Draft Illinois ESSA Implementation Plan Provides Opening for Civic Learning

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Civic Learning Scholar
Last 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 ISBE in achieving them as part of the ESSA provisions:
The standards represent a paradigm shift for the social studies, moving from an emphasis on low-level content knowledge to higher-level skills. They center on an inquiry arc, where students develop their own questions, draw upon disciplinary knowledge to answer them, evaluate sources along the way, and ultimately communicate conclusions and take informed action.

This inquiry arc and the emerging standards as a whole align explicitly with English Language Arts Common Core State Standards, with the hope of reversing the ongoing marginalization of the social studies while contributing to student literacy as measured by school accountability instruments.

As recommended by the standards task force, teachers must have ongoing professional development opportunities to familiarize themselves with these standards and adapt their instructional practices and curriculum to them. They also need access to lesson plans and classroom resources aligned to the new standards, and opportunities to practice using them among peers.

The ICMC and its partner organizations are poised to assist ISBE with implementation of the new standards as we complete our commitment to civics course implementation. Collectively, we offer expertise in teacher professional development, extensive relationships with teachers, schools, and districts, standards-aligned curriculum and resources, and supplementary programming for students.

We look forward to further collaboration with ISBE as we work to educate the whole child, ensuring that Illinois students graduate ready for college, careers, and civic life.

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