Building and Executing an Implementation Plan for New Illinois Social Science Standards

by Shawn Healy, PhD, Democracy Program Director

Since the inception of our #CivicsIsBack Campaign to support implementation of the new high school civics course requirement, the emerging Illinois Social Science Standards have served as a backdrop to this work. Specifically, the grades 9-12 civics strand frames the content and pedagogy to be used in the stand-alone, semester-long course.

Yet the standards are K-12 in scope and span the social sciences, including economics, financial literacy, geography, and history. With official implementation set for this coming fall, we have our work cut out for us in leveraging an opportunity to return the social sciences to their rightful seat at the core content table. The standards also promise to transform teaching from didactic instruction to student-directed inquiries, ultimately resulting in students communicating conclusions and taking informed action.

Thankfully, the McCormick Foundation is not alone in this work, as the standards were written by a teacher-led task force that is already in the field training teachers on their use both in their own schools and districts and regionally. Moreover, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) has created the Classrooms in Action portal to support implementation, offering a series of guiding documents, video tutorials, and a catalogue of organizations poised to further support teaching and learning. ISBE also offers a mix of in-person and online professional development on the new standards and related inquiry arc.

Districts and regional offices themselves have organized around standards implementation. In the case of the former, teachers and curriculum leaders from suburban Chicago school districts convene regularly to compare notes and learn from invited experts. They are set to meet again next Thursday, May 18, in Algonquin.

ISBE has trained professional development providers within the state’s regional offices of education, and we’ve partnered with two (West Cook and DuPage) to offer day-long trainings for K-8 teachers. The DuPage training is scheduled for June 8 and seats remain open for this free workshop led by two teachers that served on our standards task force.

While there is no shortage of activity around standards implementation, the need among teachers, schools, and districts is acute. The aforementioned stakeholders, plus nonprofit organizations that provide professional development to social studies teachers, met in Normal last month to catalogue existing activities, identify remaining needs, and lay the seeds for a more comprehensive plan to address them.

Future posts will flesh this plan out further, but three primary professional development needs were identified:
  • Unpacking the standards. Awareness of the new standards, the embedded inquiry arc, and the process by which they were created varies, and this is a necessary first step for implementation.
  • Aligning current curriculum and practice with the new standards. For many teachers, the new standards represent a paradigm shift. For others, the pivot will be more subtle.
  • Presenting standards-aligned resources and demonstrate how to use them in full scope and sequence. Our nonprofit professional development partners will prove particularly helpful here.

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