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Engaging Students in Post-Election Public Policy, Part VI: Finding Resources to Support Implementation or Learning from Defeat

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by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Our post-election public policy process journey concludes today with a piece on finding resources to support implementation or learning from defeat.

This series began by making the case for engaging students in the public policy process. Then, students are asked to define the problem they are seeking to address and explore possible policy alternatives that address both symptoms and root causes. Next, who in government can help solve the identified problem? These decision-makers must be persuaded and work within institutions with established calendars, a civics lesson in its own right. The media must be engaged throughout and viewed as a potential ally in student advocacy efforts.

Assuming success, it’s important to note that public policy wins are equivalent to battles, not the entire war. More than anything, they represent opportunities to get it right, as implementation is everything.

We live in a world of limited resources, and gove…

Engaging Students in Post-Election Public Policy, Part V: Engaging the Media

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
As we engage students in the public policy process, media outreach is a vital ingredient for victory, and the lessons learned are transferrable to lifelong participation in our democracy. It goes without saying that we must begin by building students’ appetite for news of all varieties, especially state and local coverage. Weaving current and controversial discussions of these issues into class is a proven practice and part of the new civics course requirement.

But students themselves can contribute to media themselves. Many are savvy consumers of social media. True, much of their activity is likely friendship-driven and perhaps tilted towards celebrity gossip. Yet social media is also a venue for interest-drive activities, some with an overtly political focus like #BlackLivesMatter. Depending on the issue students select, they may contribute to an already active social media movement, or better yet, create one of their own.

In our push f…

Engaging Students in Post-Election Public Policy, Part IV: Persuading Decision Makers and Using Calendars to Achieve Goals

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
In this fourth installment of suggested steps to engage students in the public policy process we’ll focus on persuading decision makers and using calendars to achieve their goals.

Graham and Hand’s America: The Owner’s Manual suggests that these steps be preceded by gauging and building public support for the identified cause, and we spoke at length in our second post of this series on how polling data can be used for these purposes. The authors also emphasize coalition-building, an admittedly lengthy process.

While it’s possible that students can build coalitions on their own, they may also want to research existing consortia already in place. In Illinois, we’ve been lucky to have the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition (ICMC) since 2004. A core initiative of this entity from the beginning is Illinois Democracy Schools, a statewide network of high schools deeply committed to students’ civic development.

ICMC members and Democracy Schools i…

Engaging Students in Post-Election Public Policy, Part III: Identifying Who in Government Can Solve the Problem

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by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Last week, we tackled the first two phases of engaging students in the public policy process using America: The Owner’s Manual by Graham and Hand. We’ll continue today with the step that follows: Identifying who in government can solve the problem.

Recall that we previously asked students to identify an issue and research its symptoms and root causes. We later explored various policy alternatives, and now must identify who in government can help resolve the identified problem.

For students, this is often a lesson in federalism. While we tend to focus obsessively on national government, the reality is that most laws that impact us daily exist on the state and local level. It’s therefore likely that many issues students identify reside here.

If the potential policy solution is statutory in nature, attention turns naturally to the legislative body, be it the state legislature or city council. This is often a good opportunity to familiarize …

Engaging Students in Post-Election Public Policy, Part II: Defining the Problem and Gathering Information

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
On Monday, we previewed a series of posts centered on engaging students in post-election public policy advocacy. Using America: The Owner’s Manual by Graham and Hand, we’ll begin today with their first two steps in the advocacy process, defining the problem, and later, gathering information to persuade policy makers.

Illinois’ emerging social studies standards ask students to develop questions to guide their inquiries. In an undergraduate public policy class I teach, I start class with an ice breaker, asking students to identify one law they would like to change. This response becomes the problem or issue they explore throughout the semester, identifying the status quo, the causes and symptoms of the problem, and the range of views on the issue across the political spectrum.

