related to representation, power, resource allocation, and equity that will directly impact your school community for the next decade. Learn about how this census has additional challenges related to adequate funding, reduced staffing, limited testing, and delayed communication plans.

You will also be connected to an inquiry-based lesson plan and other resources that you can use to empower your students to take informed action to support your community to register an accurate count. If you cannot join us live, a recording will be shared via social media with the #CivicsInTheMiddle hashtag.

The 2020 Census provides K-12 civics classrooms an opportunity to engage in inquiry leading to informed action around issues of power and representation. Here are some other resources you can use to engage your community.

Classroom Resources

  • IllinoisCivics.org has created a 6-12 Inquiry Lesson Plan “How Does Your Community Count on You?” explore the questions:
    • What is the purpose of the census and how does it “count” or impact my community?
    • How do numbers + lines = power for my community?
    • What are the challenges to an accurate count in my community?
    • What actions can I take to make sure my community "counts"?
  • Statistics in Schools - U.S. Census has free K-12 lessons and activities?
  • Share My Lesson: Census Lessons has compiled lessons around the 2020 census from organizations like C-SPAN, Citizens Not Spectators, the Anti-Defamation League, and the Tenement Museum.
  • Census Brain POP Debate has grades 4-12 explore BrainPOP resources to learn about the U.S. Census
  • The Los Angeles County Office of Education has created resources for grades 5-8 called "Count Me In!"
  • Rock the Vote has an information video and a pledge for students to be counted.

Understanding Census 2020 in Illinois

Community Outreach Materials

What are you doing to support an accurate count for #Census2020? Please reply below. Together we can prepare ALL students for college, career and civic life.

Media Literacy Learning Opportunities Widespread at Democracy Schools, but Inequities in Access and Outcomes for Students of Color Concerning

by Shawn P. Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

On the heels of media literacy week, my analysis of 2019 student survey data from a pilot group of eleven Illinois Democracy Schools (N=3,904 students) turns next to media literacy learning opportunities and outcomes disaggregated by race/ethnicity (read the full analysis of questions related to media literacy).

  • Learned how to evaluate the credibility and reliability of news and information;
  • Learned how to find different perspectives and multiple sources of information about a current event or community issue;
  • And discussed how to tell if the information you find online is trustworthy.
However, on each of these measures white and Asian students are overrepresented at the highest frequency and Black and Latinx students at lower frequencies as illustrated in the graph below.


Most students across race and ethnicity (54%) reported discussing how to effectively share their opinion on social or political issues online twice or more in classes, yet more than a quarter of students (27%) don’t recall or have never experienced such discussions.

When it comes to responding to an issue through digital means, a majority of students (62%) don’t recall or have never done so. However, Black students (41%) lead the way in answering in the affirmative, while 71% of Latinx students answered “no” or “don’t recall.”


There is also room for improvement at selected Democracy Schools in improving students’ efficacy examining research related to problems in their school or community. While a plurality of students (39%) expressed confidence in their research skills, white and Asian students are overrepresented in their efficacy, while a plurality of Black (41%) and Latinx students (46%) rate their capacities as “neutral.”


News consumption and civic engagement is trending online, and it’s imperative that students develop the skills and dispositions to make sense of daily deluge of digital information at their fingertips. A sample of students at Illinois Democracy Schools suggests relatively strong exposure to media literacy learning opportunities, but equitable access across race and ethnicity is an issue. This may translate into lower media literacy efficacy for Black and especially Latinx students. The relatively high use of digital issue advocacy by Black students is an asset to be leveraged, and lower usage by Latinx students cause for immediate intervention.