A Civic Check-Up for Illinois

by Emily Barry, Research Intern, McCormick Foundation Democracy Program

Before we implement civic education in all Illinois classrooms, we must first find the pulse of current civic practices throughout the state. The civic check-up came in the form of a survey distributed to teachers by Regional Offices of Education, and compiled by the McCormick Foundation. The survey checked the vital signs of healthy civic education: the direct instruction of civic themes, current and controversial issues discussions, service learning, and simulations of democratic processes.

This teacher-reported diagnosis reveals several healthy habits. For example, the majority of educators surveyed report their schools teach the ideals, principles, and practices of citizenship in a democratic republic as a theme of an entire course, or as a recurring theme throughout a student’s high school experience (65%). In addition, three-fourths of government and civics classes discuss current and controversial issues twice a week or more (76%).

However, the Illinois civic teacher survey also uncovers some civic ailments. Less than a fourth of classes currently require service learning (23%), and less than half of teachers agree their school has the adequate tools, training, and resources to use democratic simulations in classrooms (44%).

To support schools in revitalizing civic education, Robert R. McCormick Foundation recommends a heavy dose of professional development. The Foundation and its partners will host civic education workshops this summer, along with mentorship for teachers. These workshops will be held across Illinois to ensure equity of access for all educators. Most importantly, the teacher survey responses inform the design of regional professional development sessions, ensuring each workshop can be doctored to best meet regional needs. The sessions will feature the same vitals from the civic check-up: direct instruction, current and controversial issues, service learning, and democratic simulations.

We have a strong prognosis for civic education in Illinois. Professional development and teacher mentorships will strengthen current civic practices and invigorate new ones, such a service learning. Not only can we pronounce that #CivicsIsBack, but that civics is alive, well, and healthy.

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