For example, while advocating for the new civics course requirement in Illinois, we drew upon civic health data demonstrating that Illinois millennials were 47th in t…

Poetry to Prose: Engaging Students in Post-Election Public Policy

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
In the aftermath of the 2016 Election, we’ve promised a pivot to the public policy processes and outcomes that follow. This post represents the frame through which we’ll pursue this work as we attempt to leverage the excitement and/ or fears of our students and translate it into the difficult work of democratic governance.

Illinois’ new civics course requirement embeds proven civic learning practices that align perfectly with teaching the public policy process, namely direct instruction on government institutions, discussions of current and controversial issues, service-learning, and simulations of democratic processes.
A deep understanding of government institutions is critical to engaging with them to affect policy change.Public policy issues are by nature current and controversial. They are unresolved and members of our community may disagree vehemently about their very definition, much less available solutions.Service-learning may assu…

Let's Do Democracy and Make Sure Civics is Woven Throughout Illinois' ESSA State Plan

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Last month, I shared testimony provided to the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) on their first draft of the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) State Plan. My colleague Sonia Mathew weighed in separately on our work with Illinois Democracy Schools (see page 522).

ISBE has since issued its second draft of the ESSA State Plan, responding to more than 280 individual comments, 54 from organizations, 70 from students advocating for the arts, and 60 from librarians. This post represents a call for the state’s civic learning community to do democracy and weigh on the ESSA plan prior to December 27, 2016.

It’s fair to say that the second draft of the ESSA plan provides little more than lip service to the social studies and civics in particular. However, our collective work aligns well with the central thrusts of the plan.
Section 2 addresses state academic standards, and we have emerging K-12 social science standards due for implementation…

Sarah Brune of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform Recaps Voting and Campaign Spending in 2016 Election

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
I had the great privilege of speaking with Sarah Brune of the Illinois Campaign for Political Reform (ICPR) just before Thanksgiving. We discussed her career path that led to ICPR, the work of the organization more broadly, an Illinois centric-post mortem of the 2016 Election, and how ICPR is poised to support the work of Illinois civics teachers.

Sarah’s involvement in politics began at the local level on the north side of Chicago, but she has since pivoted to statewide work at ICPR. Hear more about her career trajectory and the organization’s work in this opening segment of our interview.



ICPR manages the Illinois Voter Project, which offers breakdowns of voter participation by county and age cohort. It also demonstrates changes in party preference at the presidential level in Illinois from 2008 to 2016. Most striking is the transformation of downstate countries from competitive to strongly Republican. Chicago retains its strong Democra…

Springfield Stalemate Prevails in Aftermath of 2016 Election

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Last week, we broke down the 2016 Election results at the presidential level, also making reference to continued Republican control of the US House and Senate. Today, we’ll do the same for Illinois.

From the top, Tammy Duckworth (D-Hoffman Estates) handily defeated incumbent Mark Kirk (R-Kenilworth) for US Senate. This was one of only two pick-ups for Democrats nationally as the GOP retains a 52-48 seat majority. While Chuck Schumer replaces Harry Reid as Minority Leader, Illinois senior Senator Dick Durbin remains Minority Whip, removing him from a possible gubernatorial bid in 2018.

On the House side, only two of Illinois eighteen seats changed hands, with Raja Kristnamoorthi holding Duckworth’s northwest suburban seat (IL-8) for the Democrats, and Brad Schneider besting incumbent Republican Bob Dold in the adjacent 10th congressional district that has swung back and forth between these two candidates four consecutive elections. Schneide…

Back to the Future: The Electoral College Strikes Again

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by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Monday’s post analyzed one of the greatest upsets in presidential election history and parsed the polls that predicted the opposite. Today we’d like to revisit the venerable Electoral College, back in the news after a sixteen-year hiatus.

The vote count continues, but as of this writing, Hillary Clinton claims a popular vote lead approaching 800,000 votes nationally, besting Donald Trump 47.8% to 47.2%. Trump, of course, leads in the only place that matters, the Electoral College, 290 to 232, with Michigan’s 18 electoral votes still outstanding but likely to be added to his column in the coming days.


This dichotomy has occurred four times in our nation’s history, and twice in the last five presidential elections.

Conventional wisdom heading into November 8th was that Democrats had an Electoral College firewall that included the two coasts, selected states in the Mountain West, and most of the Rust Belt. This would protect against potentia…

Conventional Wisdom and Polling Data Challenged in 2016 Election Aftermath

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Six days removed from the toxic 2016 Election, we are still left with lingering questions, in desperate search for answers. In the next several posts, we’ll attempt to collectively discover them, and encourage you to send along topics you’d like us to discuss.

One prominent question is how did so-called political experts, myself included, get the presidential race so wrong?

There is no single explanation, of course, but clearly the strength of Donald Trump’s candidacy was underestimated from day one of his campaign. Like President Obama in 2008 and 2016, Trump reshaped the electorate, consolidating the traditional Republican base while also extracting working class whites from the Democratic coalition, perhaps once and for all. In so doing, Trump altered the electoral map, weaving the Solid South with the Rust Belt, thereby neutralizing the bi-coastal strength of the Clinton candidacy.

In spite of Clinton’s well-funded and functioning …

Teachers Stand Tall During Time of National Healing

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by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Emotions in the aftermath of Tuesday’s election results remain raw, so my first post-mortem analysis will focus on addressing them with our students. Future posts will examine policy consequences, polling errors, and an Electoral College redux, but we teach in a deeply-divided state and country, and are obligated to build bridges with our students towards a better future.

In some ways, Illinois is an outlier in that it voted decisively for Hillary Clinton, isolated in a vast inland sea of Trumpian red. However, her 16-point statewide victory masks Donald Trump taking 92 of 102 counties, including massive margins in Southern Illinois. Thus, depending upon where we teach, our students may be jubilant or depressed, vindicated or fearful. Of course, this also holds true for their parents.


However, in the policy alternatives he has prescribed, revelations of past indiscretions, and statements and behaviors on the stump, Trump has threatened an…

Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow?

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Election Day is here, and like me, many of you will have already cast your vote by the time you read this post, happy to check off this cycle’s thankless chore, having chosen the lesser of two evils. For even the most ardent of political junkies among us, instead of reveling in this great exercise of democratic governance, we’ll close our eyes after hours of election results and collectively exalt, “Good riddance.”

I’ve lamented before about the special challenges of teaching this election, so will pivot instead to the important work that lies ahead in our classrooms beginning tomorrow.

Tonight’s presidential outcome and control of the U.S. Senate promise to be closer than we anticipated even ten days ago. Many of our students and their parents will have supported or even voted for losing candidates. They may very well feel like doomsday has arrived. And many of their concerns and grievances are real.

But we cannot allow them to forget t…

Teaching the 2016 Election: Closing Arguments

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by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
We’ll conclude our extensive coverage of teaching the 2016 election with two final posts. Today’s will provide a late stage analysis of races up and down the ballot six days from Election Day. Monday’s post will address where we go from here as a country and as educators with our students.

Despite the topsy-turvy nature of the presidential contest, it has remained remarkably stable from a polling perspective. Hillary Clinton is the prohibitive favorite to prevail next Tuesday, but recent revelations related to her email server and leaked exchanges of top campaign officials have narrowed her lead. Her projected 3.7% margin over Donald Trump according to FiveThirtyEight.com mirrors that of President Obama over Mitt Romney four years ago.

Moreover, Clinton has multiple paths to the 270 electoral votes necessary to prevail, while Trump needs to thread the needle. According to FiveThirtyEight.com’s state-by-state projections, Clinton would win…

Veteran Reporter David Yepsen on Covering and Teaching Political Campaigns

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Following a conversation with Dr. John Jackson at SIU-Carbondale, I sat down with David Yepsen, Director of the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, and long-time political columnist for the Des Moines Register. David was long viewed as the dean of Iowa journalists and a critical gate keeper for any presidential candidate testing his mettle in the Iowa Caucuses.

David began by providing his own reflections on the 2016 presidential contest, pointing to high unfavorable ratings among the two major party presidential nominees. He also weighs in on the remaining work for each of them in the final sprint to the finish line in order to secure victory. I also asked David to comment on Donald Trump’s competitiveness in Iowa and Illinois’ likely preference for home state candidate Hillary Clinton.




David later pivoted to down ballot races, including the competitive Illinois U.S. Senate race and the proxy war among state legislative candidates in S…

SIU Professor John Jackson Provides a Historical Perspective on the 2016 Election

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
I had the privilege of speaking with Dr. John Jackson, Professor of Political Science, during a visit to Southern Illinois University in Carbondale late last month. Dr. Jackson is affiliated with the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, a long-time partner of ours in bringing civic education opportunities to Southern Illinois teachers and students. He directs the Institute’s internship program, edits the Simon Review, and assists with its annual statewide poll.

Dr. Jackson has researched and written extensively about the presidential nominating process and party conventions, with a specific focus on delegates. He weighs in on the process across time in the following segment, and also provides an extensive retrospective on the 2016 cycle.




As Election Day fast approaches, Dr. Jackson comments on the road ahead for Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton in her attempt to persuade millennial voters that supported Sanders. He also draws historical…

Read the Fine Print for Road Funding Amendment

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
While legislative redistricting reform will not be on the Illinois ballot on November 8, a late-breaking, under-the-radar amendment to protect the road building revenue stream from encroachment by the General Assembly and Governor made the grade.

The language of the amendment, reads, in part:
“No moneys, including bond proceeds, derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes relating to registration, title, or operation or use of vehicles, or related to the use of highways, roads, streets, bridges, mass transit, intercity passenger rail, ports, airports, or to fuels used for propelling vehicles, or derived from taxes, fees, excises, or license taxes relating to any other transportation infrastructure or transportation operation, shall be expended for purposes other than…” transportation infrastructure or mass transit. Article XIV of the Illinois Constitution permits the General Assembly to pass constitutional amendments by a 3/5 vot…

ICSS Fall Conference a Landslide Winner

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by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
The Illinois Council for the Social Studies (ICSS) held its fall conference last Friday at Harper College in Palatine. 144 in- and pre-service teachers attended, collectively casting their votes for this year’s election-oriented theme. They accessed a combined 32 breakout sessions, four of them featuring members of our #CivicsIsBack Campaign, including two led by our Illinois Civics Teacher Mentors.

Lead Teacher Mentor Mary Ellen Daneels paired with Boone-Winnebago Mentor Teresa Kruger for a session on current and controversial issues. Daneels later worked with West Cook Mentor Justin Jacobek (pictured below) on a legislative simulation surrounding automatic voter registration. Wayde Grinstead of Facing History and Ourselves, one of our core civic education organizational partners, presented a session on their Choices in Little Rock curriculum.


My own session was on engaging students with the public policy process that follows elections as…

A Call to Educators' Consciences in a Campaign that Challenges Them and Us

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
When crafting the roll out of the #CivicsIsBack Campaign, we made a conscious decision to pair our course implementation efforts with the teachable moment that is the 2016 Election. There’s nothing like the prominence of and participation in a presidential election, and on this level, the current campaign hasn’t disappointed.

However, the campaign has defied convention at every juncture and tested pedagogical commitments to objectivity and non-closure of teachers’ political views. While we have written previously on these subjects, it would constitute professional malpractice to rest our case in light of recent developments.

At the presidential level, the 2016 campaign has been historic for both parties. A crowded Republican field of 17 contenders, paired with grossly disproportionate media coverage, paved the way for political novice Donald Trump to capture the party’s nomination over fierce establishment opposition. Trump has proceede…

Draft Illinois ESSA Implementation Plan Provides Opening for Civic Learning

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning ScholarLast Wednesday, I had the privilege of providing public comments at the final Illinois Statewide Listening Tour stop in Sycamore for the draft implementation plan crafted by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) as part of the 2015 Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA). I spoke in my role as chair of the Illinois Civic Mission Coalition (ICMC), Illinois Task Force on Civic Education, and Illinois Social Science Standards Task Force. An excerpt of my remarks follow. "...We are heartened by (ISBE’s ESSA implementation plan’s) emphasis on educating the whole child, opportunities for extensive teacher professional development, and specific acknowledgement of the value of mentoring programs like the one we created (to support teachers, schools, and districts with implementation of the new civics course requirement).

Ongoing needs with respect to course and standards implementation are as follows, and we invite further collaboration with …

Teaching the 2016 Election: Youth Participation in Elections, Part III

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by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
We conclude this three-part series on youth participation in elections by revisiting the second part of a quote from former Illinois Comptroller Judy Baar Topinka.

“They don’t vote because very often they’re lazy, and they’re too busy playing with their little machines… They’re just too in tune with texting and not in tune with what’s going on around them.”

Having refuted the laziness claim, we turn next to “their little machines.”

It’s true, young people are almost universally using social media sites, but so are growing numbers of older generational cohorts.


And much of what transpires on social media is “friendship-driven” engagement, with few direct implications for democracy. Yet friendship-driven engagement has the potential of building “bridging” social capital, a foundation for civic engagement.

Moreover, a majority of social media users also engage in “interest-driven” participation, from posting online commentary to creating …

Teaching the 2016 Election: Youth Participation in Elections, Part II

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by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Last week, we laid the groundwork for youth participation in elections. Today, we take a historic view of the subject, and then apply it to the 2016 Election.

Let’s begin with the notion that voting is unique when compared to other forms of civic participation like volunteering, contacting public officials, or keeping up with political news. It’s the one thing that most of us do (at least every four years) and it’s the most equitable form of civic participation. Moreover, it doesn’t serve as a gateway drug in that the act of voting leads to other forms of participation.

Since 18 year olds were granted the right to vote in 1972, youth turnout has always lagged that of their elders. Voting tends to follow a life-cycle effect, starting slow and peaking in the plus-65 population before leveling off late in life. Youth turnout does ebb and flow over time, as it does across the electorate, largely responsive to the competitiveness of a given el…

Teaching the 2016 Election: Youth Participation in Elections, Part I

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Over the past two months, we’ve tried to set the table for teaching the 2016 Election, beginning with the high-profile presidential contest. We kicked off with the party conventions, discussed the third party alternatives, and delved into the vice presidential selection process. Then, we parsed polling data, analyzed media coverage of the election process, shined a spotlight on money in politics, and untangled the Electoral College.

We then worked our way down the ballot, beginning with the fierce battle for party control of the U.S. Senate and a more politically insulated House of Representatives. Specific to Illinois, we did a post mortem on the failed effort to reform legislative redistricting, featured the special election for Comptroller, and weighed the prospect of ending the Springfield Stalemate through General Assembly races. On Monday, and throughout the series, we have provided educators with tools to teach the content, in this …

Teaching the 2016 Election: Presidential Debates of Paramount Importance in Too-Close-To-Call Contest

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar and Barb Laimins, Teacher Mentor Liaison
We return to the presidential race in today’s post, setting the stage for tonight’s prime time debate between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump.

Fifty-six years ago today John F. Kennedy squared off with Richard Nixon right here in Chicago for the first televised presidential debate in history. Kennedy’s triumph paved the way for the narrowest of victories on Election Night, and after a brief interlude, the two major party nominees have debated every four years since 1976.

Like 1960, the 2016 presidential election is too-close-to-call at this moment. It has tightened significantly since Clinton enjoyed a post-convention bounce, as she clings to a narrow lead in an average of recent polls, many of them within the margin-of-error.

A strong debate performance by either candidate (or a poor one) could shift the race by three or four points, allowing Clinton to open a more comfortabl…